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Emotional Eating: The Facts


Emotional Eating: The Facts

What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is a fairly common phenomenon in which food is used as a tool for dealing with strong emotions. Emotional eaters generally are unaware of how their emotions are impacting food intake.

Why do some people have a problem with emotional eating?
The issue is probably multifactorial for the majority of people. However, we know that brain chemistry has much to do with it. Certain foods increase the influx of “feel good chemicals” into the brain, and this sends a message to us that we should eat more to feel even better. Many people associate food with comfort, feeling as if they were “taken care of.” When they cannot get these feelings from other people or from within themselves, food seems like an easy cure.

Today’s society relies heavily on food as a way of celebrating. Every major holiday and special event is built on a foundation of food. This is large-scale emotional eating. Many people find themselves preparing food and eating as a means of distracting themselves from the things that they would rather not think about or feel, even though they probably should.

Is emotional eating always bad?
No! Some people are able to occasionally comfort themselves with food and do so without any long-term health damage. Emotional eating becomes a problem when it becomes a habit. People who suffer from emotional eating tend to cycle between guilt and bingeing, and have a difficult time making peace with food. People with serious issues involving emotional eating often do not even taste the food that they are eating. Emotional eating has nothing to do with physical hunger.

What can I do to stop emotional eating?
The first step is to try to figure out what specific emotions spur you on to eat more. Keeping a detailed food record, including what you were feeling every time that you eat, is a good first step.  Once you know what is causing you to overeat, it is easier to figure out what you need to take the place of food.

For example, the inner dialogue might go something like this: Are you stressed? How can you find relaxation without food in front of you? If there was no food in front of you, what would you do with this feeling? Would you go for a walk, take a hot bath, call a friend, begin a creative project, read a book, or write a letter that you will never send? What needs to change in your life to break this pattern of stress that is so severe that it is driving you to overeat?

One of the most obvious ways to prevent eating unhealthy foods in response to your emotions is to just not keep unhealthy foods in the house. Of course, even too much “healthy” food can lead to weight gain, but not as easily.

Do not go hard on yourself if you slip up from time to time. Instead, try to recover as quickly as possible. Look at each fallback as a way of finding out more about how your emotions and diet are linked together.


References and recommended readings

Great Mountain at Fox Run. Stopping emotional eating.
Available at:
Accessed November 16, 2011.

Mayo Clinic. Weight-loss help: gain control of emotional eating.
Available at:
Accessed November 16, 2011.

MedicineNet. Weight loss: emotional eating.
Available at:
Accessed November 16, 2011.


Review Date 11/11



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