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Intuitive Eating Principle 7 (Cope with Your Emotions without Using Food)

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When I entered therapy for binge eating disorder in 2008 I didn’t realize how much I was using food to cope with my emotions. Over the last 10 years, I’ve gotten pretty good at realizing when I’m eating for hunger and when I’m eating to serve an emotion.

A girl holding her face and laughingLearning this did not happen overnight. It was actually a very long process if I can be honest with you.

I’ve had months, even years, since therapy that I’ve used food more than I should have. I’ve also had months where I wasn’t truly listening to what I needed exactly because I had told myself food wasn’t something I should really be using for “joy”.

Here is where I am in my journey TODAY.

Food can be consumed for JOY!

A blonde holding a taco and smiling

I am not wrong in wanting to celebrate with food at times. When it becomes a problem is when I am using food to distract, numb or punish myself. Learning how to cope with your emotions without using food is something that takes time, and a lot of practice.

When I would use food to deal with my emotions I was always left with guilt after.

“Guilt may be an appropriate emotion when you have hurt another person or committed a crime, but guilt has no place in your eating world.” -Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

The amount of guilt and shame I used to carry for eating makes me sad today.

The consumption of one cookie would send me into a tailspin if I was “on plan”. I gave that oreo WAY too much power. Looking back now I wish I could look myself in the face and say, “IT’S A COOKIE. A COOKIE FOR GOODNESS SAKES! Calm down!”

A white background and a person holding one cookieLetting go of guilt and shame surrounding food took practice.

I’ve gotten much better at this since leaving diet culture and accepting my choices and knowing that I am not good OR bad based on the foods I put into my body. Food is food, some food makes me feel better than others but I refuse to let myself feel guilty for enjoying food, and sometimes indulging in some of my favorite foods, that used to weigh me down with guilt.

There are a lot of emotional triggers that cause us to use food to cope with our emotions.

The ones they share in the Intuitive Eating book are

  • Boredom and procrastination
  • Bribery and reward
  • Excitement
  • Soothing
  • Love
  • Frustration, Anger and Rage
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Mild Depression

I can look at this list and say I have confidently used food to cope with every single one of these feelings, multiple times.

That doesn’t make me “bad”. It makes me human.

What I’ve learned is there is a better way to deal with some of these emotions instead of hiding beneath them with food.

Since giving up food as my “drug” I FEEL a lot. I can be a little emotional at times. It makes me realize how much I was shoving down instead of dealing with what I was feeling.

Now, when I am upset with someone or something, I talk about it.

I talk through everything now. Just ask my husband! 🙂

Some may say I’m too sensitive or talk too much, but this is how I have found healing. If I can get what I’m feeling off my chest, that desire to shove down the emotions with food becomes less inviting.

Two girls on swings talking and laughingHow to cope with emotional eating?

I learned in therapy to ask myself some questions when the urge to shove my emotions down with food came up.

  • Am I hungry?
  • What am I really feeling?
  • What do I need?

I often ask myself what I am feeling, followed by what do I need. As a Mom, it’s hard to always get what I need with the demands of kids, but I at least ask myself the question.

Many times just the acknowledgement that food isn’t actually what I need is enough to get me out of the kitchen and somewhere “safe” where I can process what I’m going through or at least remove myself from a situation that could end up turning into a binge opportunity.

There are a lot of ways to deal with your needs without food.

This is also a form of self care. I haven’t been good at this always. I’m learning it’s an area I need to become better at, but here are a few things I do to deal with my needs without food.

  • Call my Mom or a friend.  This is my MOST used option. Like I said, I’m a talker. And I talk EVERYTHING out. This has helped me avoid a binge on numerous occasions.
  • Get outside.  Whether it is a 10 minute walk by myself, or just watching my kids play, getting fresh air and out of my house almost always makes me feel better.
  • Take a Mommy timeout.  I’ve done this a little more lately. I tell my husband, “I need a few minutes”. I go into our bedroom and lay on my bed and just take some deep breaths. I might pray and ask God to help me through what I’m feeling, or I may try to completely quiet my mind. Sometimes Mom’s just need a few minutes alone.
  • Turn on some music.  If I am in my car and feeling emotional and the urge to drive through a fast food place to meet the needs of my emotions is strong, I’ll turn on a song I can sing my heart out to! Singing is a way for me to unleash and let go and is very emotional for me. Many times just a few songs will help me feel better.
  • Read a book.  This one honestly doesn’t always work for me, but I’m trying really hard to use this as an option! Sometimes my mind is racing too much to read, but I want to get to a point that I can take 10 minutes and read and block out whatever it is that is bothering me. It’s an area I hope to become better at soon and one I’m trying to utilize more and more. I have to learn to shut my mind down.A girl reading a book
  • Hug my kids or my husband.  Sometimes I just need physical touch. Hugging one of my 3 favorite people can turn my mood around, or at least make me feel better for a few moments.

At 26 years old I thought I would always be a closet binge eater.

I thought food would always control me.

I thought my body and the way I looked was the most important thing about myself.

I didn’t know how I was ever going to not use food to cope with my emotions or find peace with myself.

At 36 years old, I am living a life I didn’t think was possible.

That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle some days, but it does not take the emotional toll on me it used to.

I’ve learned who I am, what I want and HOW I want to FEEL. Those truths are making all the difference in my life and how I use food.

Food is meant to be enjoyed. Food is not meant to punish or cause guilt and shame.

A bowl of apples with mint leaves in the shape of a heartThis is part of a 10 post series I am doing on the Principles of Intuitive Eating. You can read more about the other Principles by clicking the links below!

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

  1. Reject the diet mentality
  2. Honor your hunger
  3. Make peace with your food
  4. Challenge the food police
  5. Feel your fullness
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor
  7. Cope with your emotions without using food
  8. Respect your body
  9. Exercise- feel the difference
  10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition


Intuitive Eating Principle 7 (Cope with your Emotions without using food). #intuitiveeating #healthymind

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