6 Ways to Deal When You’re Feeling Out of Control Around Food

Over the years, I’ve used a variety of therapeutic tools. Meditation has helped create space for thoughts to feel less urgent and intrusive. Journaling and art have been consistently cathartic, allowing me to step back and process my emotions and experiences in a more objective and compassionate way.

4. Do something you find pleasurable.

We often turn to food as a source of pleasure, especially if we’ve been restricting our dietary intake, Melissa I. Klein, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College who specializes in eating disorders, tells SELF. There’s nothing inherently wrong with eating recreationally or occasionally using food as a pick-me-up. In fact, joy, joyful connection, and other positive emotions can be a central part of forming a healthy relationship with food. However, if you think eating for pleasure is one reason why you feel out of control around food, it may be helpful to develop alternative sources of pleasure and ways of responding to emotions like boredom or frustration.

Engaging in an alternate activity can shift your focus away from food, says Dr. Klein. It can be helpful to have some intentional distractions up your sleeve to interrupt and relieve overwhelming thoughts and emotions.

These can be activities such as playing an instrument, taking a bath, or creating art. Eventually, you might be able to turn to these kinds of activities for comfort or pleasure in moments where you would have felt out of control while looking to food for those feelings instead.

5. Seek out expert help.

A caveat to bear in mind is that people feel out of control around food for a wide spectrum of reasons, which is why a “one-size-fits-all” approach is unrealistic. For this reason, it’s important to consult with an expert, if possible, to determine the underlying causes for why you’re feeling out of control. That could be a physical health expert, a mental health expert, or both.

“For someone whose eating is driven primarily by physiology, suggesting behavior changes and activities can be not only highly frustrating, but stigmatizing, which can further promote out-of-control eating, mood disorders, and physical health problems associated with stress,” says Dr. Tanofsky-Kraff.

If you really don’t know why you’re feeling out of control around food, if it feels more physical than mental, or if it’s a sudden change for you, it may be helpful to see your primary care doctor to rule out physical causes. For example, conditions like diabetes (type 1 and type 2) and hyperthyroidism can cause significant increases in appetite.

Finding a therapist can be intimidating if you don’t know where to start, but there are lots of resources online to offer guidance. You can also ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist who specializes in eating-related issues, and they may be able to recommend someone who’s covered by the same insurance or know about financial assistance programs that can provide support. (These tips on how to find the best therapist for you can also help, too.)

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, there’s also an influx of therapy platforms that can offer more affordable and flexible counseling services online. A few options include BetterHelp and Talkspace. Before using an online company, though, do some research to ensure that the service you want to try carries out its practices ethically and will protect your privacy.

6. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling.

While seeking out the services of a professional therapist can undoubtedly be helpful, it might not be an option for everyone. There are various systemic barriers that prevent people from receiving the mental health care that they need. Some cannot afford therapy or lack the insurance to pay for it, while others may have trouble finding culturally competent therapists.