Emotional Eating... can it be a good thing?

A patient of mine recently confessed to eating a couple of cookies in addition to other things. It was during one of her more difficult and emotional weeks. I had been working with her to towards healing from years of health issues she had struggled with, and the past few months in her healing journey were overwhelming.

At this point, her health issues had flared back up, and by all accounts, those cookies were the worst things she could have eaten for her health. Some practitioners would even say she set herself back in her healing process by this.

As she confessed all of her eating mishaps, including the cookies, I could have emphasized the importance of her adherence to the dietary changes we made. I could have told her to simply not eat the cookies anymore. I could have given her other healthier options or a strategy for how to avoid this emotional eating pitfall in the future. Yet I knew the season she was in was hard. It was a season of God healing her heart as much as He was healing her body.

I knew God was not asking for her to fix herself by perfect adherence to a protocol. I knew He was bigger than a few cookies, and right now He just wanted to comfort His daughter. I felt very firmly that, in this moment, God did not want me to enforce strict boundaries.

Instead, I asked her if she enjoyed the cookies.

She sheepishly said yes, as though it was a bad thing. I dug a little farther. “Were you able to control how many you ate?”

“Yes, I only had two.”

I then asked her if those cookies gave her comfort on her hard day.

She thought about this for a moment, and then surprised herself by her answer. “Yes, it actually was comforting.”

“Well,” I said, '“maybe this is a good thing. God loves to meet our hearts through a cookie sometimes.”

You could see the confusion in her eyes, but also a slight smile at the possibility that eating a cookie and letting it comfort her could be a good thing.

I went on to explain that God created food in a mysterious way. It always seems to connect to our hearts. It is not wrong to emotionally eat when you are leaning on God. Sometimes, it is His way of loving on us. Sometimes, He just wants to meet us through a cookie.

Food is tied to all kinds of emotions. It stimulates memories. It evokes joy, comfort, gratitude, and creative passion for some people. To separate food from our emotions was never God’s desire.

Like anything good that God creates, it can also be perverted into something not good. Emotional eating becomes a problem when the food becomes our source of comfort or our source of joy. Food, by itself, really holds no power to comfort or give true joy. It can only feed our emotions while we eat it. Once it is gone, our heart is in much the same state as it was before.

As a result, food can become an unhealthy craving or a place of incredibly strict discipline. This creates a cycle of constantly looking to food. Overeating can happen more readily, or the mind can become obsessed with when or what the next meal or snack is. 

When Jesus is comforting us through food, or giving us joy through a meal, it lasts. The comfort continues to be felt even when the cookie is gone. Joy is felt even after the meal has ended. He is the one who gives us gifts that last.

Wisdom and healthy boundaries are necessary in life, but our main focus is to keep our eyes ever on Jesus. Food is meant to connect us to God’s love. It was never intended to take the place of it.