Reality check: ALL eating is “emotional”

IMG_5097People often ask me,

do you really never eat emotionally anymore?

To which I usually reply something along the lines of, “of course not, everyone eats emotionally sometimes…and anyone who tells you differently is either lying OR pretty f’ing crazy around food (read: restrictive).”

As my friend Wendy Shanker once said, “there are only 6 people who eat food righteously as fuel, and all six of them are Kenyan Marathon runners.”

More on that here…

Lately, however, I’ve been re-framing my answer to this question, because at this point in my eating career, I don’t really categorize my behaviors as either “emotional” or “for physical hunger” in my mind anymore.

The truth is, my food choices are rarely, if ever, either “emotional” or “physical.” They’re almost always both, just in differing degrees and combinations.  

Everything I eat affects me physically AND emotionally, by virtue of the fact that all food both affects my blood sugar and gives me sensual pleasure (i.e. makes me feel good).

And like all other evolutionary processes designed to make us feel good (cough *sex* cough), it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to separate food from emotion entirely.

My relationship with food, like my relationship with sex, is always a dance driven by both physical and emotional desire. And labeling our food choices as motivated by one or the other is not generally practical or realistic in the long run. 

That being said, in the beginning of one’s anti-diet or “intuitive eating” journey, labeling our choices as being either “physical” or “emotional” can be helpful when trying to learn the language of our bodies — a practical tool for early non-dieters to re-learn what they’re bodies are actually calling for, particularly after years of ignoring them.

In the long run, however, we must acknowledge that this way of thinking about food is elementary at best — an oversimplification of a biological process that is much more complicated and nuanced than that.

Food is not “just fuel.” Just like sex is not just reproduction.

And honoring both our physical and emotional desires in all of our eating choices is an important part of not falling into the “hunger and fullness diet” trap.

My suggestion? Let your physical and emotional hungers work in tandem. Let them inform one another, rather than overpower one another. Don’t deny either — as that may easily lead to rebellion — but rather, explore different ways of satisfying and honoring both, in food and in life.

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