Guest Post: An Art Museum Can Stop Your Emotional Eating

Special thanks to Joanna Poppink, MFT, for this Guest Post!


Emotional eating is triggered by feelings you can’t bear.  You may anticipate them and eat to prevent their arrival.


Feeling those feelings without distraction allows you to understand your real needs and take positive action that won’t add pounds to your body. Fine art can help. 


Living as an emotional eater is like living in a restricted society of one. When you eat to quell your feelings, you close and restrict your awareness of yourself and the world around you. Life gets narrow as you focus on the tightening of your clothes and the rising numbers on your scale.


An art masterpiece can penetrate your defenses because it’s not about you.  It’s about the artist and the artist’s world.  Your psyche will give you an opportunity to go to sensitive feelings because they don’t seem to be related to what you eat over.  When you make a personal connection with the emotional content in the art you discover that not only could the artist paint or sculpt what you felt, but the artist could bear those feelings.  And if the artist could, that means they can be felt and tolerated by a human being, including you. 


Suddenly you have companionship at a level in your psyche where you were you certain you were isolated and unreachable.  Not only that, but this work is on display. It is loved and respected. You release your feelings of worthlessness and despair when you have evidence that others can witness and honor feelings you can’t bear with appreciation and even gratitude.


Art nourishes and stimulates. Even when it provokes rejection it provides a learning opportunity, just as resistance in psychotherapy shows the client and the therapist the location of a “hot spot” in the psyche that needs exploring.


To meet your hidden emotions and develop the sturdiness to bear them, visit your museums.  Walk through the galleries looking at each painting and sculpture briefly. When a work catches your eye for any reason at all or for no reason, linger with it for a while. 


  • Pay attention to your thoughts and associations. 
  • What is opening in your mind?
  • What feelings are expressed that you know about?
  • What new understanding is coming to you?


If you can’t answer these questions, keep returning to this work of art.  It holds some wisdom for you personally. In time you will be able to take it in. 


As you proceed on this course you respect and honor your feelings as well as learn to bear them.  You won’t be pulled to eat over them.  In fact, you may welcome them and create some art of your own.


Examples, but please find your own as well.


An El Greco can introduce you to a level of pain and mourning you cannot bear alone.


A J.M.W.Turner can introduce you to passion and courage required to face a mighty storm and the breathless shock or peace when it subsides.


A Van Gogh can teach you the stamina required to live under hardship and surprise you with unexpected beauty and tenderness.


A Degas can open your heart to the strength and beauty of unconscious feminine at work in dance.


Renoir can open your appreciation to unconscious feminine loveliness in private moments (at any weight).


Da Vinci can remind you of the spiritual depths possible in a human being (including you.)


Mary Cassett can show you tenderness, caring and love between mother and child.

(I highly recommend lots of Cassett viewing if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.)


Georgia O’Keefe can show you the internal landscape of the feminine in her paintings of the world around her.



You can find love, cruelty, passion, disdain, hope, freedom, joy, grief, rage, lust, innocence, betrayal, humiliation, loss, delight, redemption, love, acceptance, tenderness and inspiration plus more in great art. Among them are the feelings you eat over rather than bear because you don’t know how to bear them.  What’s more, you don’t know they can be borne. 


Seeing the originals is, of course, best.  But if you can’t, the internet can show you the works in many great museums and galleries around the world.  Libraries will offer you fine art books with large and lustrous illustrations.  Let yourself discover the pieces that can breathe a new spirit of strength and healing to your being.


  1. Do you have favorite works of art? What are they?
  2. Is there art that you can’t abide?  What is it? These pieces are awakening feelings too.
  3. Are you patient or impatient with yourself when meeting art?
  4. Can you allow yourself freedom and respect to respond naturally to what you see?


Joanna Poppink, MFT, Los Angeles psychotherapist, speaker, author of Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder.;


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  • 2/24/2012 9:34 PM Lori Licker wrote:
    I enjoy many of the artists you mentioned but the artists that really touch me to the core are the ones healing from eating disorders and related issues (such as depression and sexual abuse). That's probably why I also am such a big fan of art therapy from both sides of the desk so to speak.
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