Health & Wellness Articles

Get a Handle on Emotional Eating

The Secret Sabotage of Your Program

832SHARES

Ever been angry or upset one minute and then on your couch eating the next, unable to remember why you started eating or how long you had spent munching? If so, then you have entered the world of emotional eating. It’s something than can happen to anyone, and one of the most common dieting obstacles out there.

Emotional eating at its best passes after a few minutes. At its worst, it can take over your life and cause you to eat uncontrollably for extended periods of time. And according to nutritional experts, 75% of overeating is caused by emotions. So don’t worry, if you suffer from emotional eating, you are not alone.

People often eat to relieve stress or to get something off their minds. The kicker is that stress, and the insulin jump that goes with it, may actually cause you to crave high sugar, high carbohydrate foods – foods that go straight to your waistline and cause you even more stress.

Rather than munching, it's better to develop new skills for dealing with boredom, self-esteem issues and stress. Try to pinpoint the major reasons for your stress or unpleasant emotions, and see how you can turn the tide. Here are a few suggestions to combat your emotions:
 

  • Get your trigger foods out of the house, get your crutch foods out of arms' reach
  • Go for a walk or jog. Physical activity relieves stress.
  • Do deep breathing and relaxation exercises
  • Keep a reminder of your goal handy
  • Talk to a friend
  • Visit and post on the support message boards
  • Surround yourself with positive reinforcers, like pictures and people
  • Keep a journal that includes your best personal accomplishments
  • Track your eating patterns, including when and why you pick up food. Continued ›
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832SHARES

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Member Comments

  • Everyone eats emotionally from time to time, but often people may think they are emotional eaters when they may actually have Binge Eating Disorder (BED) which is a serious eating disorder which should be diagnosed and treated with the help of a mental health professional. I am a little worried that someone may read this article and recognize parts of themselves but not understand that they may have a serious eating disorder. If you have overwhelming compulsions to eat and eat uncontrollably on a regular basis, followed by feelings of self-loathing, disgust and shame afterwards, you may have BED. BED is more common than Bulimia and Anorexia combined and can have serious consequences if left untreated. - 9/15/2014 10:41:16 PM
  • I am so an emotional eater. I have been treated horribly most of my life and I always found solace in food. It was something "I controlled" (hah, how stupid that sounds to me now, more like I was digging my own grave). Talking to my Mom and her problems with emotional eating, it is no wonder I have such a problem with it. It is hard to overcome!

    Even though I thought I was finally getting a handle on it, earlier I was upset and found myself munching on a bag of chips hubby hid away and I found. I was feeling unloved, fat and unappreciated plus the stress of things in life. The food didn't make me feel better, it was just a momentary distraction. After I ate a handful, I asked myself what I was doing, put the bag away and immediately tracked what I ate. I didn't let myself feel bad about it, I acknowledged it and moved on. The food doesn't make the problems go away, just creates new ones. I could have allowed it to become a full out binge, I would have gained weight, I would hate myself, find excuses not to exercise and eat everything not nailed down and it could have become a huge thing that would spiral into me gaining back some, if not all, of the 74lbs I have lost. I don't want that to happen after all my hard work!! - 6/7/2014 2:50:38 PM
  • The article says: "75% of overeating is caused by emotions" - no, the overeating is caused by GIVING IN to the urge to overeat that seems to be triggered by emotions. That would be a more accurate way to see it. If we didn't give in, we would not overeat. The book Brain over Binge gives insights into this.

    I too object to the use of the 'tantalizing pics'.

    I do not agree with the suggestion to have 'healthy foods' instead of junk food when there's an urge to overeat. This only reinforces the underlying problem with 'emotional overeating': that having food somehow helps with strong emotions and has the capacity to soothe them. As I see it this is one of the main roots of the problem with 'emotional eating'.
    - 5/29/2014 3:55:32 AM
  • Is it me or does every article on binge eating lead with a tantalizing photo of junk food or some sugary dessert? What is it, a test? - 1/19/2014 4:06:42 PM
  • I was an emotional eater for much of my adult life. I tried every diet you could name. Weight Watchers, Lindora, South Beach, Atkins, HCG. And guess what? I lost weight every time. Usually between 30 and 50 lbs. But then I stopped dieting, and gained it ALL back. It was very frustrating! When I wasn't dieting I was constantly craving pasta, cheese, or anything crunchy. I wasn't so much a sweets gal. But I would come home at night after work and make several helpings of spaghetti or fettuccine alfredo and plop down in front of the TV. I finally figured out that I was eating to reduce some kind of subconscious tension, anxiety and a general unhappiness with my life. Then I decided to take a look at my life in great detail, and use emotional freedom techniques to rid myself of my emotional eating. I methodically examined all my memories from childhood to present and released any negative emotions I was harboring. The end result is I'm emotionally free for the first time in my life, and I'm very happy. I've lost 30 lbs and am still losing. I no longer crave high carb foods and look forward to eating salads and fresh fruits and veggies for my meals. I would encourage anyone struggling with emotional eating or food addiction to investigate EFT. I've also shared my journey, as well as all the exact techniques and exercises I used to get over my emotional eating in my book, ThinStead. If my story resonates with you, and you want to get over your emotional eating too, ThinStead is available on Amazon. If you can beat your emotional eating, you won't have to diet anymore, because you'll automatically be making healthier food choices every day. Doing the emotional work seriously gave me back my life. I feel freer and happier now than I ever have. It's been such a miracle in my life that I wanted to share my story with the world. God bless you in your journey to health and fitness! - 8/16/2012 1:31:55 PM
  • LIKESTOJUMP1
    I read that emotional eating was caused by a serotonin deficiency and then coincidentally (or maybe not) I came across a product made in England (innoveat). I suffer from this particularly during my cycle and I think this is the main cause of my gaining weight in the past three years. Since using innoveat I feel much happier, healthier and do not eat to make myself feel better as was frequently the case before. I have now lost ten pounds. - 7/19/2012 12:16:50 PM
  • I KNOW I'm an emotional eater. But I've become much better about stopping and asking myself, "What do you REALLY want right now?" It's rarely food. Usually it's a hug, or for someone to tell me he loves me, or for someone to appreciate what I do, or a hot bath, or a good book. I'm lucky in that I can ask my husband for a hug or whatever any time, which helps a lot. Being an "empty nester," though, I find that a lot of what I really want has to do with my grown kids, who have moved away. :-( It also helps to baby my pets when I'm feeling down. - 5/26/2012 3:21:38 PM
  • Well, you got the fact right that stress triggers insulin release which triggers sugar cravings.

