Breaking Free From Emotional Eating

September 11, 2009 | By | 50 Replies More
Emotional Eating

Emotional Eating

It is a matter of fact that emotional eating is one of the biggest factors in our lives that keeps us from losing the weight that we want to lose. Breaking free from emotional eating will essentially mean that we finally can shed the kilos that seem so attached to us – and once we have conquered emotional eating, it can happen quite without effort, too, because there simply is no need to stuff ourselves with comfort food any more, so the weight starts to come off by itself.

Makes sense, right? Sounds so simple, too. If it just wouldn’t be so very HARD! I don’t know how many of you suffer from emotional eating, but I can count myself into that category fair and square. My first stop is the fridge or the cookie cupboard every time I

  • feel sad or depressed
  • have no self-esteem
  • feel angry
  • am bored
  • am happy 🙂
  • am stressed (big time! I have always been a stress eater!)
  • feel anxious about something
  • am upset or disappointed

Have a look at this list – does that ring a bell? Watch yourself over a period of time and when you go to get some food, just stop and think WHY you are doing this right there and then. See whether you can identify some of your triggers. A healthy diet weight loss is simply not possible as long as we haven’t got our emotional eating under control.

What is “emotional eating”?

Through eating when negative emotions take over we are trying to bring happiness – or a better feeling – back into our life. So emotional eating is nothing but “happiness seeking”. When we have a bad feeling, we go and have some food that makes us feel better (even though it is only temporarily). Unfortunately it usually isn’t apples, strawberries or lettuce that gives us that pleasurable feeling, but chips, chocolate, ice cream, doughnuts, fast food and the likes. They trigger the pleasure centers in our heads and make us feel better. The funny thing is, we KNOW that it will only be very short lived, and we KNOW that we will very much regret it after, but we still do it because we are driven by our emotions and not our head.

How can we break free from emotional eating? Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a quick fix. Because emotions are very different for everybody, and everybody reacts differently to them. Here are two ways of breaking free from emotional eating – they are what I try to do right now, and I am making progress, but I have a long way to go.

  1. Get counseling. Go and speak to a psychologist. It really helps to talk about the feelings we develop that make us go and stuff ourselves with food. The professionals can help us identify in which situations we turn to food and why. They then can help to work out a plan how to tackle this and turn our negative reaction into something more positive that will help us with our feelings and our weight.
  2. Change habits. Emotional eating has developed into a habit for many of us. When we feel a certain way, we react a certain way (FOOD! NOW!). When we recognize this, we can consciously and actively try and change the habit every time we feel a food binge coming along. Work out what else you like to do. Listen to your iPod and dance? Scrapbooking? Knitting? Reading or working in the shed? Stop and think before you grab food next time, and consciously choose to do something else that brings you pleasure instead. If we do this often enough, we develop a different “reaction pattern” and start to push food off the #1 spot for making us feel good.

Does that make sense? I am actually seeing a psychologist about my food addiction. I have better and worse weeks, but I have the feeling I am getting better. I feel like I am being equipped with all I need to know and with ways to handle oncoming food splurges. It’s not easy, definitely not, but it is doable, and anybody can do it. Some will take longer (probably I), others will be breaking free from emotional eating faster. It doesn’t matter, as long as we recognize the problem and then work with it to overcome it.

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Category: Binge Eating, Emotional Eating, My Weight Loss Journey, Weight Loss Challenges

Comments (50)

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  1. Sandy Miller says:

    I find I get over emotional eating if I completely focus on something I really love such as power walking or surfing the Web. The worst thing I can do is plop myself down on the couch because the kitchen starts screaming my name right away!

  2. Ed Krufka says:

    Sounds like something I saw on http://www.fatmatters.com – the psychological deprivation part of strict dieting… I read the free download ebook on that site – made a lot of sense…

  3. Counseling is truly one of the best ways to cope with emotional eating. I had a long-time friend who went to counseling for this exact reason, and came out of it raving about how much her counselor helped her. She admits that she still has bouts with emotional eating, but it’s a whole lot easier for her to resist the urge…

    With that said, I’m feeling a little lonely right now, and I’m wishing I had an ice cream sandwich in my freezer… 😉
    .-= Braun Food Processor´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  4. WOW! Your list hits on all the reasons for my emotional eating. I’m still not so sure I want to be talking to a shrink soon about my frustrations. lol

  5. I also had problems with emotional eating, there were times when I simply felt the need and had to eat something to feel warm and good. My solution was to drink tea instead of eating something and tea surprisingly has the same satisfactory effect on my body. Now I even replaced coffee with tea and I feel even better.

