Your Non-Food Coping Tools

May 4, 2022

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to share some insight I have as a Registered Dietitian.

I have worked in Eating Disorder Clinics in addition to years of helping clients who are struggling with years of disordered eating going under the radar, and I've discovered he importance of having non food related coping tools. Let’s first look at why we are discussing this during May. An eating disorder is a mental health diagnosis with nutrition implications. More specifically, they are  classified as "feeding and eating disorders" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and the term "eating disorders" represents a group of complex mental health conditions that can seriously impair health and social functioning. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among mental illnesses.

That said, these are complex conditions that require an interdisciplinary treatment team including Mental Health professionals, Physicians, and Registered Dietitians. The role of a Registered Dietitian is to gradually establish a nourishing, balanced way of eating where all desired foods fit, where the individual trusts themself to eat in a way that supports both their physical and mental health. This is no small feat! Oftentimes, this requires disrupting years of disordered patterns of eating as well as reprogramming how they view food and their body.

Diet culture is ubiquitous and promotes a body ideal and aesthetic, and the pursuit of this can have lasting effects for generations. People lose touch with what foods they enjoy as well as their hunger and fullness cues as they yo-yo diet and experiment with fad dieting. Contrary to diet culture, one of the principles of intuitive eating is to respect your body and genetic blueprint, rather than attempting to change it. As a mom of young kids, it is fascinating to witness how in tune with their appetites young children are. They honor their hunger when they are hungry and respect their fullness when they are not, two other principles of intuitive eating. Simply put, they are attune to their physical hunger. Somewhere along the way to adulthood, many individuals lose touch with this and turn to food to deal with emotional hunger, instead. Inevitably, this often introduces additional emotions on the scene after eating, such as disgust and shame about what they have eaten or how they feel after eating, and the cycle continues.

So what can you do to avoid this slippery slope or help your loved ones?

This is where the importance of non-food related coping tools comes in. So when you have “big feelings”, what can you do in place of emotional eating, or “eating your feelings”, a cheeky phrase that reiterates how ubiquitous this concept is. Emotions that may cause emotional eating run the gamut, ranging from being stressed to overwhelmed, anxious, tired, excited, bored ... you name it. Are you an emotional eater? Can you identify what emotion or emotions trigger you to turn towards food? Awareness is key. Next, identify some non-food-related coping tools you could try next time it strikes. Common ones include resting or sleeping, journaling, talking via therapy or with a loved one, reading, watching a show, moving your body, listening to or making music, having a dance party, artistic outlets, taking a hot shower or bath, stepping outdoors, praying or meditating, etc.

Practice integrating these into your day, and give yourself grace. New habits take time and self-compassion, but having these tools in your tool box will be imperative as you heal your relationship with food. Need help? Our Registered Dietitians and Mental Health Specialists would love to support you on your journey towards a healthy relationship with food.

Click HERE to learn more about the Wellview services available to you. We can’t wait to work with you!

– Keeley Mezzancello, MS, RD, LDN, CHWC

Health Advisor, Registered Dietitian | Email Keeley

We’re changing the way people engage with healthcare.

Request a Demo