How to Stop Emotional Eating

Do you find yourself snacking when you are feeling blue, or heading for the ice cream aisle when you are mad at someone? If so, you may be a comfort eater. Emotional eaters let their feelings determine when they eat rather than their body. Sometimes we can be emotional eaters and not even realize it. While everyone comfort eats from time to time, chronic emotional eating can lead to serious health problems including obesity and depression.


Do you Eat When You Are Emotional?


The first step to conquering emotional eating is to acknowledge that you do it. If you are unsure as to whether or not you are an emotional eater, take a look at these questions. If you answer yes to any of them than you may be letting your feelings do the driving when it come to how often, how much or what you consume.


  • Do you ever feel guilty after eating?
  • Do you have a craving for certain foods when you are anxious, stressed, angry or sad?
  • Do you find yourself eating without even realizing that you are eating?
  • Do you sometimes eat because you feel there is nothing else to do or you are bored?
  • Do you eat even if you are not hungry?
  • Do you often eat alone, perhaps in your car or in a room with the door locked?


Why People Become Emotional Eaters


There are numerous reasons why people associate eating with feelings. When we are stressed, our body releases all sorts of hormones, especially cortisol, which makes you crave carbohydrates, fatty foods and sugar. Food creates comfortable chemical changes in our body. Chocolate is a good example because it boosts our ” happy, feel- good emotions.” Some people eat when they are stressed because it takes their mind off of uncomfortable thoughts. The media push the image that eating is therapeutic, and this just encourages emotional eating. Vending machines and fast food shops are conveniences which also makes eating when we are not hungry very easy to do. People who don’t deal with boredom well tend to overeat because they have to be entertained all the time. Eating may also trigger good feelings from our past, like “Mom’s apple pie.”


Ending Emotional Eating


To begin to tackle your comfort food issues it is helpful to identify the triggers. When you catch yourself tempted to comfort eat, stop and assess the situation. Ask yourself why you felt like eating, what emotions you were experiencing and what was going through your mind. Keep a food/mood journal to express how you feel. These notes will be extremely therapeutic in your efforts to stop eating emotionally.


Emotional eating is really about searching for comfort in all the wrong places. After you acknowledge that you use food as a comfort, look for healthier ways to find that same comfort. It may be a long walk and talk with a friend, a volunteer position at the local humane society or even taking an art class at the local art school. Whatever you choose, think of something that you can do in place of eating that will be cathartic and purposeful.  Remember, your brain will fight you all the way.  Once neural pathways to pleasure are formed they are hard to cover up. Ask a friend to keep you accountable. If you feel like eating when you are not hungry, you can call your friend and talk about it. Don’t keep unhealthy foods in the house that you can binge on. Incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet and skip the snack aisle at the grocery store. This will keep temptation at bay. Drink plenty of fresh water and be sure to eat three balanced meals and healthy snacks each day.


Don’t be too hard on yourself if you lapse. Pick yourself up and get back on the program. Keep healthy goals and options available. If you are feeling alone and like eating, reach for one of your helplines! In time, you will adjust to the new tools that you have to deal with your emotions in a healthy way instead of a self destructive way.

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