What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is a habit of consuming food out of anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration, or even boredom, rather than true hunger. It can be a way to avoid consciously thinking about our problems, or doing anything to solve them. Emotional eaters often turn to unhealthy foods as a source of comfort when dealing a stressful situation, or as a reward for getting through one.


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Why is it bad?

Emotional eating can have negative impacts on your mood and health. The pattern of stress eating is commonly associated with shame and guilt, and may contribute to an unhealthy diet and weight gain. It is especially damaging for those who have (or are predisposed to) obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

Junk food, grocery store, Houston, TX, USA

gruntzooki on Flickr

How to eat for the right reasons:

1) Be mindful of what triggers your emotional eating.

It is important to identify the source of your stress. Before you reach for comfort food, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” If the answer is no, then try to identify what sorts of emotions may be contributing to your desire to eat. This could include stress from work, school, relationships, family, finances, or a combination of multiple stressors. It can be useful to make a mental note of these emotions, or even write them down. Sometimes, simply being mindful of what triggers the craving can allow you to step away.


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2) Find alternative behaviors to cope with negative emotions.

Once you are aware of what types of stressors trigger your emotional eating, you can replace eating with a habit that helps relieve stress in a healthier way. For example, many people find that journaling, exercising, meditating, spending time with others, or participating in a creative activity helps sort through or redirect negative thoughts. You should use whatever simple habits work for you. By replacing emotional eating with one of these beneficial habits, stress can be addressed and overcome. 

journal, coffee

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3) If possible, eliminate temptations.

Willpower is finite, so it is useful to limit your access to tempting, unhealthy food. Ideally, you could reduce the chances of emotional eating by getting rid of the junk food in your living space. If this is not entirely possible, put the foods in a space that is more difficult to access (like the top shelf or the back of the freezer) so that it is less likely you will mindlessly gravitate towards it. You can also replace junk foods with healthy alternatives, like berries or low sodium popcorn. It is important to remember not to use food as a reward for an achievement. Instead, think of food as nourishment to keep your body in good health.

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Denise Uy
4) Be patient with yourself.

Breaking old habits and forming new ones takes time and patience, and progress may not always be linear. If you slip up, do not be too harsh on yourself. The goal is not to restrict and limit your diet, but rather to develop a wholesome relationship with food over time. The good news is that we have control over our emotions, and therefore can overcome emotional eating with increased mindfulness and healthy habit-building.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

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