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Emotional eating means you’re human

Emotional eating means you’re human

Tara Dunker

Tara Dunker

Introducing myself as a dietitian is often met with some surprisingly funny remarks.

“Don’t look at what I ordered. I’m eating French fries.”

“You don’t eat donuts. You’re a dietitian.”

“I bet you workout all the time.”

“You must eat tons of salads.”

Here’s the thing: I love French fries and donuts just as much as my preschooler (a lot), no one would ever accuse me of being particularly athletic and it’s a constant struggle to find forms of exercise I enjoy enough to stick with long term.

While I am a fan of vegetables and do eat my fair share of salads, credit probably goes more to my mom on this one than to me. Nature and nurture likely had a hand in this food preference.

You see, even we crazy dietitians are human, and being human means having a relationship with food that is anything but simple—especially in times of stress.

Emotions, appetite and metabolism are closely tied to hormones released as part of the body’s internal reward system, which is where the term “comfort food” comes into play. And I’m here to tell you it’s perfectly OK to find comfort in your food.

Take those donuts, for instance. My almost 3-year-old has learned during this pandemic that not only do donuts taste great, but they also mean fun trips in the car with her dad after being cooped up for days.

Maybe someday, when she’s going through her own adult stress, she’ll find comfort in a donut for complex reasons she’ll never really understand. But as her mom, I’ll think back to this time when her little world was flipped upside down and watching her eat the top off of her sprinkle donut made my day.

Be gentle with yourself if you’re eating a little extra “junk” these days. With so many isolated at home, working long hours on-the-job or juggling work and family in entirely new ways, it's no wonder we’re getting more pleasure from food.

When you find yourself eating for comfort, take a cue from my daughter and consider doing it more mindfully. Instead of agreeing to eat any old donut, she actively chooses the one with sprinkles because it’s her favorite.

She takes her time savoring every bite off the top, until all that’s left is the much less fun bottom. Then, she’s off to play without feeling the need to clean her plate. Leave it to a child to practice intuitive eating like a pro.

With some gentle guidance, she balances her love of treats with an equally strong love of broccoli. She pays attention to her body’s cues and stops eating when satisfied, no matter what the food happens to be. And rather than worrying about burning calories—a concept I hope she always rejects—she moves her body because it’s fun and feels good.

Next time you’re beating yourself up about snacking more and moving less during these strange times, just think: What would a preschooler do?

If you have any further questions, please contact Tara Dunker at 402-223-1384,, or visit the Gage County Extension website at


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