Health & Wellness Articles

Take Action Against Emotional Eating

Regain Control With Exercise


HEADLINE: Emotional Eating is a Problem

Your reaction: Tell me something I don’t know…

By now, you likely know what emotional eating is. You probably realize that emotions cause 75% of overeating. You're an expert on how to discover times and triggers of high emotions. What you’re waiting on are alternatives. Enter exercise.

Exercise is a great emotional outlet because it provides remedies for many of the emotions that trigger eating. Plus it’s a healthy alternative.

You’re in control
Different feelings can cause emotional spells. Loss of control is one. Maybe you’re going through a difficult break-up. Your company is downsizing. A family member is ill. You can go all day feeling like you’re losing control – until the moment you open the fridge. Now, the control is back.

Exercise can remedy this even better, providing the same in-control feelings that food does. You can decide which exercises you do, where you exercise and for how long, and the list goes on. Work out in the living room, or at the park. Break a quick sweat in 15 minutes, or walk for an hour. Unlike other areas in your life, this choice is yours.

Reverse the unhealthy trend
Hopelessness is another cause of emotional eating. You may feel unhealthy, overweight, and that you can’t do anything about it. So you turn to comfort foods, typically unhealthy ones, and simply add to the problem. Exercise is another way to deal with your emotions and to regain hope, only it’s a healthy version. All exercise holds some healthy benefits; there’s no exercise that will make you unhealthier.

Rely on others
What does food provide when you’re emotional? For most, it’s comfort. Why not turn to a friend or family member instead for that comfort? If you’re worried they won’t have time for you, that’s where fitness comes into play. Exercising with a fitness buddy or a group when stress and emotions hit benefits everyone. You are able to share your time and your feelings with someone you trust. Perhaps they have some great advice for you, or you may think of a better way to handle the issue just by saying it out-loud.

Plus, with this strategy, everyone receives the benefits of working out. It’s a win-win situation for you and your fitness buddy!

Comfort exercises
When emotions hit, some of us open the fridge and find our favorite foods to console us. Think about some exercises that you find comforting instead.  "Comfort exercises" are your favorites, the ones you always enjoy. They should be activities you look at as FUN, not as work.

You can have a different comfort exercise for each season (running in the winter, yard work in the summer) or for different times of day (push-ups in the morning, stretching in the evening). You can have several comfort exercises, or just one. Discover what exercises you truly enjoy, ones you look forward to, and lean on them when your emotions strike.

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Member Comments

  • ah, yes, yoga is my 'comfort exercise' - I know this because I WANT to do it - it's like hug xxx

    I lead a Spark team that works through Linda Spangle's book '100 Days of Weight Loss which is made up of 100 bite-sized 'lessons' which address emotional eating behaviours. The link is in my signature if you're curious.
  • What I personally would appreciate is tips on how to deal with situational emotional eating where exercise is not possible. My biggest stressor is work. I work in a group home taking care of people with developmental disibilities. I work long hours and exercise is not really an option.
  • I have been what I call thungry (thinking I'm hungry) even after I've eaten a well balanced meal. For the past few weeks I have been gaining (I was at my first goal weight and was hoping to lose another 5 pounds). I track every thing I eat usually and drink lots of water. But i also found myself in the cabinet digging into my "low cal snacks" because they are quick and easy to get to. They don't fill the void of wanting to eat one bit either. So i have now made it taboo to eat anything after my meals are completed. I allow myself two snacks a day, usually eaten with my meal. I had a 1.1 pound weight loss so far this week and I hope to continue to monitor my cravings.
  • I wish I could favourite this article! This is exactly what I have found to work for me, thank you for writing it and sharing it :)
    thank you for the tips! great article!:-)
    I completely agree that exercise can be a tool in managing stress and anxiety which often leads us to overeat, but moderation and context is important and it isn't the only way of lessening anxiety. Binge eating followed by compulsive exercise may help in regulating weight, but it does not solve the problem. Meditation, yoga, connecting with a friend, going for a walk in the woods...these are also effective ways of managing the anxiety that leads us to use food as a tranquiliser. As long as the exercise isn't compulsive or compensatory it can be a great tool for stress reduction, but it isn't the only one.
  • I really like the idea of comfort exercises! I need to put my thinking cap on and figure out what that means for me.
    Awesome n helpful
  • I have found that it not emotional eating so much as it is eating out of boredom or exhaustion that gets me. I am working on mindful eating and not eating just for something to do - I always stay busy but sometimes the tasks are tedious and dull and I think that I want to eat when I am really not hungry.
  • Oh shoot (picture from article goes into my head) . . . now I want a Reese's cup . . . lol!

    I am in control and REFUSE to spend my hard earned $1 on junk food. Thankfully!!!!

    My go to tip for avoiding emotional eating . . . take a bath, take a nap, take a walk, or call a friend and paint my fingernails (it's hard to eat with wet polish)---just to get 'engaged' in something besides eating.

    Good article, good common sense.
  • Sometimes I eat when I get emotional. But exercise is a great way instead of stuffing our face.
  • the problem that i come up against is this: i know that exercising will have the same effect as eating, but going to the kitchen doesn't take as long. i'm a med school student, so i don't necessarily have time to change into gym clothes, go downstairs, and do a 20 minute workout every time i'm stressed out or frustrated (happens often)...
  • My problem is that I don't have money to go to the gym, swimming, yoga or dancing classes (not even for one only) I do my exercises with the videos provided by sparkpeople and with fitness evolved, dance central - xbox. I can't share my problems (that are many for almost 3 years) with my family that is in another country and I don't have "friends" to share with either. Some days its only a hopeless felling that all I can think it's give up and just don't think anymore and go on automatic. Today specially was a really hard begging but here we go again and keep going the way I can.
  • WELDEDLIFE, you should see a vertical bar to the left of the article. The third button up from the bottom of the list is "save".

    I like this article and I think it is useful and true information. However, I need some tips for dealing with stress and emotions during periods when I don't have time to exercise. I am going through a period like that right now and it is extremely difficult because exercise is my stress reliever and when the days are so packed that I can't fit it in, my stress level gets out of control.
  • Is there a way to favorite articles on spark for our accounts. This is one I want to keep and reread.

About The Author

Zach Van Hart Zach Van Hart
Zach is a journalist who regularly covers health and exercise topics.

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