Using food to cope? You're not alone!
According to Intuitive Eating researchers, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, the most common emotional triggers for coping with emotions with food include:
Boredom and procrastination (we are looking for something to fill the time)
Bribery and reward (we are bribing ourselves (or children) to do something with the reward of food)
Excitement (we are celebrating wins with food)
Soothing (we are sitting with food rather than with our uncomfortable emotions, using food as the soothing technique)
Love and being connected (we are connecting food to feeling loved, think Valentine’s Day)
Frustration and anger (we are projecting these feelings through turning to food)
Stress (we are avoiding the to-dos with food)
Anxiety (we can confuse anxiety in the stomach with hunger, think “butterflies”, or be numbing fear with food)
Mild depression (we are trying to fill a void with food)
Loosening the Reins (we are practicing “perfectionism” in every other aspect of our life, so food is our one out-of-control way to let go)
Yes, you will notice that not all of the above are emotions that our culture typically attributes with being “negative”. As a culture, we use food to connect with others and show our love, and I do not think there is anything inherently wrong with that! And, while we are on the subject, I also do not think there is anything wrong with having food as ONE of the tools in our coping strategy toolbox! Food IS soothing, and it can help temporarily manage some pretty tough emotions.
The problem may become more evident if food is the ONLY coping strategy in the toolbox since it rarely offers lasting benefits. As you may know, if you regularly use food to cope, it seldomly (if ever) solves the problem or offers sustainable management of our emotions.
That is why I think it is important to have a full toolbox of coping strategies, so you have lots to call on when times get tough, or you find your emotions especially heightened
Some of the coping strategies I see quite often, and recommend, to my clients include:
Taking a walk
Going for a run
Cuddling with a pet
Getting out in nature
Calling a friend
Taking a bath
Watching a movie
Cleaning a room
Doing a puzzle
Listening to music
Playing an instrument
The next time you find yourself falling into one of the above emotional “traps” that trigger your response to use food as the coping strategy, try to ask yourself what you REALLY need at that moment.
Is it rest? To be heard? To ask for help?
Experiment with turning to a different coping strategy to manage your emotions with kindness, rather than food, and see how this feels!
Note: if you turn to another coping strategy, and later you still find yourself thinking about food - this could signal that your body is just ready for more nourishment! Biological hunger will not tend to shut off if we nourish our emotions in a more kind way, but emotional hunger might (not always, this is why coping with food is also okay)!
⭐️If you’re finding it overwhelmingly difficult to manage your emotions, or you are struggling with your mental health and have been using food to cope, I highly encourage you to reach out to a counsellor or social worker so they can help you find unique coping strategies that will work for you!
What OTHER coping strategies do you or your clients use to cope with your emotions with kindness?
Resource: Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating, 4th edition. St. Martins Publishing Group.
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