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Principle 7: Cope with Your Emotions without Using Food

We all experience anxiety, loneliness, anger, and boredom throughout life, and especially now during these challenging times. Many people turn to food as a way to cope with their difficult emotions, hoping it will make them feel better. After all, food is comforting, pleasurable, and always there for us in times of pain. However, food cannot truly fix any of these feelings. It might feel soothing in the moment, but it won’t solve the underlying problem. In fact, emotional eating can make us feel worse – in addition to dealing with the root cause of these negative emotions, we have to deal with the discomfort of overeating.

Here are four questions you can ask yourself to determine whether your hunger is mostly originating in your mind (emotional hunger) or in your stomach (physical hunger), and how to address both:

  1. Am I physically hungry? If you answered yes, then honor your hunger by eating a meal or snack! If you answered no, consider the next questions.

  2. What feelings am I experiencing? Sit down and try to pinpoint what you are feeling. Are you frustrated? Bored? Exhausted? Take out a piece of paper and try writing about your emotions, or call a loved one and share how you’re feeling. Speaking to a therapist can also be a great way to find the root cause of your feelings.

  3. What do I need in this moment? We sometimes eat to satisfy an unmet need, because food is readily available. However, food cannot fulfill needs that are unrelated to hunger. Taking some time to think about what it is that you truly need can help you to cope with your emotions appropriately. If you’re feeling stressed, maybe taking a walk outside will make you feel better. If you’re bored, find an activity that you enjoy. If you’re exhausted, try going to bed early.

  4. Would you please…? Sometimes the answer to question #3 is help from others. If you need help, advocate for yourself! Need some quiet time alone? Ask your spouse to watch the baby while you take some time to relax.

  5. Now that you know how to differentiate between biological and emotional hunger, let’s talk about different ways you can meet your needs without using food. This can be easier for people who have been taught from a young age to express their feelings and take care of themselves in a nurturing way; however, we can all learn to do this as we continue the process of becoming intuitive eaters!

One way to fulfill your needs is by seeking nurturance from yourself and others, which provides comfort and warmth. As a result, you won’t need to use food as a coping mechanism. Some nurturing activities include practicing deep breathing, doing yoga, meditating, listening to music, getting a massage, spending time with friends, and taking a relaxing bubble bath. In addition, dealing with your emotions is an important part of the process. When you are continuously nurturing yourself in different ways, it is much easier to confront your feelings and acknowledge what is upsetting you. You can face your feelings in healthy ways by letting yourself cry, writing your feelings in a journal, or talking to a friend or family member. It’s also worth noting that it is normal to sometimes distract yourself from unwanted feelings, especially if they are ongoing, but learning to distract in an emotionally healthy way (without using food) is an important part of becoming an intuitive eater.

If you’re having trouble coping with your emotions or can’t identify why you feel a certain way, speaking to a mental health professional can be beneficial. Here at Restore Family Therapy, we have dietitians and therapists who can help you to process and cope with challenging emotions and can guide you on your Intuitive Eating journey. If you are interested in learning more about the different treatment options that we provide, please reach out for a free consultation at

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