Principle #7: Cope with your Emotions without Using Food

Now that we’ve discussed honoring our hunger and fullness cues, it’s time to talk about honoring our feelings. Principle #7 is:

Cope with your emotions without using food.

Food will not fix feelings of anxiety, stress, boredom, or other negative emotions. Instead of eating as way to numb, distract or comfort, we must find ways to resolve these issues without food using healthy coping mechanisms.

Food is a very common go-to for feelings such as:

  • Anxiety - to calm yourself

  • Boredom or procrastination - as something to do

  • Bribery or reward - to get yourself to finish something

  • Emptiness - to fill the void

  • Excitement or celebration - as something fun

  • Loneliness - as a friend

  • Frustration or anger - as a release

  • Perfectionism - as an outlet

  • Mild depression or hardship - for comfort

  • Stress - for relief

  • Rebellion - as a reaction to something


The food might provide short-term comfort, distraction, or numbing, but it won’t solve any problems. Also, people often overeat as a way of distracting themselves from these kinds of feelings, and instead of now just dealing with the source of the emotion, the individual must deal with the discomfort of overeating as well.

Being more mindful– of both food and emotions– can help you to identify triggers and find healthy ways to cope when negative feelings arise. You can do this by learning to sit with your feelings… which is much easier said than done.

Start by asking yourself, “What am I feeling right now?”

Learning to pause and take the time to identify your emotional triggers can help you to connect your eating with hunger and satisfaction rather than your feelings. Even if you ultimately decide to eat even though you’re not really hungry, taking a minute to think about this question still makes it a more mindful eating experience.

After 5-10 minutes, ask yourself, “What do I really need right now?”

Is eating going to satisfy you? It may, you might be hungry. Then you should eat. But conversely, are you turning to food to fill a different need? Are you just bored, frustrated, stressed, anxious, depressed, looking to fit in, or using it as a means of control?

Once you’ve identified what you truly need in that moment, ask, “How can I fulfill this need and this feeling without turning to food?”

If you need nurturance, you might take a bath or do yoga. If you need to distract yourself for a little bit, you might watch a movie or read a book. Maybe you just need to cry. See below for a list of coping strategies.

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One thing I want you to remember though: 

Eating for emotional reasons CAN be totally normal and okay. Food is often used to celebrate or soothe or connect, and there is nothing wrong with having some emotional attachment to it. It becomes a problem when food is your only way of coping with emotions and drives you to behaviors that may have negative consequences—things like binging and feeling guilty or avoiding certain feelings and situations.

Having ways to cope with feelings that don’t involve food keeps food from becoming the most important thing in your life, as well as keeping it from being something you stress about, feel guilty about, or feel the need to control. 

If you do choose to eat when food is not what you’re really needing in that moment, that’s okay. Allow yourself to do so without judgment, and move on. If you’re taking that time to pause and ask yourself what you’re feeling, you’re still making progress. As you practice, you’ll be able to sit with your feelings longer, and your need to turn to food at unnecessary times will diminish. Be gentle. Have patience. 

Stay tuned for the next principle!