It’s often implied that emotional eating is problematic, but what if it’s simply what you need? Here’s how to recognize why food is connected to your self-care.


Do you ever tell yourself you are an emotional eater? Many people believe that emotional eating is a problem that disrupts their ability to be healthy. There’s a stigma that surrounds it, one that society implies it to be a negative behavior.

But the truth is, feelings are normal. 

You’re meant to feel – it doesn’t make you a bad person, or mean that there is something wrong with you. You’re human.

And just like everything else that can bring joy and pleasure into your life, food is naturally one of those things that can cause emotions. In fact, it’s completely normal that you may use food as a way to cope, celebrate, or connect with emotions that arise.

Think about it – baking cookies may feel warm and soothing. Or you may connect going to your favorite restaurant as a reward for winning a sporting event. 

You may try to distract yourself with chips, share a gooey dessert with a loved one, or eat an entire pint of ice cream if you feel sad. 

But notice that these are all attempts at showing care for yourself, whether it’s under more negative circumstances or enhancing a celebratory moment. It’s about prioritizing yourself with care.

It is only when emotional eating is your only way of coping with your emotions, that it can become problematic.  

So what can you do to recognize how your emotional eating is connected to your self-care?  Start by asking these 4 questions.

1. Am I actually hungry right now?

The answer to this question is often yes, and if that is the case, please eat! 

2. What am I feeling right now?

Because food can be distinctly wrapped around emotions, it is essential that you find a safe space to share how you feel. Consider talking to a significant other, write in a journal, talk out loud to your dog, or to a close friend. If you want, therapy can also help and is a perfectly normal thing to do.

3. What do I really need right now?

Take some time thinking about this. Perhaps you need to take a bath, or go for a walk with your dog. Maybe you need to wrap yourself in a blanket, drink some hot tea, and read a book. Maybe today you do actually need to bake cookies and eat a couple. What will make you feel good?

4. Can someone help me, please?

If you find yourself needing more support, know that it is OK to ask others for help. There is often a stigma around expressing your feelings, and asking for help. However, everyone needs help at some point in their lives, whether they want to admit it or not. And most humans will understand that.

Ask your significant other to go on a walk, or reach out to a friend to go on a yoga date with you. Call your sister and chat about what is going on in each others’ lives. 

Thinking deeply about these questions as you find yourself turning to food can be a helpful internal signal to what you are actually feeling. It may get uncomfortable, but consider sitting with that discomfort to learn from it.

Remember, emotions and food will never be completely detached, nor should they be. Recognize what feelings you may be experiencing, ask yourself what you really need, and then honor that.

And if eating is caring, then let it be.

Adapted from the original post.

Rose Mattson, MS, RD is a private practice dietitian who runs a Salt Lake City-based nutrition practice, through which she sees clients both locally and virtually. Specializing in Intuitive Eating, sports nutrition, and digestive disorders, Rose’s mission is to help people find satisfaction and joy in eating all foods, without unnecessary restriction or deprivation. When she’s not working, you can find her outside in the mountains, at the local farmer’s market, or scoping out the most delicious meals in the area.

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