Emotional eating is getting some buzz in the health and wellness world, and for good reason. It's a serious physical and mental health problem that affects millions of people, and women in particular struggle with harsh varieties of emotional eating that are caused by lifetimes of chronic, unsuccessful dieting and obsession with weight management.
Because the topic is only just beginning to get the attention it deserves, there are many outdated ways of thinking and misunderstanding among both professionals and laymen alike when it comes to this fledgling area of holistic care.
Here are five myths about emotional eating that will give you a deeper understanding of how to address your own behaviors with food:
1. Emotional eating is “wrong.”
Emotional eating is something you’ve been taught for a reason — it’s a coping mechanism you’ve developed to deal with tough feelings or situations, and it’s the most effective way you know to take care of yourself. It's a kind of “self-care activity,” in the absence of non-food-related coping skills. Shaming, judging, or thinking you're defective aren't productive reactions to emotional eating.
2. Emotional eating is “curable.”
"Perfect" is the enemy of "good enough." You WILL eat emotionally sometimes; “normal” eaters eat emotionally sometimes. Just make peace with it, and try to address the underlying reason that you’re eating regardless of whether or not you eat anyway. In other words, emotional eating can't be "forced out." It naturally disintegrates to the extent to which we learn and use different coping mechanisms.
3. Emotional eating is “incurable.”
As long as you’re willing to be imperfect, you can stop emotional eating from running your life. Making peace with food — that is, ending the fight — happens when you give yourself a break. When you allow yourself to be imperfect, you create space to deal with what’s actually going on. It’s hard to develop new coping mechanisms when all you think about is how guilty you feel over that (fill-in-the-blank-junk-food) you polished off last night.
4. Emotional eating is an addiction.
Food is NOT a drug, although we may use it that way. The key thing to remember is that food isn't the problem; your relationship to the food is the problem. Unlike heroin, or cigarettes, which create a high no matter how you use them, the high created by food is dependent on how it is used. That’s why “normal eaters” aren’t affected at all by what they eat, and chronic dieters are sent into a frenzy when they eat chocolate or potato chips.
5. Emotional eating is caused by certain foods.
Again, people don’t binge violently on brownies because they’re “addicted to sugar.” People binge on brownies because brownies are “off limits.” When we shame ourselves for eating certain foods, believe certain foods are “bad,” or try to “sit on our hands,” trying not to eat something, we are bound to binge on it.