Delicious Emotions

When I use the phrase “emotional eating” what comes to mind first? Binging? Feeling guilty? The secret stash of Ben & Jerry’s that you dug out of the back of the freezer and shoveled last night after getting home from your dead-end date or your sometimes life-sucking job? Nutritional consultants, doctors, and other media “experts” often site “emotional eating” as the last thing we want to do. We should separate our feelings from our food and only eat when we are hungry. This idea is not unwarranted, as this sense of “emotional eating” can mix stress with food, and can lead to different types of eating disorders. Not all cultures identify with food in this way, though. Take this excerpt from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food : “He showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: “celebration.” It is with this idea in mind that I say that while I agree that eating when not hungry is more than likely to cause weight gain, separating feelings from food is, to me, neither possible nor healthful for anyone. Instead, I propose a different sort of “emotional eating” that may just be the connection many people in this country need to positively change their relationship with food, and can provide more satisfaction, remove guilt, and overall improve a person’s sense of well-being.

Think of those special dishes that some loved one in your life makes or made for you. Whenever I make and eat my Nana’s corn chowder, I get a warm and cozy feeling because that dish is bound through emotions to the memory of her warm and cozy demeanor. Or, if you’re a wine connoisseur, consider that a great glass of wine can remind you of summer flowers, a walk through the woods, or the juicy tartness of a warm ripe cherry. These are positive memories (often remembered because of the feelings they inspired) that are associated with food. Then there is also the other end of this idea, where, without prior memories, savoring any delicious food can result in a positive and emotional experience with that food. If you’re still not quite sure what I’m getting at, think of the best thing you’ve eaten in the last month, and then read this quote:

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans. 
- Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

So, what do you think? Can you identify? Hopefully, you can, since most people are not immune to the sensations experienced by our tastebuds and the warmth that rises up from a satiated belly. If you can’t, though, here are some ways to begin to feel this infatuated with the food you eat:

1) Sit down, take a couple deep of breaths, start with “a little something”. It is my belief that appetizers and before dinner drinks like wine or small mixed drinks, are a way to signal the stomach to prepare for a feast. Once you have relaxed a bit, and shrugged off the pressures of the day (aided by sitting), and your mouth begins to salivate with a little bite or sip of something tasty, your body is stimulated to produce digestive juices in preparation of the food to come. Consider this “meal foreplay”–it never hurts, and often is the key to enjoyment!

2) Eat what tastes good. I know there is this idea that “healthy” food doesn’t taste good. I believe this is one of the saddest fallacies of our modern and convenient world. Well-made, home-cooked, whole-food, real-food meals are the best in health and taste. This topic should be addressed in a whole other blog, so if you want to explore this idea more at length, check out this website for a start: Remember, these foods supported people for thousands of years without creating the high rate of hearth disease, diabetes, digestive disorders, and other chronic illnesses that we have today.

3) Eat with intention. Avoid eating with the TV on or when listening to the news or reading depressing articles or books. Focus on the food, your appreciation for the nourishment it is providing you, and consider the life that used to be in that carrot, potato, slice of steak or chicken thigh. Consider saying a prayer of thanks. Whether spiritual, religious or agnostic, we can all appreciate the journey a seed or creature took to become the food that will eventually become a part of our own cells. This is the circle of life! Being respectful of it and what it means to be a part of it will give you a whole new reverence for each bite you take.

4) Share as many meals as you can with people that make you feel good about you. Connecting with people that make you feel happy while sharing food can help you to connect with your food in a positive way, as well. Try not to eat when upset or with people that chronically make you upset.

5) Chew thoroughly enough not to choke, but don’t count your chewing motions. Eating food should be natural and sensational, not regimented and scientific. Thinking too much does not make an enjoyable experience.

6) Stop when you begin to feel full. The worst way to end a great, sensation-filled meal is to eat one bite too many. If you slow yourself down and appreciate your food in the ways I have just mentioned, you’ll avoid the unpleasant sensation of gluttonous bloat. Eating slow enough to taste your food, even putting your fork or spoon down between bites to consider the deliciousness of the food your tastebuds are currently exploring, will help you to feel that point of contented fullness before it becomes miserable distension.

And finally,

7) Eat, enjoy, and move on. Don’t regret a single thing you eat that is not “healthy.” It is unhealthy to wallow in guilt and regret. Remember, tomorrow is a brand new day.

Eating emotionally doesn’t have to mean savagely consuming a bag of potato chips in your cubicle before anyone sees you. Enjoying your food guilt-free and basking in the happy feelings each bite gives you can become your daily haven, and the best part is, you can reach this space more than once in a day! If what I’ve said intrigues you, maybe try out these tips and see how “emotional eating” can bring you into a better relationship with your food, and by extension, enhance your sense of well-being. I’ll leave you with these quotes I found that, hopefully, will inspire you for your next meal. Happy eating!

Caitlin Howell, M.S. (Human Nutrition)

Assistant Grocery Manager


Don’t wreck a sublime chocolate experience by feeling guilty. Chocolate isn’t like premarital sex. It will not make you pregnant. And it always feels good.
– Lora Brody

There is no love sincerer than the love of food. – George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food – Hippocrates

A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety. -Aesop

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. -Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own