It’s common to want to reach for a snack, chocolate, or an entire meal when you’re not feeling well. And the emotional challenges in recovery might lead to the need to feel comforted. It’s common for people to turn to comfort foods when feeling emotional pain. However, there are pros and cons to this experience.
Food as a Coping Tool
Of course, turning to food instead of alcohol or drugs is by far safer. If you’re in recovery, especially during the first few months, you might feel the need to reach for food more often than usual. There are many uncomfortable feelings that can arise when someone is detoxing from alcohol or drugs. Also, it’s not only during the detoxification period but also during the first few months of recovery that challenging feelings might arise. If you’re reaching for food instead of alcohol and/or drugs, you might put on some extra pounds during the first few weeks or months of recovery. However, food isn’t going to inebriate you like alcohol will, and food will not make you hallucinogenic or manic like cocaine might. So, it’s a safe option. And if you’re only reaching for food two or three times per day then it may not be a big deal. Chocolate, ice cream, tuna casserole are foods that can ease the pain of depression or anxiety for some people. In fact, a person might reach for comfort foods when they are feeling:
However, there are some dangers in using food as a coping tool. These are:
- When food becomes another addiction, it can sometimes get to a point where it too requires treatment.
- If food is being used as a coping tool, it may be replacing the drugs and alcohol. However, a person may have missed the point of addiction treatment which is to learn healthier coping tools in order to better manage their life.
- Using food as a means to cope in recovery may become so severe that it creates health concerns that might not otherwise be there.
- During recovery, a balanced diet can help with having the inner clarity to face the challenging emotions that arise. Poor eating can even exacerbate those uncomfortable emotions.
- If you are putting on weight, this might add to feelings of poor self worth or low self confidence.
In order to avoid these consequences, a person might do their best to eat mindfully. This means paying attention to the triggers that prompt their desires to eat. This can help a person make healthier food choices as well as choose not to eat for emotional reasons. Also, in order to avoid emotional eating, a person might begin to face the root causes of their emotional pain. This might have been the cause that prompted a person’s addiction, which might be now prompting unhealthy eating patterns. To examine these root causes, a person might work with a therapist, psychologist, or clinician who specializes in eating disorders.
Emotional eating is harmless from time to time. However, if it becomes a problem, contact a mental health provider for support.