Emotional Eating: How to not eat your feelings


For most people, emotional eating is a learned behavior used to deal with uncomfortable feelings or emotions.  Emotional eating is very common because food tastes good, is always there, can help numb negative feelings, and can be exciting. Unfortunately, there are typically negative consequences with emotional eating and any “solutions” it provides are only temporary.

To overcome emotional eating, you’ve got to get in touch with your emotions. 

Ask yourself these four questions:

  1. Am I hungry? You’re hungry, please eat! But many people have a difficult time discerning between physical and “mental” hunger. Mental hunger can be prompted by a plate of cookies in the office break room, a holiday tradition (peppermint stick icecream, anyone?), or an ad on TV. Learn to recognize what actual hunger feels like.
  2. What am I feeling? If you find you are having a difficult time deciding if you are physically hungry, or if you know you are not hungry, this is an opportunity to find out what is prompting you to eat. Are you upset or tired? Did you receive great news? Are you bored or anxious?
  3. What do I really need? Based on your emotions, think about what will really solve the issue. For example, if you’re stressed, what you really need is a way to blow off steam, not a cookie. Think of ways to relieve stress, maybe you call a friend, or get out of theoffice. Maybe, you need to take a bubble bath or write in your journal.
  4. What’s my game plan?  Think of two to three things that will help “solve” your problem without food. Employ these strategies first before you reach for the food. For example, if you’re bored, perhaps doing a crossword puzzle, reading a chapter in your book, or going for a walk will help. Commit to doing these things first, and if afterwards you still want to eat, go ahead.

Tackling emotional eating is no easy task, so be patient with yourself. These strategies may not always eliminate the emotional eating, but they will likely help reduce and control it.