Emotional Eating: Why Are You Doing It & How Do You Stop?

May 2, 2020

Emotional eating is when you eat in response to negative emotions or stress. This can be done consciously or unconsciously, sometimes occurring when a person is undergoing a stressful, uncomfortable situation, or even when he or she is bored.

For most emotional eaters, food is used to soothe feelings of sadness, loneliness, anger and fear. Research shows that emotional eaters attempt to self-medicate and self-regulate their moods with food, usually in the act of overeating.

Life events that are perceived as negative can trigger emotional eating and even weight gain. But emotional eating can also be used fulfill a feeling of deprivation, which may occur when on a diet or restricting calorie consumption.

An emotional and physical emptiness is being “filled” with food when you eat. For emotional eaters, the food provides a temporary wholeness, but it doesn’t last long.

Emotional Eating Cycle

Emotional eating is an unhealthy cycle that’s repeated over and over again, sometimes allowing the problem to get out of control. For people dealing with daily emotional eating, it’s a type of binge eating disorder.

The emotional eating cycle is continuous. It begins with trigger that leads to discomfort and promotes eating, even if you aren’t actually hungry.

The stages of emotional eating are:

1.Stress or trigger occurs

2.Turn to food for comfort

3.Temporarily feel relief

4.Develop feelings of guilt and sadness


Why do we use food for comfort and engage in this harmful cycle? For many people, the fullness they feel from food takes the place of fulfillment they lack in other areas of life.

There can be a feeling of emptiness that’s stemmed from relationships issues, issues related to self-esteem and worthiness, and feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger

If you’re an emotional eater, you may be getting cues for emotional hunger confused with physical hunger. It helps to understand the difference between the two types of hunger, so here’s a simple breakdown:

Physical Hunger

•Develops over time

Comes with physical signs, including empty stomach, lack of energy, stomach growling, moodiness

You want to eat a balanced meal and you’re open to eating different foods

While eating, you use your senses to enjoy the food

After eating, you feel full and satisfied

You don’t experience feelings of guilt after eating

Emotional Hunger

Develops randomly and quickly

Doesn’t come with physical signs of hunger but is triggered by emotional discomfort

Comes with specific food cravings (like for sugary or salty foods)

You stress about your food choices and tend to label foods as “good or bad”

You ignore portion sizes and overeat without even noticing

Usually doesn’t come with a filling sensation after eating

You feel like you’re eating in a trance

Leads to feelings of guilt, regret and sadness

How to Stop Emotional/Stress Eating

Good news — there are ways to combat emotional eating. Research published in the Journal of Eating Disorders indicates that promoting exercise, mindful eating, emotion regulation and positive body image could have positive effects on emotional eaters.

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