Emotional Eating…When Food Seems Like the Answer to all Your Problems

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Does this sound like you: It’s a happy day so I will cook healthy foods and follow my meal plan; it’s a bad day, (bored, sad, lonely), and I will eat junk food and prepared foods all day! Emotional eating is one of the most prevalent reasons in America for overeating. Everyone uses food to not only give us energy; they use it to mimic emotions.

When you are eating for reasons besides hunger you are eating due to emotions. An emotion is triggering your need to eat. It is your job to determine the triggers of emotional eating. You will have your own signs that you can overcome when you know what they are.

Physical Hunger Vs Emotional Eating

It is easy to get the two confused. You may think you are in a great mood and eating well and decide to reward yourself with a big, sugary treat. But why are you rewarding yourself for doing something that you need to do anyway? That is where the emotion comes in. Some of these emotions are so hidden it is difficult to find them. Emotional eating is when you are eating to deal with your feelings.1

  • Emotional eating comes in quick bursts
  • Physical hunger builds over time
  • Emotional eating is craving a specific food
  • Physical hunger is not so picky
  • Emotional hunger must be feed NOW
  • Physical hunger is much more patient
  • Emotional hunger does not always go away when you are full
  • Physical hunger is sated after you eat a meal
  • Emotional hunger can lead to guilt
  • Physicals hunger leads to comfort2

Emotional Eating and Comfort Foods

Do you crave comfort foods when you hear the emotional hunger train? Emotional eating gives into cravings and is usually focused on one specific food. No other food will do until you can eat this food.

You may not realize it, but you are not eating this food to satisfy a feeling a hunger, you are eating to get a certain feeling. Many people wrongly think all emotional eating is related to negative feelings – people overeat when they are sad. However, this is not always true. People do eat with their emotions when they sad but they do so when they are happy, lonely, scared, bored and at other times also.

Comfort foods can be grouped in categories. Women tend to go for cookies and chocolate. Men head for pizza, casseroles, steak, and other savory dishes. In addition, emotions can play a role in what food you reach for. Pizza and steak are joyful foods while ice cream is reserved for sad emotional eating.

Overeating Emotions

Emotional eating can quickly lead to overeating. This occurs when a person uses eating as their main source of managing emotions. This is especially true if the foods are unhealthy. You can lose track of what you are eating or how much you are eating with emotional eating.3

If you let your emotions become the number one strategy you have in your pocket for managing emotions you will get yourself in trouble, with your weight, your health, and your emotions. With emotional eating, you are consuming calories when your body does not need the fuel. The calories are stored as fat. It is this stored fat that leads to weight problems such as overweight or obesity. This will also lead to big health issues.

Do You Know?

Do you know when you are emotionally eating? The first step in conquering emotional eating is knowing that it is occurring and when it occurs. Keep a food journal and write down when you eat, what you eat, how you feel, and any other pertinent information.

Once you know you are an emotional eater you can learn to manage it.

Learn your emotional triggers

  • Compose a list of activates to take the place of emotional eating and choose something off this list when you feel the urge to eat
  • Get some exercise, phone a friend, clean house, do anything to keep from giving into a craving
  • If you cannot get rid of the hunger pains or craving try to steer toward healthy foods
  • If you have relied heavily on comfort foods in the past do not go cold turkey – take small steps to stopping your emotional eating

The Break Up

Make the commitment now to break up with your emotions – emotional eating, that is! Keeping your journal is the first step and once you start you are well on your way to severing the cord between you and one of the main reasons for being overweight.

You can learn more about your emotional eating profile by considering the following questions:

What types of foods to you binge on? What is the number one food that you eat until you want to ‘pop’?

  • What do you think and feel when you eat your food choices?
  • These foods have the ‘power’ to make you feel – do they make you feel good about yourself or bad about yourself or somewhere in between?
  • Have you ever given up something else for food?
  • What do you do or feel when you can’t get the food you love?

Emotional eating can have a huge vise on life. It can paralyze your life and you can be a victim to your urges. When you are aware of the reasons behind emotional eating, you have the power to conquer it.


1  Emotional Eating. (n.d.). Retrieved from Kids Health: kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?lic=175&dn=GirlsHealthDotGov&article_set=75024&cat_id=20124

2  University of Tennessee Extension. (n.d.). Retrieved from Tennessee Shapes Up: utextension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/SP622.pdf

3 The Mindless Eatless that Adds Pounds. (n.d.). Retrieved from News In Health: newsinhealth.nih.gov/2005/July2005/docs/01features_01.htm#feature01


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