  6. Counseling is great – you just have to make sure that you find one that is knowledgeable in the area of emotional eating, since many are not. I also like the tea idea, since hot liquids tend to register as food in the body. They are more satisfying. Soup works too!
    .-= [email protected] Eating´s last blog ..Stress Eating’s Evil Cousin =-.

  7. Mark says:

    You mention chips, chocolate, ice cream, doughnuts, fast food. These are high processed refine carbohydrates and sugar. Sounds like you have a problem with low blood sugar or you need more serotonin or both.

  8. Elizabeth says:

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    I can relate to this- reaching out for the remote and bag of crisps when I got bored. The key is moderation.
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  9. Peter says:

    Hello Petra…..great topic!

    One of the things that has helped me a lot with emotional eating is asking my self a better question. When I get tempted, especially around pizza my nemesis, I just ask myself “is it more important to me to eat this pizza right now or is it more important to me to get down to X amount of weight by X date? My brain knows the right answer even if my stomach does not.

    Also every morning when I put my keys and my cell phone in my pocket I also have an index card I put in my pocket that just says the weight I want to be at and a date. That way I can pull it out when ever I have a moment during the day and focus on it….

    Along with the weight loss program I am following these have been a big help for me….

    Nice blog by the way!

    • Petra Weiss says:

      Peter, thank you so much for these great tips on how to conquer your emotional eating! I think too that you will be more likely to succeed with breaking bad eating habits if you stop and think for a moment before you “do it” – this can stop the mindless eating before it even begins.

  10. Jeanne says:

    I just came across your article. I’ve recently started a blog and have written an article about emotional eating too. It’s good to see that everyone is starting to deal with this important impetus of eating disorders. There is an important tool that can be used, and I would like you to know about it. It is called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). If you google it there is a lot of info online about it. Good luck to you.
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  11. EFT is also termed modern miracle. EFT is based on a revolutionary new discovery, it contends that the cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body’s energy system. But it is important to take note that in order for this technique to work, it requires open mind..

  12. After years of yo-yoing I found out that the one major muscle that needed flexing for any diet to work was the one between my ears. Learned to stop obsessing and then I started getting better. Nice blog, Petra with good advice.
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  13. I admit, I am guilty of being an emotional eater. Stress is my escape reason for eating chocolates. Afterwards, I feel guilty and tend to eat some more, haha!! I know most of you people out there are raising their eyebrows on me. But what can I do?

  14. Seb Carsson says:

    Great advice. It’s easy to “pig out” when you are bored or anxious. I have a little cow magnet on the fridge with a note that says”holy cow are you eating again”.
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  15. I know a natural way to get rid of emotionnal eating, it is the Flowers’s Bach, a doctor who work on emotional problems and resolve them with plants. Anyone here already try them?

  16. My version of emotional eating is what I like to call a “Stress Diet”. Whenever I am stressed out, I do the opposite of what most people do, I STOP eating. It’s totally subconscious, but it is almost as if my body starts to shut down and I just don’t have a desire to eat. Of course, stress in itself has other major health implications and emotional eating of any kind is not a good habit to keep.
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  17. I certainly agree that eating habit is one of the major reason for almost individual who indulged in a fitness reason. I think one has to acquire self control in order to have superior power over you inner critic.
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  18. Ther are many types of emotional eating. The assumption here is that they all lead to obesity or a poor body self image or an unhealthy outcome. Nope. I love eating. I love the sauces, I love he spices, I love the textures and I love the wonderfully different cuisines. It is an emotional event. It makes me feel better to participate in this cornucopia of food. I am not unfit, I am not fat and if I feel a little down, absolutely I look for some comfort food. It is still calories in and calories out. Do whatever it takes to keep that balance. No guilt, no stress and lotsa good grub.

  19. Leo Avila says:

    If you want to keep your emotional eating under control, trying to acquire these attitudes and behaviors:

    -Think about the normal changes and challenges in your life.
    -Recognize the delays and losses as a temporary problem that can be resolved.
    -Think you’ll have success if you keep moving toward your goal.
    -Solve problems as they appear
    -Establishing strong relationships and meet your commitments to your family and friends.
    -Get a good support system for help.
    -Participates in activities to relax and have fun regularly.
    Leo Avila´s last blog post ..Healthy Diet Food-How To Make Healthier Meals

  20. resveratrol says:

    Oh me, I tend to eat chocolates and ice cream every time I feel depressed, but it can be avoided whenever I’m with my friends because I could share to them what I feel.
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  21. Stress was the cause of my weight problems. It wasn’t until I decided I would see a psychologist to get some strategies to deal with stress without eating that I was able to break that cycle. Learning to deal with emotional issues in the correct way (not just covering them with food/alcohol whatever) usually takes professional guidance since we aren’t taught these kinds of skills and strategies in school. Perhaps we should be!
    James @ weight loss 4 idiots´s last blog post ..Quick And Easy Weight Loss Tips – For People Who Hate Diets And Exercise!

