Coping with Your Emotions Without Food

Coping with Your Emotions Without Food

Welcome back to our 4-part series on Intuitive Eating 101. In our previous post, we shared an introduction to Intuitive Eating and why it’s a framework that can provide you with last, long-term results. Don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Today in Part 4, we are discussing Principles 7 – 10.


Using food to cope with emotions is something that most people experience at multiple points in their lives, no matter how great of an Intuitive Eater we are. But what happens when emotional eating takes over our life? Ever feel guilty or shameful after an emotional eating episode?

The Emotional Eating Continuum starts with Sensory Gratification, moves to Comfort, Distraction, Sedation and finally, punishment (guilt and/or shame). Look familiar?

What feelings cause us to cope with food?

  • Boredom and procrastination
  • Bribery and reward (get in a workout, eat a cupcake or two as a reward)
  • Excitement
  • Soothing
  • Love
  • Frustration or anger
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Mild depression
  • Being connected
  • Loosening the reins

Instead of immediately going for your favorite coping food, consider asking yourself the following questions.

  1. Am I biologically hungry? If yes, go grab food. If no, time for question two.
  2. What am I feeling? Take a minute to figure out what you are feeling AND what is triggering that feel. Once you’ve identified what’s going on, move to question three.
  3. What do I actually need? If you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious about a work project, instead of going for the ice cream, what are some stress management techniques you could do?
  4. Would you please…? Do you need assistance or input from someone else? It’s time to ask!

Much of things comes down to understanding WHO you are and how you can effectively manage emotions. Yes, there might be times when choosing that ice cream or bag of chips is the best option for your mental health, but that doesn’t always need to be the go-to. Having a list of a few different self-care activities you do on a daily or weekly basis can be incredibly helpful.


A recent statistic states that 86% of American women are dissatisfied with their body. We live in a society with more diets that one can count, with messages that constantly tell us to be smaller and change our size. We’ve been told these things from a young age and it makes perfect sense that after years of hearing that we are not enough, we believe that we must change.

Part of the Intuitive Eating journey is respecting your body. Because “…as long as you are at war with your body it will be difficult to be at peace with yourself and food.” – Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating

Moving from a place of body hatred or disgust to a place of respect is a big shift and not one that comes easily. But, respecting your body is a necessary step to Intuitive Eating and to living your best life.

Respecting your body doesn’t mean you become complacent or that you immediately start loving every part of your body, every single day. It means recognizing that you have a body that does amazing things for you AND that you are more than a body. Here are a few steps you can take on your journey toward body respect.

  • Wear what makes you feel awesome. Are you squeezing into outfits that don’t fit and feel tight? Instead of waiting to buy clothes until you ‘lose the weight’, start dressing in a way that makes you feel amazing! With this, I encourage you to stop holding on to clothes that you one day hope to fit into. If we are always holding out hope that one day we will fit into that pair of jeans or that dress, it’s going to be difficult to move forward and learn to appreciate our current body.
  • Ditch the Scale. The scale is just a tool for measuring body mass and does not give the full picture of health. Stepping on it can also elicit many negative emotions and thoughts. Instead of making yourself feel bad every day, ditch the scale.
  • Don’t focus on the numbers. Remember that sizes differ across brands.
  • Replace body-shaming. Replace that voice of negativity with something positive. Instead of: “My thighs are so large. Why can’t they be smaller?!’, replace with: ‘My thighs help me squat and lunge with ease. They help take me on walks and fun adventures.”
  • Practice Self-care. Do nice things for your body like taking a bath or getting a massage.
  • Be realistic. In order to maintain that ‘ideal weight’, what needs to happen? If you aren’t able to live your life, then perhaps it’s time to shift priorities.
  • Practice Active Acceptance. You can acknowledge and appreciate where you are currently at – what your body currently looks like, how it moves, etc. – while still wanting to be the best version of yourself.
  • Positive Affirmations. Anytime to catch yourself talking negatively about your body, say 2 positive things instead. Remember, we believe what we tell ourselves.


Have you ever seen the photos that have food, the calorie count and the amount of a certain exercise you need to do to ‘burn off’ that food? Photos and stats like this make me want to throw my phone or computer across the room. These images bring on feelings of guilt and shame and turn exercise into punishment.

Exercise – movement – is a gift, a privilege, and should be treated as such. If you think that you need to workout in order to work off food you ate, I want to tell you now that whoever fed you this lie is wrong.

So far in this Intuitive Eating Journey process, we’ve talked about ditching the diets, honoring your hunger, making peace with food, ENJOYING food, even foods you once labeled as ‘bad’ or ‘off limits’ and learning to respect your body. If you are working on these things, do you even really need to know how many burpees you need to do to ‘work off’ a doughnut? Would information like this be harmful or helpful on your journey?!

The next step of this process is to reframe the way you view exercise and movement. Exercise is characterized as a HIIT workout, fitness class, or lifting session. Movement is characterized as light stretching, walking, and just moving your body.

When you can stop viewing exercise as a punishment, you begin to enjoy it. When you find movement and exercise you truly enjoy, it’s a game changer.

Intuitive Exercise is this idea that you move and exercise in a way that your body loves, that helps you reach your goals and that makes exercise stress and obsession free. How can we shift from exercise as punishment or over-exercising to enjoying workouts and movement?

  1. Acknowledge something needs to change.
  2. Trial and Error. Try different types of workouts, movement and/or increasing off days.
  3. Implement what works. What works for YOU! Not what works for your friend or that fitness influencer on social media.
  4. Don’t be afraid to adapt. Realize that you might go through workout seasons and phases.


With this Principle, we focus on ensuring we are eating enough, making informed eating choices and ensuring that we are carrying the other Principles with us. We also want to work on getting to a place of Authentic Health – however, we define it.

“Authentic Health is a process of dynamic integration of your inner world and the external worlds of health guidelines, which include exercise and nutrition.” – Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating

It’s a combination of Healthy Eating and Intuitive Eating.

Healthy Eating is defined as “having a healthy balance of foods and having a healthy relationship with food…having a healthy relationship with food means you are not morally superior or inferior based on your eating choices. Eating selection is not a reflection of your character.” – Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating

“Intuitive Eating is a dynamic attunement process of your mind, body, and food.” – Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating

What does Authentic Health look like for you? How can you include what you know about your body with the Intuitive Eating Principles to create a relationship with food and your body that stress and shame-free? How can you look at mainstream nutrition information through the framework of Intuitive Eating, so you can make choices that honor your health and your body?

To help you, consider the Intuitive Eating Bill of Rights:

  1. You have the right to savor your meal, without cajoling or judgment, and without discussion of calories eaten or the amount of exercise needed to burn off calories.
  2. You have the right to enjoy second servings without apology.
  3. You have the right to honor your fullness, even if it means saying ‘no, thank you,’ without explanation, to dessert or a second helping of food.
  4. You have the right to stick to your original answer of ‘no,’ even if you are asked multiple times. Just calmly and politely repeat ‘No, thank you, really.’
  5. It is not your responsibility to make someone happy by overeating, even if it took hours to prepare a special dish.
  6. You have the right to eat pumpkin pie for breakfast (or cereal for dinner!), regardless of judgmental comments or rolled eyes.

Looking for additional resources?

Jen Elliott, CES, CPT, PN1


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