Day 5: Applying intuitive eating #3

In the last 2 sessions we looked at what your body is telling you it wants to eat, and what you practically need to eat. The final piece of the puzzle is looking at what your heart is telling you to eat. What you need emotionally.

Emotional Eating

People think of emotional eating as a bad thing. It’s often seen as a massive binge, or uncontrolled eating. On TV we see it as someone eating their way through a tub of ice cream.

We’re also given lots of messages that associate food with good feelings. For example, baking is giving people happiness, or dessert is a reward for finishing a meal.

There are lots of reasons why we might eat emotionally

  • For comfort
  • To cure boredom
  • As a distraction, or procrastination
  • For connection – to fit in with people
  • If you’re tired – craving carbs
  • For pleasure
  • As a reward – I’ll just do this and then I’ll have….
  • As a punishment
  • As something you can control

Food has real emotional links. It’s not something you’ve made up in your mind!

From birth we feed a crying baby, or if a child falls over we offer sweets. Maybe there are memory links for you, to good times or places – chips on the beach, or food that a family member always cooked. And of course every celebration going incorporates food somehow – birthdays, christmas, weddings etc. So you can see, there are lots of positive food links, it’s not always a negative thing.

There are also lots of reasons that mood affects what we eat. Maybe you eat more food or less food if you are annoyed, hassled or busy, worried, or stressed?

Did you know, dieting makes us emotionally eat? A study of 35,000 people showed that dieters partake in more emotional eating than non dieters. So if you have a history of dieting, have some understanding and compassion for yourself. It’s not your fault. Again the diet has failed you. 

Just stop here a moment and think about that – dieting drives emotional responses, not just physical ones, but that’s not something that’s ever addressed at diet clubs.

Self Care

There are actually positives that we can take from emotional eating. Self care and kindness can help with managing your emotions. In fact, your emotions might be highlighting things in life that you need but are missing. Things such as…

  • Rest
  • Sensual pleasure
  • Being able to express feelings
  • Being heard
  • Being creative or enjoying intellectual stimulation
  • Comfort and warmth
  • Nurturing
  • Having a good cry

An important note when thinking about emotional wellbeing is looking at social media and how that makes you feel. Are your social media feeds full of things that leave you feeling full of joy and happiness (think cute puppies, people doing funny dances, comedians….. anything that you enjoy), or full of things that make you feel low, bad about yourself, or makes you compare yourself to others? With social media everywhere now it’s an important thing to consider as a contributor to your emotional wellbeing and your relationship with food and your body.

Step 3, Heart

How do we integrate this into intuitive eating? The question to ask yourself here is 

“What will make my heart happy? What will satisfy my soul?”

To answer this you’ll ask yourself “Am I eating in response to something? What am I feeling?”.

Know that it’s ok to eat emotionally. Quite often it works as a protective measure. For example, if you took that food away what would your behaviour be instead? Is eating to comfort yourself really that bad, when you think about it? Give yourself compassion and take that guilt around food away. Remember, food isn’t good or bad. If you are telling yourself you shouldn’t eat emotionally, you are saying that something is bad there – the food is bad.

Also, remember that you have unconditional permission to eat. Emotional eating usually involves eating food you typically thought of as ‘bad foods’ and eating when you’re not hungry, so allowing yourself to do those things with total acceptance is super important.

While we now know that eating for emotional comfort is natural, and acceptable, there are other ways to help yourself through those emotions. It is important to consider these because the food may be masking something that you could actually work on in other ways. 

Before eating, ask yourself another question: “Do I need something that isn’t food?”. If so, what can you do to help that?

  • Can you write it down?
  • Is there a professional you can talk to?
  • Do you need some movement?
  • Do you need to ask someone for something – “would you please….”?
  • Do you need some self care like sleep, to rest, to read or watch a film etc?

Equally, social events are good for the heart. Maybe you’re worried about going somewhere because of all the food that will be there or how you feel about your body? But have you considered that that social event might be just the tonic you need, satisfy some of those emotional needs, and help you to feel better in general? Spending time with chosen friends and family is good for mental health. How many times have you come away from an event feeling like you have had the best time with the best people? Food and getting dressed up really can be a good part of that feeling.

Also, it is actually good to be involved in social situations where there is food.

Eating food you enjoy triggers lots of happy responses in the body. You shouldn’t stay away from things that make you happy because there will be food there. It’s the old exposure therapy theory – when it’s a normal part of life it’s no longer a big deal and something to feel afraid of.

So, to recap, putting the three steps together looks like this

  1. Consider how your body feels and what types of food it is asking for
  2. Think logically and practically about what you need to eat based on your day
  3. Ask yourself what your heart and soul needs right now, whether food is the answer to that, and then give yourself the compassion and acceptance to eat.

Today’s tasks

  1. How do your different moods affect your eating habits?
  2. How does an emotion feel in your body? Pick one happy feeling and one not so happy feeling, and describe how they feel physically.
  3. Go to the social media app that you use more frequently and take a look at the feed. As you scroll, what is it making you think and feel? Take a moment to really look at the posts you are seeing and analyse them!
  4. How do you feel about socialising? If you were invited to an evening out right now what would your instant reaction and thoughts be?


Here is today’s affirmation. Take it and use it for yourself.

“I am thankful for my positive mindset”

Feel free to journal your thoughts and your task answers for yourself in private, or feel free to put your thoughts in the comments section here.