Why Emotional Eating Is Often A Cry For Pleasure

Written by Lauren Fowler, R.D.

I'm a dietitian working with women with disordered eating. Recently, I left my office and mindlessly munched on chocolate my whole way home.

Did I beat myself up? No. (Side note: the guilt is often more stressful on our bodies than the food.)

Did I enjoy the chocolate? A little … but not really.

So I decided to explore the situation.

I had packed my day full of new clients, and in my quick break, I grabbed lunch and checked email rather than going for my typical mid-day walk outside.

I was excited to be working with women who were ready to heal their relationship with food and their bodies; by the end of the day, I had listened to many unique and intense stories about food and body image.

I love working with people, but as an introvert, my energy was drained. I left the office tired and stopped by the store to pick up a few groceries. There, I found myself craving chocolate-covered almonds. I'm not one to deny my cravings, so I bought them and finished the bag on the way home.

Once I enjoyed my chocolate break, I started to calm down and breathe. I finally had time to myself to slow down, and take in the day. Of course, I had been craving chocolate, one of my all-time favorite foods. I had worked all day and barely taken a breather. What I had been craving wasn't really chocolate — I'd been seeking pleasure, time to process, and time alone!

So, after I enjoyed my chocolate, I tried to check in with my body: OK, I hear you. It's been a long day. What would you like to energize and feel good?

And what I got was: A yoga session outside, alone. An early bedtime and cuddles with my man and dog.

Gotcha. I skipped my typical yoga class in the studio for some feel-good time on my mat. I flowed my own way, slow and intentional, to bring pleasure to all parts of my body.

I took time to cook a yummy dinner, then curled up in bed early and watched Netflix with my guy and our cuddly pup. I hadn't scheduled time in my day for pleasure, and that was what I needed most that evening.

Planning for fun is so simple, but many of us forget to do it. You can't plan joy, love, or connection. It happens when you allow space for it to enter, in those unplanned nights or spontaneous adventures. If you want to understand why that diet or "healthy eating plan" always fails the next day, you need to ditch your to-do list.

So, why does emotional eating pop into our lives?

It's a response to something missing in our lives. You fill yourself up with food because you're bored, lonely, sad, guilty, feeling shame, or even happy. When you don't allow yourself enough pleasure or connection in your life, your body reacts. It knows it's missing something, so in pops the chocolate craving. Or shopping. Or alcohol. It's not always food; we all have our own way of dealing with things.

Instead of judging or shaming yourself for indulging, explore the situation. Get curious about what need or desire you're trying to fulfill. Address that directly. If you're craving connection, plan a girls' night. If you're craving pleasure, take a bath, jump into bed early with a good book, or sit down and enjoy a bowl of your favorite ice cream mindfully.

Of course this isn't the "quick and easy" solution with five easy steps to control your sugar cravings, but it IS a way to connect with your body and understand its needs and desires. Believe me, I've tried to control and restrain myself, but the only path I'm interested in these days is connecting to my desires and fulfilling my needs.

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