Health & Wellness Articles

Get a Handle on Emotional Eating

The Secret Sabotage of Your Program


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.
If you still seem to come back to food when your emotions get the best of you, you can at least be prepared. Eating large amounts of snacks is not a good thing. But if you eat low calorie foods, it’s not so bad. So stock the fridge with healthy alternatives--foods that have good nutritious value and are smaller in size. Here are a few food suggestions to keep within arms' reach:
  • Apple or orange slices
  • Carrot sticks
  • Banana
  • Broccoli
  • Whole wheat toast
  • Bran muffin
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Applesauce

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Member Comments

    I just think I have this licked and it comes back again.
    Adding article to my favorites. I can definitely get caught up in emotional eating and it's not good. I like this article and it's a healthy reminder.
  • Yep, did it today! I was hungry and I was disappointed, maybe angry, and I made a pie that no one was going to eat. Luckily, I escaped with only eating 2 pieces
  • I gave up emotional eating a long time a go! Instead of eating a whole pizza, I. eat a Lean Cuisine French a Bread Pizza! I hope U have a Super & Blessed Saturday! Linda!
  • It is so difficult to go for a walk when you want to eat
  • I stopped with the emotional eating a few years ago, and I have been in maintenance with my weight for a while, but life gets in the way, and I have noticed with the increase in emotional upheaval in my life I a, starting to fall back into that trap and feed my emotion rather than fueling my body. It is an insidious pattern, that can come back at any time.
  • I had a breakthrough just a couple of weeks ago. i talked to myself in order to calm down. I never ever used that technique before. To say the least, I'm shocked how calm i felt just by doing that. No emotional eating at all. Practice makes perfect though :D
  • I have been watching "My 600-lb Life" and going through all the series believe it or not. And although I need to lose about 50 pounds, most of these people are either near 600 pounds or over.

    I guess my point is, that with most of the people that are this heavy, and from what the program shows, these men and women do emotional eating.

    Most of the women, and some of the men have been sexually abused and that is what triggered their emotional eating; it made them feel "safe and made them feel good" and it was because they felt they had no where else to go or no one else to talk to about their sexual and ongoing sexual abuse. This was very sad but what an eye opener!

    And for the ones that were not sexually abused but were still emotional eaters, because they too had other problems with all sorts of relationship issues within their family or significant other.

    For most all of these people, their emotional eating habits were established when they were young children; for others, maybe later on in life, whatever the reason.

    Dr. Now, and the bariatric doctor on the show who treats these people in Houston, Texas, basically will see these people, take note of their answer when he asks what causes them to over eat. Then he gives them a basic diet of 1,200 calories a day with no snacking, and to eat more protein and to cut the carbs, basically the sugar stuff and processed stuff. Then he has them come back in for a weight check and to see how they are doing. He knows that if they cannot do the diet, then they will have issues later on after surgery in keeping the weight off because they will end up gaining the weight back.

    He tells them not to drink soda of any kind after surgery because it will stretch the stomach. And that's not good. He tells the ones that have lymphedema to stick with the diet so that their body can heal.

    And there were some that absolutely thought they could cheat and lie to Dr. Now and many of them do; but the fact is the scale does not lie and Dr. Now cuts to the chase and tells them so.

    It's sad that ...
  • I agree with some of the ideas here. But also agree with one member who said about Binge eating. my daughter deals with that and it is hard. In order to beat it you have to come face to face with your problems and what is bothering you. Some of us deal with issues from out past and others have troubles now. In my case I have both past and present issues. I try to forget my problems by eating or losing myself in a book. Reading is better but still does not solve the problems.
  • Emotional eater yes I can get in that trap but I keep cold purified water next too me and splurge on it instead of foods
  • Ugh, every time I would get upset I would either binge or become anorexic again. It was always one extreme or the other. I didn't get the emotional eating under control until I got my depression/anxiet
    y and suicidal ideas under control. The first part of the solution is to figure out WHAT you're feeling and then WHY you're feeling the way you're feeling. I hated myself for so long and used food to punish myself in one way or another. I didn't like this article - it's far too simple an approach to such a complex problem most of us have struggled with for years.
    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.
  • 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!!
    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'.