Emotional Eating: Why It Happens & How To Stop

Last week on Instagram stories I asked what's challenging for you about emotional eating. Here were a few responses.

“Temporary dopamine hit and feeling comfortable with a familiar sense of fullness. Unhealthy cravings for greasy, fatty, sugary comfort foods! And eating too much.”

“It’s hard because it feels good!”

"It happens when I'm sad and triggered."

Yep, I'm right there with you but thankfully there's a way out of the cycles of emotional cravings and intense desire for salt, fat and sweets. 


What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is anytime you eat food in response to an emotion. It often happens when you are trying to soothe a negative emotion with comfort food. You feel triggered, disconnected and want to numb or avoid something.

It's important to note, not all emotional eating is bad or wrong. We experience food on a physical and emotional level everyday and saying that we need to stop emotional eating on all fronts is not realistic. They are connected but what I do want id for you to be able to CHOOSE when you eat out of emotion (on purpose) and not because you have no other choice.


What are some examples of emotional eating?

One, you are at a friends birthday party and after dinner, they serve cake. You happily accept a piece, along with everyone else, with the intention of celebrating your friends birthday and enjoy every bite with zero guilt. Two, you come home from work having felt triggered by a conversation with a co-worker and just don't want to deal with anyone else. You then feel an intense desire for a piece of chocolate, salty chips or mac 'n' cheese. You grab easy, comfort food as a means to avoid how you're feeling.

Both are emotional but one is done with intention while the other is to cope.


Emotional eating is a messenger

It's a signal from your body and emotions that they need to be seen, heard and cared for. Not ignored or numbed. So whatever the emotion is (feeling sad, lonely, bored, angry, stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed, exhaustion or fear) realize this is an opportunity to listen to your body! It's your job to pivot, name the emotion and channel your energy to cycle through the emotion in a constructive way.


Ask yourself: "What am I actually hungry for?"

This can be hard to do in the moment, especially when the feeling is strongest and you don't want to deal with it, but it really works! If you're craving sweet, ask yourself where you can add sweetness into you life? If you're craving fat, ask yourself where you can add structure or support? If you're craving salt, ask yourself where do you need clarity?


Biological vs Emotional Hunger

Knowing which one is happening in your body will give you insight so you can make a choice that is in alignment with your emotions and physical body. Often times it can be a blend of the two. 

Biological hunger

  • It's been a couple hours since you last ate
  • You can think through what you want to eat
  • Stomach growls/gurgles
  •  Low Energy
  • Food is satisfying and filling when you eat

Emotional hunger

  • No physical cues from body
  • You're searching in the kitchen
  • You have a specific food craving
  • Little time has passed since you last ate

If you notice you are physically hungry, then eat! If you notice you are emotionally hungry, this is your chance to pivot. Get out of the kitchen and away from food! Call a friend, get out in nature, do something creative with your hands, journal, drink a glass of water (add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to curb sweet cravings), breathe deeply or exercise.


You can also ask yourself: "What is food being a place holder for?"

Be real and raw as you investigate your emotions with kindness. There's no need to be angry with yourself during or after you emotionally eat, you're human! Beating yourself up won't solve anything. Be curious around why your feeling the way you do and choose a different action to satisfy the emotion.


Choose Different

I want you to know you are empowered and in control of when and what you eat. I get it. It's hard! We live in a food rich culture with many food items that are full of chemicals, sugar and a flavor profile designed to make it hard to stop eating, without feeling physically full (think any processed food). But you are loved, supported and smart. Capable of making the decision that will benefit your health and make you feel good in the long run.