Emotional Eating – Is It Really A Problem?

Emotional Eating – Is It Really A Problem?The bookshelves are currently locked and loaded with volumes of advice on how to handle our emotional eating issues. True it is that we have some epidemic concerns around weight, overeating, under-eating, binge eating and bulimia. It’s a noble undertaking to find the healing ways that would bring relief to these poignant challenges. But I’ve noticed that despite the strategies for emotional eating that the experts are suggesting, people just can’t seem to control themselves.

So many of my clients and students try hard, make efforts, eat only when they’re hungry, watch their nutritional choices, and do their best to manage their appetites, only to report some sort of failure – “I was doing so well, and then…” Why can’t we get ourselves under control? Why can’t we enact the simple strategies with eating that our hearts and minds so sincerely believe in? And are we really the nutritional/emotional losers that the voices in our heads say we are?

For this last question, the answer is a resounding “NO.” Oftentimes, when we can’t solve a problem with food, eating, nutrition, or any problem in life – it’s a sure sign that it’s time to “re-frame” the problem. By doing so, we improve our chances of the lights coming on and some wisdom coming through.

So here’s a re-frame of the problem called emotional eating: It isn’t really a problem.

Here’s what I mean.

At our core, we are emotional beings – rich, complex, juicy, unpredictable feeling-filled creatures.

We love, we celebrate, we laugh, cry, mourn, giggle, we break down, we rise up, we get hurt, we soar, we worry, we yell, we sulk, and wow – we’re powerfully passionate creatures – even those of us who seem quiet and content. (You know who you are.) So how could we NOT be emotional eaters? We love food. We love our favorite restaurant. We love how food makes us feel good. Some of us love cooking for others and nourishing them. Some of us are passionate about how to eat and what to eat. It’s time to get over it – if you’re a human and alive on planet Earth, you will bring emotionality to the table.

Once we embrace the factual reality that we are genetically hard-wired for emotional expression, we can relax a little more. Eliminating emotional eating is like eliminating emotional sex – sure, you can do it, or try to do it, but for many of us, it’s forced, it’s difficult, and someone’s likely to end up hurt. Underneath the quest to eradicate emotional eating from one’s life is a hidden and unconscious desire to not feel feelings that are unwanted and uncomfortable. We strive for an impossible to attain goal that constantly leaves us frustrated and in failure.

For sure, there are those of us who need to work with our emotional eating, pay attention to it, and get help with it. Yes, this thing called emotional eating can be very painful. But it’s not the actual problem – it’s a symptom that’s pointing to something deeper. It’s an alert mechanism from body wisdom that’s calling us to check in, and follow the flow of emotions within us to see where our soul is calling for more awareness and insight.

So here’s your suggested homework assignment:

Welcome your emotions to the table.

Embrace the part of you that loves food, and loves to use food to relax, to calm down, feel loved, or that uses food to fill up loneliness. We cannot expect to fight this part of ourselves and beat it into submission. Sure, you can choose to work with your emotional eating by limiting it. But before you limit it, love it. So many people have been fighting their emotions and emotional eating for years, or even decades, with little success. In fact, deep within, the problem usually is this: We’re denying feelings, giving them little air time, or pushing them aside in the hopes that they’ll go away. Unexpressed feelings often find their way into the sunlight via emotional eating. These could be long held feelings of aloneness, abandonment, betrayal, or anger. They can also be unexpressed feelings of love, hope, or beautiful desires for intimacy, connection, and sensuality.

We’re not perfect. Eating teaches us that. Can you relax into the times you emotionally eat? Can you stop fighting it and simply observe it with humanity and compassion? Can you allow yourself to see that sometimes, emotional eating might actually be a useful strategy? Can you call off the dogs and forgive yourself for bringing your heart and your passions and your unpredictable feelings to food? If you can, you just might find that eating with emotion becomes less painful, more manageable, and a friend. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Warm Regards,

Marc David
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014


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  • Monica Niska

    This is not only beautifully scripted, but completely raw when it comes to emotional eating. I love that you have laid out a real, emotional, everyday feel that goes into emotional eating and our bodies desires for what it craves. Food is such an integral part of our lives, it should be enjoyed, and what we enjoy should give our bodies energy, not destruction. I love the way you have presented this topic and can’t wait to share with some friends who will benefit from it!

  • mi

    I was expecting a research paper or something of the sort…

  • KarenJ

    I was able to overcome my emotional overeating only when I learned to embrace it as a part of who I was. My overeating did not define me, but I treated it as a puzzle to be solved. I did eventually discover the anger I never thought I felt (stuffing it down with food). It was as simple as learning to express my so-called negative feelings and believing I would still be loved for doing so.

  • Rhealicious

    Once again, I feel like you are one of the few sane persons out there, nutrition-wise…
    Thanks for that great, insightful article!!!

  • Thank you for consistently being a voice and perspective not available elsewhere! I find myself consistently referring clients who see me for “overeating” and weight issues to you and your books.
    Other than sending them to your website and books, please let me know best way to introdeuce them to your work.

  • Cindy Dallow

    This is an excellent, well-written article and I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t know if you know this, but Ellyn Satter, MSW, RD, has been teaching this same message for 20+ years now. She has a “how to eat” series that includes a component on “how to eat for emotional reasons” that bascally says the same thing you say here. It totally changed my perspective on eating and taking care of myself. Check out her stuff. Keep up the good work!

    • KarnaN

      Hi Cindy,
      Thank you very much for your kind words and we are very glad that you agree with what is portrayed in this article!
      We really appreciate you sharing information congruent to this field of work.
      I will pass your message on to the rest of the team and we will check out her material!
      And what a bonus that your life was touched.
      Karna Nau
      Director of Student Relations
      Institute for the Psychology of Eating

  • amarja

    hi marc, I totally agree with your message here (quite often actually!) The book that helped me most with not judging emotonal eating is called The tao of eating, feeding your soul through everyday experiences with food. Linda harper, with a GREAT foreword by Thomas Moore. we can learn so much about ourselves when we have awareness instead of judgement. keep up the good work, love from amsterdam amarja

  • charity dasenbrock

    I love “calling off the dogs”! exactly. I’m working on it. lots of little steps have led to some bigger changes. As I embrace food, learn to love it first for all it does for me and then because it tastes good, can be entertaining, and provides connection with other people, guess what ? I’m finding that I’m eating less and feeling better. hmmm. 🙂

    I’m so excited to be part of the class this fall!!


About The Author
Marc David

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul. He lectures internationally, and has held senior consulting positions at Canyon Ranch Resorts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and the Disney Company. Marc is also the co-founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.