Understanding Emotional Eating

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Emotional eating or eating to feel good is not harmful when within means of not overeating combined with mindless eating. These can be both mentally and physically harmful to our bodies and mind. Emotional eating is a way to cope with several things beside stress if handled in moderation. Everyone at some time or another will emotionally eat, as we all eat for pleasure as well out of necessity.

Emotional eating is a coping tool used in different scenarios. For people that quit smoking will use emotional eating as a coping mechanism to help distract them from smoking. For stress some people use emotional eating as a coping tool for taking time to sit down and relax to eat. Emotional eating is inevitable, however the choice of foods to emotional eat with makes all the difference for a healthier outcome.

Emotional overeating can cause weight issues and other health issues. There are some clues to figure out if you are an emotional overeater. Most of us may not even realize we are doing this, however a good clue is if there is weight gain and we don’t know why. Emotional overeating is when you eat until you are stuffed and uncomfortable. Our emotions can and does affect the way we eat. Try not to assume that the changes are due to getting older or not enough exercise; really examine what could be affecting your emotional overeating habits.

How to Tell If You Are an Emotional Eater

It is very easy to confuse emotional hunger with physical hunger. There is definitely a difference between the two. With emotional hunger you will feel hungry instantly, whereas physical hunger is more gradual. When emotional hunger hits you instantly you will feel your hunger as urgent and overwhelming. Emotional eating will leave you feeling unsatisfied as well and you continue to think you’re still hungry.

The type of food will help you determine between emotional hunger and physical hunger. If you are feeling physical hunger, then any food will do, even a healthy snack. Now with emotional hunger you will crave the fatter, more sugary foods and we all have had this craving at some time in our lives. Craving food is emotional hunger.

Mindless eating goes along with emotional eating, when you can’t eat just one chip and before you realize it you have eaten the whole bag. With physical hunger, you are more aware of what you are eating and how much.

You decide – Emotional Eater?


  • When you are feeling stressed, do you find that you eat more?
  • Are you still eating when you are full or not really hungry?
  • When you are sad, mad, or anxious, do you eat to feel better?
  • Do you use food as a reward for yourself?
  • Do you over eat feeling stuffed?
  • Do you look at food like your friend or to make you feel safe?
  • Does being around food make you feel out of control?


Possible Causes for Emotional Eating

If you have identified with being an Emotional Eater, the next step is to identify your triggers. These triggers usually will vary for each person. Some people may be triggered to emotional eating due to stress. If you feel hungry when stressed some of this is actually physical due to the fact that the body’s stress hormone cortisol is trigged. This hormone can trigger a craving for a certain type of food to try to get a burst of energy or pleasure. Some of the foods you may crave when stressed will be high in salt, sweet, and high in fat content.

Another trigger can be brought on by emotions that may be uncomfortable like sadness, anxiety, or shame. Some people try to numb themselves by emotional eating.

Some may even emotional eat from boredom. While watching television or just setting around with friends. With emotional eating some may be trying to fill a void that cannot be explained.

Emotional eating can also be brought from our childhoods. Were a lot of your child rewards food oriented? If you got a good report card you were rewarded with ice cream or if you were feeling sad a pizza. These habits can carry on into adulthood without even realizing this is a trigger.

Another trigger that can have you emotional eating is when friends or family get together. Whether it is the holidays or just visits, food is usually the center of the situation. Overindulging is acceptable and sometimes promoted.


Be more mindful of your meals regarding their effect and nutritional value.

Realize that emotional eating is a legitimate coping choice, not a failure.

Slow down to observe your food, the taste and smell to enjoy the food more.

Try eating with the opposite hand or using an unusual utensil to keep your mind aware while emotional eating.

To fulfill the motion of eating, try eating carrot or celery sticks instead of candy or chips.

Take time to really enjoy what you are eating, actually enjoy your eating time and make it relaxing. Meaning turn off the television and any other distractions, so you can actually focus on your food.

Emotional eating is our way of coping, emotional overeating is harmful.

Other alternatives besides eating can be to call a friend and talk if you are bored or depressed. For anxiety, listen to some music and dance, or take a walk or exercise. For tiredness, try a hot soothing bath or a cup of tea. Get into a hobby, read a book, or watch a comedy show.

Habits are hard to change, so adjust one or two at a time, without adding more stress on yourself. Keep a diary of the foods you eat daily along with your emotions of how you were feeling that day. Also include any out of the ordinary scenarios that may have happened that day. You will see a pattern in yourself that will help to change some things in your life for the better starting with the type and amount of foods you eat.

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  • Jennifer D.

    Reply Reply March 1, 2016

    I’m definitely an emotional eater. Comfort food is what we call it in the south. But, really, isn’t our entire culture set up for celebratory eating??

    • Chris Bridger

      Reply Reply March 4, 2016

      I agree with you 100% on the celebratory eating. It’s interesting to get different view points on this thanks for sharing!

  • Kim Rawks

    Reply Reply March 2, 2016

    Jennifer – I married into an Italian family. Like the south, everything centers on food. Ugh!

  • Maddie

    Reply Reply March 14, 2016

    I have an awful problem with emotional eating. I really need to work on this, but this article did give me some great advice and information. It’s a tough habit to break!

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