    Thing is, controlling it isn't a matter of will power, it's a matter of gaining control over stress levels which affect cortisol levels which affect a whole slew of other systems which keep us stressed, exhausted, and prone to pack on weight.

    Problem is, the 'fix it advice' seems to be: Eat less, exercise more, and if it doesn't work, it's your fault because you didn't try hard enough.

    Never mind that exercising more (ie cardio) and eating less exacerbate the problem, which causes people to 'stress eat'.... because, oh yeah, they're stressed.

    The best fix: stop exercising like a madman/woman, eat better, and sleep more until you've healed the system. Then start addressing the underlying emotional issues that remain. - 5/15/2012 1:54:16 PM
  • My problem with this is my husband copes the same way. So we tend to enable each other. Course we also use food as an excuse to celebrate ALL acheivments which just occured to me as I'm typing this. - 1/10/2012 6:18:50 AM
  • A_WISE_WOMAN
    Jopolwarth, I can relate to having to stuff my anger. I'm slowly getting past it, and one of the ways I'm doing it is to admit to myself that I'm angry, and to go back to the first time I felt that anger, which is usually something from a long time ago. Then I (mentally) allow myself to yell at the original person and let them know just what they've done to me. I think what is important to me as well is to FEEL that original pain. I don't necessarily feel better immediately, but sometimes I'm surprised at the insights I have to my own life, the behaviors I've adopted as a result of the past, and how I can make better choices now. I find that, even though I thought I was good and angry at the present situation, I actually never let myself get really angry at the original hurt, and the present is just a replay that I can handle as an adult. I'm finding the need to emotionally eat to be less and less. - 12/31/2011 9:18:27 PM
  • JOPOLWARTH
    Thanks everyone for sharing.
    Both my parents tantrummed. At the same time or separately one or both would start raging about something and it would go on - literally - for hours. If I interacted with them in any way, if I did anythng but "take it" it only made it worse. Many times the tantrums started at the dinner table. To keep my mouth shut, I put food in it. That kept me from saying anything, so the tantrums would run out of fuel faster. Once when asked "I'm afraid of monsters. What are you afraid of?" I answered "I'm afraid of turning into a monster." So many times I have prayed, "Lord, please kill me, please let me die, rather than hurt anyone the ways they hurt me." I would tell my children, "Mommy is having trouble with self-control. I need to be alone til I my self-control is better." I'd go to my room and beat the bed pillows and vent. I also taught them that it is perfectly okay to say "Excuse me" or "Mom, I have to study" if I start going on and on about something. I hate being like this. So in the course of ordinary life, sometimes I feel angry. Many times I am turning to that old reliable coping tool before I even have acknowledged to myself that I am angry. And - so many times I have been sooo glad that I didn't say what I was feeling and thinking -- in a day or two, more information, a different perspective. Soo glad I didn't say anything at the time. Meanwhile, my healthy weight is 130 and I weigh 180. The absurdity of it is how manyother people have told me "You are so patient" or "I feel so safe with you, to tell you anything" or "I didn't even know you could get mad." Is there a way to not be abusive and not be fat? - 12/31/2011 9:55:24 AM
  • Wow! Now I know what my problem is. This is an everyday problem for me I just feel like eating and the bad thing about it is I'm not even hungry when I do this. Thanks for the wake up. - 12/19/2011 2:20:13 AM
  • I so relate to this article. I have been an emotional eater my whole life. I love the tips on what to keep on hand just in case. I am trying to retrain my brain with other ways to handle stress. - 5/23/2011 8:39:47 AM
  • NLLMAC
    I have fallen in love with sugar-free popsicles. the cold seems to "stun" be out of my unconscious eating; I can crunch on them if I am frustrated and the most I have ever been able to consume at any one time is 3 before my tongue is numb and / or I have a brain freeze. so for whatever it's worth to anyone I pass this on. - 5/20/2011 10:42:09 AM
  • Boy, I relate to this. I just started with Spark People and have found that I consistently turn to junk food - sweet things, especially (not even GOOD sweet things - junk like jelly beans and hot tamales and cheap candy) and I'm so frustrated and irritated at my lack of will power. Wish it were that easy to substitute good food. I guess it's all about making choices and deciding what's the most important thing, but gee, it's sure hard...
    - 4/21/2011 1:21:05 PM

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