Emotional Eating: What It Is and Tips to Manage It

In an ideal world, you’d determine to have a snack or dinner in response to starvation pangs rumbling out of your abdomen. However, actuality is much completely different. How many instances have you ever absentmindedly noshed on too many chips throughout a worrying soccer recreation, or reached for an additional piece of chocolate since you’re feeling unhappy or bored?

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While an occasional overindulgence is completely OK, each of those situations will be an instance of emotional eating.

First off, emotional consuming is a really regular coping mechanism in response to robust emotions. “The technical definition of emotional eating is eating to escape, numb, change, or amplify our feelings,” says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD. As you may count on, emotional consuming can also be extremely frequent. “Research shows that about 75% of all of our eating is emotionally driven,” Dr. Albers notes. “We eat not because we’re hungry, but because we’re bored, stressed or anxious.”

There’s a organic connection between emotional consuming and stress — particularly that your physique begins producing a hormone known as cortisol while you begin feeling alarmed or upset.

“Cortisol makes us crave sugary, fatty or salty foods,” says Dr. Albers. “Back in ancient times during times of stress, you needed all the calories you could get because you were involved in fight-or-flight situations. When you’re feeling stressed, you’re dealing with your ancient biology telling you, ‘Go get some food.’”

Society and tradition additionally portrays meals as one thing excellent in the event you want a temper enhance or pick-me-up. “If you look at commercials or ads, they often encourage people to turn to food as something that’s soothing,” says Dr. Albers. “Food is also something that’s available 24/7. We can reach for it any time of the day. So when we’re feeling stressed, it is very easy to make a beeline for food.”

What causes emotional consuming?

Emotional consuming has many root causes.

Difficulty distinguishing between bodily and emotional starvation

Growing up, you in all probability leaned on exterior cues to let you realize you had been performed consuming. “For example, if I’m eating a plate of food, one of the external cues is when my plate is finished, I’m done,” says Dr. Albers. “Or if a parent says to me, ‘You need to finish your plate,’ then you’re done, instead of those internal cues of paying attention to the stop and start that our body gives us.” With emotional consuming, you typically have hassle telling the distinction between these inner cues — which signify bodily starvation, or the indicators your physique ship to let you realize it’s time for nourishment — and emotional starvation.


Dieting typically results in emotional consuming, as a result of attempting to chop again on unhealthy issues typically means you’re limiting how a lot you eat and are eliminating sure meals. “Restrictive eating is one of the biggest triggers of emotional eating,” says Dr. Albers.


Anxiety is one other “significant trigger” for emotional consuming, she provides. But whereas many individuals eat extra once they’re feeling anxious, others go in the other way. “They don’t eat because they lose their appetite,” says Dr. Albers. “Their emotions are so great and so intense that it pushes away or supersedes that feeling of hunger, and they no longer tune into it. This can be problematic because we need food to help us to deal with stress and emotions.”

Situational stresses

Emotional consuming may come up from situational stresses. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted routines and led to isolation and tedium, creating an excellent surroundings for emotional consuming. “We do a lot of boredom eating because eating feels purposeful,” says Dr. Albers. “It fills up our time, it gives us some entertainment. During the pandemic, a lot of anxiety, stress and boredom eating happened.” 

Seasonal stressors

Seasonal stressors like colder temperatures and earlier sunsets, in addition to the vacations, may result in episodes of emotional consuming. “Holidays can bring up a lot of busyness, stress, contact with family members, and availability of all kinds of great holiday treats,” says Dr. Albers. “Sometimes it’s the perfect storm for emotional eating.”

What are the indicators of emotional consuming?

There are a number of indicators that you simply is perhaps somebody vulnerable to emotional consuming.

Sudden, pressing cravings. Physical starvation develops slowly over time. “After you eat, you may be satisfied for a while and then your hunger is going to grow,” says Dr. Albers. “You desire a variety of different foods, you feel the sensation of fullness and you can track feeling more satisfied or full as you’re eating.” Emotional consuming, in distinction, comes on all of the sudden and may need urgency, she notes. “You say, ‘I need to eat something. I need some chocolate.’

Craving solely sure meals. Not solely do your cravings come on all of the sudden, however you may solely need to eat sure meals. “If you’re saying to yourself, ‘I don’t want to just eat something because I’m hungry. I want chocolate, and that’s all that’s going to satisfy me,’ it’s a red flag of emotional eating,” says Dr. Albers.

Overeating. Overeating is one other hallmark of emotional consuming. “The sensation that a lot of my clients talk about is wanting that food to make them feel better or satisfied. No matter how much they eat, it never really brings them to that feeling until they feel sick or overly full and then they stop eating,” says Dr. Albers. “But they’re hoping that as they’re eating, it’s going to change their sensation in some way.”

Shame or guilt. Feeling emotional misery, like disgrace or guilt, over your consuming habits is one other signal.

When does emotional consuming develop into an issue?

Occasionally having an excessive amount of unhealthy meals isn’t dangerous. “Sometimes you just need some chocolate to feel better, and that’s okay,” says Dr. Albers. However, this indulgence will be a problem when it occurs so much — or turns into your primary coping mechanism. “It’s when you’re feeling stressed, and your first or only way of coping is turning to food. That’s often when emotional eating becomes more of a problem or an issue.”

How to cease emotional consuming

There are many methods to cease emotional consuming. And whereas there’s no one-size-fits-all method, good guidelines to comply with embrace: 

  • Change your weight loss program to be more healthy. Vitamin D-rich meals can enhance your temper, so replenish on fortified milk and cereals, eggs, mushrooms, and fish like salmon.
  • Eat mandarin oranges. Not solely are mandarin oranges transportable, and straightforward to peel and eat, however they’re wealthy in vitamin C, which might help enhance your immunity. Plus, citrus smells so good, it’s a stress reliever.
  • Be aware about what you’re consuming. Be aware of the form of snacks you’re shopping for.  Certain meals usually tend to set off emotional consuming.  Know precisely which snacks you have a tendency to succeed in for when feeling pressured.
  • Don’t let your self get too hungry. You’ve in all probability heard the time period “hangry,” a portmanteau of “hungry” and “angry” used to explain somebody who will get irritable once they’re previous time to eat. Making certain you stave off this temper — for instance, consuming proteins might help you keep full for longer — is an effective guess.

Where to show to for assist

If you’re coping with emotional consuming, it’s greatest to see a doctor or a therapist and have an evaluation to find out when you have an underlying medical difficulty or one thing else occurring. For instance, persistent ache can flip to emotional consuming as a technique to really feel higher, whereas melancholy could cause urge for food modifications.

“One of the things that we really talk about when someone comes in is, ‘Is this the primary issue, or is there another issue that’s making your emotional eating worse?’” says Dr. Albers. “So if you’re feeling depressed, is it the depression that needs to be treated to help the emotional eating? Or is it the other way around: Is emotional eating causing or exacerbating the depression? It’s a chicken and egg approach sometimes.”

However, you even have the ability to vary your consuming habits, by simply slowing down and being aware.

“Before you take a bite, tune into yourself and ask yourself just that question, ‘Am I eating because I’m physically hungry, or because I’m emotionally feeling something?’” says Dr. Albers. “You would be surprised that when you pause and take that mindful moment, how often you discover, ‘You know what? Maybe I’m feeling bored right now’ or ‘Maybe I’m really not that hungry. I’m feeling anxious.’” Having that consciousness can actually shift your coping in a really completely different route.”

Hear extra on this matter from Dr. Susan Albers on the Health Essentials podcast.

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