Emotional Overeating: Everything You Need to Know


Nov 23, 2023

Emotional eating occurs when people are in a vulnerable state and use food to support their emotions, not because they’re hungry. This can happen due to low emotional states like depression, anxiety, stress, or even loneliness. Unfortunately, it can lead to weight gain and, in extreme cases, obesity. If you recognize this in yourself, don’t panic; there are many ways to overcome emotional eating and leave it behind for good.
Eat Your Emotions:
When you reach for the next level after a tough phone call or grab cookies when you’re tired, it can be comforting to know that you’re not alone. At some point in life, many of us will find emotions or comfort in food. This is often accompanied by feelings of guilt or shame about these eating habits, which can then lead to a cycle of overeating and related issues like weight gain and eating disorders. In fact, many of us don’t even realize we’re emotional eaters. How many of us eat while watching TV, working, using our phones, or even reading? When engaged in another activity, we don’t realize that we’ve managed to consume an entire meal, a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, or anything else because our brain is focused on what we’re “devouring.” Our brain can only focus on one thing at a time, so we often overeat when distracted. So how do you know if you’re an emotional eater? It may look different for everyone, but you might discover that you don’t control your emotions and tend to eat instead of feeling them. You may want to seek more personalized professional help to recognize why you eat. For example, if you eat when stressed, sad, happy, guilty, etc., it could mean that you’re eating your emotions.
Identify Your Triggers:
There are many reasons why emotional hunger may arise, and some of them may be deeply rooted than others. In severe cases, childhood trauma can be the cause of emotional eating, which can lead to a dysfunctional relationship with food. Stress eating is a type of emotional eating, and one reason people eat when stressed is the effect of food (usually highly palatable, like those high in sugar or fat) on releasing the stress hormone cortisol. When this food is consumed during stressful periods, it suppresses the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. It’s responsible for releasing cortisol, so consuming this food can make you feel less stressed because less  cortisol is released.

Since stress and eating can sometimes run on autopilot, keeping a food and mood journal can help you become more aware of your habits. Mindful eating is a very useful technique that helps you become more aware of your eating. Remove all distractions (such as your phone, TV, newspapers) while eating and try to focus on the taste and appearance of the food. Pay attention to the texture as well. Remember that in some cases, emotional hunger is deeply rooted and requires professional psychological help.
Comfort Eating:

A final note on emotional eating: it’s important to remember that eating in response to emotions is not a bad thing. You can turn to comfort food, but sometimes comfort eating is completely normal. Think about the food from your childhood that brings back positive memories. The danger is overeating or using it as your only coping mechanism. So, when struggling with intense emotions, you turn to food as a coping tool. This is when you enter the realm of eating disorders. Although regular overeating is not a guarantee of a healthy relationship with food, using food as one of many calming methods (i.e., emotional eating) is entirely normal and should not be demonized. Remember that eating should be enjoyable. But if food is your only coping strategy and you use it solely to deal with stress in your life, I recommend seeking professional help.
Say No to Emotional Eating Today:
Find other ways to deal with the stress you’re feeling. Discovering a new way to cope with stress in your life is often the first step in overcoming emotional eating. It can be anything from journaling, reading a book, making a cup of tea, or just a few minutes of relaxation every day.
Get Moving:
Some people find that regular exercise greatly helps in relieving the extra stress they may have. Since exercise releases more endorphins in your body, walking or jogging can help, especially when you’re feeling more emotional.
Remove the Worst Offenders from Your Home:
When we know something is there and easily accessible, we become more willing to give in to the pressure and eat it. Keeping food that is the main cause of emotional eating out of your home can help you break this cycle by giving yourself time to think before eating.
Do You Have a Good Relationship with Food?
A good relationship with food is like any other relationship: it takes time, practice, and a lot of patience. A good relationship with food involves moderate acceptance of all foods, eating foods you enjoy, not allowing food to control your life, and knowing that the food you eat doesn’t define your worth as a person. A good relationship with food involves unconditional permission to feed yourself with food that makes you feel physically and mentally well. No food is off-limits, and you don’t feel guilty about eating food that is usually labeled as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Food has become an integral part of our gatherings and celebrations, and most of our social life is related to food and drink. Remember that a good relationship with food is not built overnight. Instead, you will likely have to work on it throughout your life, just as you would with your relationship with a partner, friends, or any other important person in your life.”

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