To resolve your eating problems, it helps to understand what food means to you, that is, what you really use it for. If you’re looking for it to have magical powers to do something other than nourish your body and give you occasional pleasure, it will fail every time. And you’ll miss an important opportunity for appropriate self-care.

What does food mean to you? If you respond with words such as nourishment, fuel, pleasure, survival, or nutrients, you will need to dig deeper because you’ve also been using it to address other needs or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Here are some needs that dysregulated eaters mistakenly use food for which it will never meet.

Comfort: Food is not comfort except in the moment. In fact, when used for comfort, food brings you its opposite, distress, and it actually becomes a substantial source of it. You know the discomfort from eating emotionally all too well—the behavior generates self-loathing, guilt, shame, remorse, and sometimes even despair. Pairing emotional eating with these feeling states will help you reduce seeking food for comfort.

Excitement: Eating is not meant to be a form of excitement. Some foods bring us pleasure and we have a wallop of a good time eating (or making) them. But, if eating is the high point of your day—or life—and you turn to food because you’re bored or want stimulation, you’re looking in the wrong place. There are plenty of effective ways to get mental and physical stimulation, ways that are legitimate and have no downside.

Companionship: Food is not your friend. It is an inanimate object and does not have relational capacities. Even pets are not real “friends”, though they do offer sterling companionship. If you turn to food because you crave genuine affection and intimacy, you will never get them. Only real live people will provide you with the connection and bonding you seek. Eating for companionship, in the long run, will only make you feel more alone and disconnected from the world.

Meaning: Food does not giving meaning to your life unless you are a chef (for work or hobby), caterer, food grower, etc. Meaning comes from recognizing what makes you happy and pursuing it. It springs from finding pleasure in small things and having goals which give life purpose. Meandering from nibble to nosh will never afford your life deep meaning. It will only prevent you from finding it.