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How To Stop Emotional Eating: Facts and Ideas

Updated on December 5, 2012
Your eating choices effect all facets of life.
Your eating choices effect all facets of life. | Source

Emotional eating, quite simply, is taking in food for any other reason than truly being hungry. It can range from noshing while watching your favorite TV show to binging in secret.

Episodes usually bring on guilt or remorse, or even surprise (did I really eat all those potato chips?). Not only that, but physical symptoms from overeating only add to the problem. Extra pounds, digestive issues, and fatigue are just some of the possible side effects of this habit.

I have struggled with this issue since I was young. It's taken a while to understand the reasons why I started and have continued such a destructive behavior. And I've discovered more than one triggering emotion at work over the years.

Becoming aware of triggers to emotional eating is a giant step towards changing the behavior.
Becoming aware of triggers to emotional eating is a giant step towards changing the behavior. | Source

Emotional Eating Triggers

If you have trouble in this area, don't despair - there is a way through it and out the other side. The first step is to figure out possible triggers, and how your feelings might be leading you to food.

Consider these ideas:

1. Boredom

Do you find that on evenings or weekends or even at your job, snacking is a convenient time filler for spare moments? There's not much work or brain power needed for a tasty escape from daily life.

2. Stress

When you get home from work, is the kitchen or pantry your first stop? A bowl of your favorite ice cream can feel like a just reward for surviving a tough day. (This can apply to any place you find demanding or tiring!)

3. Depression/Grief

In the midst of a difficult time, do you seek comfort food? When we're hurting, we look for the safe and familiar. Maybe, you hope, having a special childhood (or current) treat can give your spirit a lift.

4. Unexpressed Anger

Is your usual reaction to a possible confrontation to run or try to hide? Do you then grumble to yourself about a situation while biting down on crunchy nibbles? Hiding inside a bag or box is easier in the short term than dealing head-on with frustrations.

5. Anxiety/Worry

Does constant fear about the future and potential trouble lead you to seek occasional mental "retreats"? Trying to figure out and plan everything in life is exhausting. A yummy bite of something can offer an instant distraction.

How Do You Feel?

It can be hard to pinpoint your emotions. One way to get a better sense is to keep a "feelings" journal. For a week, write down any strong emotions you feel during each day. If you can't name it, write a phrase or thought - ex. "I can't believe my boss asked me to work overtime again!!"

Look back over the journal later, and see if there are any connections between times of strong emotions and bouts of extra eating. A clearer understanding of your eating patterns equips you to do make positive changes to them.

Emotional Eating Cycle Breakers

There are lots of ways for you to stop emotional eating. Finding alternatives to old habits and getting support for yourself is key. Here are a few things that have helped me in my journey:

  • Getting Checked Out - A visit to your doctor for a check up is important. Though a medical condition is rarely the cause of emotional eating, it's good to make sure that no nutritional deficiencies are playing a part in your cravings. Once I found out I was basically in good physical health, I could concentrate on my emotional and mental health.
  • Talking it out - Sometimes all it takes to dispel anger or stress is to share with a trusted friend. Just saying things out loud and knowing you're being heard eases tension. And having a good laugh is terrific medicine too!
  • Reading Up - Along with a journal, I started reading articles and books about emotional eating. Finding out facts and seeing success stories gave me a starting point and some promising ideas to try.
  • Busying Yourself - It may sound simplistic, but keeping your mind and hands occupied can make a huge difference. Is there an activity, like scrapbooking, that you could pursue? Would singing in the local choral society or joining a book club excite you? Resurrect an old dream or hobby and invest yourself in it. And your interest in snacks will fade in comparison!

Alternative Approaches
Hypnosis - This method of focusing the mind is meant to help release negative thoughts and and to reinforce positive new behaviors. You can visit local specialists or even access counselors by phone. Self-guided sessions are available to download, or CD's and DVD's can be ordered online at sites like Hypnosis

Acupuncture - as part of a weight loss or eating change program, acupuncture has been effective for some in easing stress and relaxing the mind. This method of using needles on specific points of the body, is said to improve the mood naturally and decrease the need to binge. is a source for finding practitioners in your area.

For More Support

Counselors can be helpful for more intense battles with depression, grief or anxiety. They are trained to guide you in working through underlying issues. And you can learn how to better address similar situations on your own when they arise.

I joined a support group, and recommend them. Overeaters Anonymous is well-respected, but there are many others. Sharing my struggles and being part of a group gave me a feeling of community and accountability that was really encouraging.


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    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      mbwalz -Thanks for commenting. The more I learn about how food can effect the body and mind, and vice versa, the more I want to make better decisions about what I eat. It's definitely a process...

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Michelle - I totally relate. I spend most of my day in the kitchen, and it's hard not to reach out and grab something "just because"! Thanks for the comment, and I'm cheering you on!

    • Michelle Taylor profile image

      Michelle Taylor 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Great hub and incredibly informative. I definitely have a problem with boredom and eating. It has also become a habit that whenever I enter the kitchen, either for just a glass or water or to throw something out, I immediately open the fridge and freezer and look for something to eat. It takes a huge effort to break that habit sometimes!

    • mbwalz profile image

      MaryBeth Walz 5 years ago from Maine

      Great hub, especially the ideas for helping yourself with the emotional aspect.

      I was just reading about food and addiction - the relationship between calorie dense foods and Dopamine. It's fascinating!

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Interesting facts and useful information! I generally start eating out of boredom sometimes...

      Will be careful the nest time!! :)

      Sharing it and up!