    • Petra Weiss says:

      James, you are so right. If you eat out of other reasons than being hungry (stress, emotions etc.) you need to deal with that before you can really start losing weight.

  22. Emotional eating is definitely my downfall. It’s hard to tell if I’m actually hungry or just bored or feeling anxious about something.
    http://www.dieting–news.com has lots of resources on the topic!
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  23. Changing diet plans and avoiding unnecessary calories is the basic and most
    effective technique. the results can be increased by adding a bit of simple fit
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  24. I am guilty being an emotional eater. And all that you have mentioned, were all the characteristics that I have ever since. Like you, I also have cravings for sweets to munch every time I am depressed or had another break-up. I just don’t know but I felt more complete every time I do that on those occasions. But, thanks to you, I was aware of it. It’ll take time though to finally get over from such habit. Maybe that’s the reason why I keep on gaining weight lately. I’ll try to keep track of my diet from now on–emotional or not.
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  25. My friend is very prone to emotional eating, she finds a great friend in fattening food. She is 40kgs overweight; I am quite worried as she has a long way to gain her BMI index. I don’t think she needs counseling, I think she needs a bit of accountability. She is quite positive and jovial when acquaintances make fun of her, but I don’t get away since I am close and I am quite strict about her well being, so she is quite sensitive to me. Anyways thank you for posting it.

  26. Yeah I have known people who are very much depended on food when they are own with some problems or consider food as a stress reliever or as the answer to all their problems. But beware coz a study on this shows that approximate 75% of overeating is caused by emotions. And the fumy fact is that women tend to eat more than men it seems. The most paradoxical part is that these comfort foods often make the eaters feeling guilty after the binge. I feel the only way to get rid of this habit lies in yourself only I.e identify and avoid food that activates emotional hunger in you. All the very best. Ty.

  27. Arif says:

    I do agree that the women eat more than men during their emotional state.
    I have experienced that women eat more when they are sad.

  28. @Arif, the reason for this is the hormonal difference between men and women, mainly estrogen.

    I think both sexes can better control their eating habits in emotional times through healthy exercise routines. Cardio is said to make people more emotionally stable/healthy and reduce depression and other factors that may increase emotional instability.

    The author hits it right on the head, our mental state influences our eating behaviors. Being healthy in general helps with our mental state and staying active is one of the best things we can do for our health.

    I’d like to hear what causes other people to over indulge and how they cope with those causes.
    [email protected] Preparation´s last blog post ..LSAT Prep Course

  29. Interesting post there Petra, struck a nerve with me too when you mentioned stress eating.

    I’m guilty of stopping off at the takeaway for a pizza if I’ve had a stressful day at work. Feels great at the time then I feel guilty afterwards.

    I’ve started keeping weightwatchers pizza’s in the freezer to satisfy the crave without the calories.

    They obviously don’t taste as good but are only about 450 calories and seem to be doing the trick so I can personally recommend as it seems to be working for me fighting my cravings.

  30. Dhiraj says:

    Emotional eaters will use food to manage their feelings because food relieves tension. When focusing on food, it distracts our minds from uncomfortable feelings (boredom, stress, anxiety, loneliness…) that we would rather not tolerate. We reach for food whenever we don’t feel good about ourselves and emotional eating becomes an ingrained habit.

    Just my two cents….

    Dhiraj

    From Fat burning tips to lose weight

  31. frank says:

    Thank for sharing the post Petra. I do believe that majority of the overweight people are victim of emotional eating and being vigilant about what we eat is very important under any situation in order to make sure that we are losing those extra pounds.
    frank´s last blog post ..Does Green Tea Burn Fat

  32. Breaking Free From Emotional Eating….Hmmm..I wasn’t aware that there is such a thing,,But now that I am already aware of this psychological factor of losing weight, I’ll be more conscious and careful. I am always grateful for posts like this.
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  33. This is definitely true! I did not know until I read your post that I am an emotional eater. I noticed that when I feel stressed I tend to visit the kitchen more often. I think it is time to definitely change this bad habit.
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  34. Eating – is good, but eating much – is not good idea. Over time, this exercise becomes a habit. Be careful with this.

  35. Wow great information about stress eating. Very detailed and lots of idea on how to prevent it.
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