Can emotional eating be a part of a healthy eating plan? My answer would be, “It has to be.” Why? Because we are emotional beings, and acknowledging that can be helpful when setting expectations about our overall eating patterns.
An opinion on this appeared in US News and World Report, expressing this very point. The article (“The Truth About Emotional Eating: It’s Not Bad”) points out that acceptance of the inevitability of some emotional eating is important to avoid feeling like a failure. Of course, if we are honest, it is during these moments of discouragement that we are most likely to come unhinged with our eating.
Understanding that emotional eating has some logic to it can be helpful as well. While “junk food” is certainly not healthy, we cannot deny that it has a certain effect, at least in the moment, on our mood. In moderation, it can be a part of a larger, more extensive coping strategy. I will admit, for instance, that sometimes a bowl of ice cream will do more for my mood than a bath or a moment of mindful meditation. We all can understand what matters most is not usually what we do in these moments, but what we do NEXT. In my case, what happens AFTER the bowl of ice cream?
I feel fine eating an occasional bowl of ice cream with the full knowledge that 1) I am not physically hungry, and 2) If I am honest, this is not truly just mindful pleasure either. I am mindfully looking for emotional relief.
Yes, a bath or a moment of peaceful quiet would be more supportive to my body (my heart health, my sugar intake, etc.), but it is not a big deal if I don’t make it into one. The problem arises when one bowl becomes a mission to finish the container while checking out and eating mindlessly, all the while degrading oneself with negative self-talk.
Human emotions are not all good or all bad, and emotional eating can be better controlled by acknowledging its role in a bigger self-care plan with healthier options, because beating up on ourselves is counter-productive and simply not kind.