Emotional eating is eating to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness, and loneliness. Major life events or, more commonly, the hassles of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating and disrupt your weight-loss efforts. These triggers might include relationship conflicts, work or other stressors, fatigue, financial pressures, and health problems. Although some people eat less in the face of strong emotions, if you're in emotional distress, you might turn to impulsive or binge eating, quickly consuming whatever's convenient without enjoyment. Your emotions can become so tied to the eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you're angry or stressed without thinking about what you're doing. Food also serves as a distraction. For instance, if you're worried about an upcoming event or stewing over a conflict, you may focus on eating comfort food instead of dealing with the painful situation. Emotional eating causes an unhealthy cycle — your emotions trigger you to overeat, you beat yourself up for getting off your weight-loss track, and you feel bad and overeat again. When negative emotions threaten to trigger emotional eating, you can take steps to control cravings.
To help stop emotional eating, these are some ways to help deal with it:
Keep a food diary: Write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you feel when you eat and how hungry you are. Over time, you might see patterns that reveal the connection between mood and food.
- Tame your stress. If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress management technique, such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.
- Have a hunger reality check. Is your hunger physical or emotional? You're probably not hungry if you ate just a few hours ago and didn't have a rumbling stomach. Give the craving time to pass.
- Get support. You're more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a good support network. Lean on family and friends or consider joining a support group.
- Fight boredom. Instead of snacking when you're not hungry, distract yourself and substitute a healthier behavior. Take a walk, watch a movie, play with your cat, listen to music, read, surf the internet or call a friend.
- Take away temptation. Don't keep hard-to-resist comfort foods in your home. And if you feel angry or blue, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you have your emotions in check.
- Don't deprive yourself. When trying to lose weight, you might limit calories, eat the same foods repeatedly and banish treats; this may increase your food cravings, especially in response to emotions. Eat satisfying amounts of healthier foods, enjoy an occasional treat and get plenty of variety to help curb cravings.
- Snack healthy. If you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose a healthy snack, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip, nuts, or unbuttered popcorn. Or try lower-calorie versions of your favorite foods to see if they satisfy your craving.
- Learn from setbacks. If you have an emotional eating episode, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Try to learn from the experience and plan how to prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you're making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that'll lead to better health.
I have had this issue throughout my life when I feel stressed and rely on eating to help me cope. But I realized this is a bad habit, so my mom encouraged me to keep a food diary, exercise, and take breaks between assignments and distractions.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, December 9). Weight loss: Gain control of emotional eating. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 9, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20047342