Feel your feelings. Don’t eat them.

What is emotional eating?

What is emotional eating?  Emotional eating is when we consume food (or other substances) to numb spiritual suffering.  

Emotional eating can be incredibly difficult to come to terms with and can lead to a whole host of negative outcomes like weight gain, avoidance/deflection of self-care and…the big one – shame.  

Emotional eating is something I have struggled with all of my life.  Food has always been my drug of choice in dealing with stress and uncertainty.    

When we find ourselves in times of great struggle and stress, all of those aspects of ourselves that still need healing become that much more apparent, and it’s normal to dive into any coping strategy that will get us through the storm…until those coping strategies backfire and become self-limiting rather than self-filling. 

Our bodies are not on a timeline.  While it’s not logical, so often the body and the spirit are correlating stress-responses from multiple events over a lifetime.  Healing in the current moment often involves grieving and healing from the past while simultaneously developing new coping strategies that soothe and support you in the present. 

“Our silence about grief serves no one.  We can’t heal if we can’t grieve; we can’t forgive if we can’t grieve.  We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.”  

~ Brene Brown, Rising Strong 

Feeling our emotions vs. eating them.

Here’s the thing…sitting with pain, discomfort, stress, agony, shame is a huge undertaking. Sitting with the shit storm that is our human experience is a much faster way to metabolize it and move through it than avoiding with food.

Trust me, I’m not a fan of this reality.  

Sitting with hard emotions can feel awful.  Feeling how awful we feel sucks. 

And, it’s only when we feel the body speaking that we know how to give it what it needs…and what it rarely needs is a chocolate chip cookie.

The body may need a walk, a laugh with a friend or to step away from a relationship.

How to brain hack your emotional eating.

Humans have two very different aspects of their brains: the prefrontal cortex (the adult in the room) and the primal brain (the toddler).

The primal brain is the toddler who lays on the floor kicking and screaming because he didn’t get the 2nd piece of candy or because he doesn’t get to stay up past his bedtime.  

The prefrontal cortex is the logical, planning, problem-solving and impulse-control part of the brain. 

The primal brain functions best when the nervous system is in a sympathetic mode.  The sympathetic mode is oftentimes referred to as the “fight or flight” mode.  

The prefrontal cortex functions best when the body is in a parasympathetic mode.  The parasympathetic mode is oftentimes referred to as the “rest and digest” mode.  

When you are faced with whether or not to eat something, like the chocolate chip cookie, you’re going to face an uphill battle if you’re tired / stressed / don’t have a plan in place for getting nourishing food, because you’re in the “fight or flight” sympathetic mode and the primal brain is in control.  

Try this…

The next time you come face-to-face with eating something out of emotion rather than out of health, try these tips:

  • Feel your feelings. Don’t eat them. Emotions feel powerful in the moment, but they do pass. Breathe. Talk to a friend. Journal. Meditate. Exercise. Or don’t do anything with your stress and emotion other than to say “hello” to it and let yourself experience it without running away.
  • Sleep. Sleep more, eat less. Sleep also helps to diffuse stress. Learn more about this from this article from the Harvard Medical School.
  • Plan your meals the night before. Planning is the wheelhouse of the prefrontal cortex. Stick to the plan and notice the emotions that come up when you don’t eat food to placate yourself.
  • Breath. The breath is the bridge between the body, the brain and the spirit.  Study after study after study has show that the breath calms the body and the stress response down.
  • It’s not the cake. It’s the connection you are looking for. Rather than turning to food for emotional connection, funnel your energy into your relationship with yourself and the people you love. Share your struggles with the people you trust. Build new relationships if the ones you’re in aren’t feeding your soul in the way that you need.

In the IshbelWELL Hormone Healing Program, we do a deep dive into how adrenal function (the fight or flight organ) influences hormonal balance as well as hormonal eating patterns. Balancing hormones and learning how to metabolize stress can make a huge difference in emotional eating.

Leave a Comment

About me

About Ishbel

For the last twenty years, I have helped people take charge of their health and feel better. I have been in your shoes - sick, tired, and overwhelmed by how to actionably care for myself. If you want to feel better, but don't know where to start, you've come to the right place. Learn More >


Sign up for my monthly newsletter for health and wellness tips!

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.