[content_box color=”#5f968e”] This is the sixth in a series of posts on adapting intuitive eating for a chronic condition. I would like to acknowledge that I personally don’t have a chronic condition, and am open to learning from the lived experiences of those who do. Please leave your feedback by commenting below, or by sending me a private message.
Other posts in this series include:
Principle #1: Reject the Diet Mentality
Principles #2 & #5: Honour Your Hunger and Feel Your Fullness
Principle #3: Make Peace with Food
Principle #4: Challenge the Food Police
Principle #6: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Principle #8: Respect Your Body
Principles #9 & #10: Exercise – Feel the Difference & Honour Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
I’ve written before about how this is probably my least favourite intuitive eating principle, as it implies that you should never eat in response to your emotions. If it weren’t for diet culture, emotional eating probably wouldn’t be seen as such a negative thing.
Diet culture teaches us that if we only eat the “right” amounts and types of food, we will be able to meet societal ideals of health and beauty. In reality, our weight and health are about so much more than what and how much we eat. When we’re able to consider emotional eating from this lens, it becomes easier to see why we shouldn’t feel bad about turning to food in response to difficult emotions.
If Emotional Eating is OK, Then What is This Principle About?
For the most part, responding to our physical needs is pretty straightforward. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re thirsty, drink. If you’re tired, sleep.
On the other hand, there are many ways that we can respond to uncomfortable thoughts or difficult emotions. Similar to the idea of making peace with food, this principle is about choice; specifically, how you choose to respond to your emotions.
Eating can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin, the “feel good” chemicals in our brain and nervous system. For most of us, food is readily available and easily accessible, so it makes sense that we would turn to it for a quick pick-me-up.
The problem with constantly relying on food—or any single coping mechanism, for that matter—is that it only offers temporary relief, and does not address the issues at hand. So the emphasis in this principle should be on the first part: “honour your feelings”, not on the food. For more information on how to do this, check out this guest blog I wrote for Spilling the Beans Nutrition.
What Does This Have to Do With My Chronic Condition?
While the act of honouring your feelings without food is similar whether or not you have a chronic condition, having one can add a layer of complexity to this principle. Living with a chronic condition can be difficult. Whether it’s the condition itself, the complexity of managing it, or the stigma of not being “healthy”, it can bring up the uncomfortable emotions that often trigger the desire to eat. On top of that, there are often additional restrictive messages around food, eating, and health that would make emotional eating seem even more taboo.
All this to say, have compassion for yourself as you work through this principle, as you might find that you struggle with uncomfortable feelings more frequently and/or more intensely compared to someone who doesn’t have a chronic condition. Remember that intuitive eating is not about perfection; rather, it’s a practice to help you engage with food and your body in a different way. Even if you’re just starting with thinking about emotional eating or your feelings differently from before, you’ve already made progress.