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19 years
How can I stop being an emotional eater?
Aug 28, 2014

Dr. Zakia Dimassi Pediatrics
"Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than hunger. Instead of the physical symptom of hunger initiating the eating, an emotion triggers the eating." This is how experts describe emotional eating.
Using food from time to time as a reward, a source of relaxation, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating turns into primary emotional coping mechanism and becomes a fixation—when your first response to anger, fatigue, or boredom is to open the refrigerator—you get stuck in a vicious cycle, and the real underlying problem remains unaddressed.
Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food, because the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often end up feeling worse afterwards because of the unnecessary calories.
Emotional hunger can be powerful, so it’s easily confused with physical hunger. There are clues that can help distinguish between the two:
 Emotional hunger occurs suddenly and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, accumulates gradually.
 Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, you would eat anything to satisfy your hunger, whereas emotional eating craves particular foods, which are usually unhealthy.
 Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Whereas when you’re eating in response to physical hunger, you’re typically more aware of what you’re doing.
 Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. With physical hunger, on the other hand, you feel satisfied when your stomach is full.
 Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. You rather feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head, and you’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.
 Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame.
To combat emotional eating, you need first to identify and eradicate the triggers.
Common causes of emotional eating include:
 Stress –chronic stress leads to high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol which stimulates cravings for salty, sweet, and high-fat foods—foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure.
 Stuffing emotions – Eating can be a way to temporarily silence or “stuff down” uncomfortable emotions, such as anger, fear, anxiety, loneliness etc.
 Boredom or feelings of emptiness Eating simply because you have nothing else keeping you busy
 Childhood habits – if, as a child, you were raised thinking of food as a reward
 Social influences –Keep an emotional eating diary
One of the best ways to identify the patterns behind your emotional eating is to keep track with a food and mood diary. Every time you overeat, pause and think about what triggered the urge. Write it all down in your food and mood diary: what you ate (or wanted to eat), what happened to upset you, how you felt before you ate, what you felt as you were eating, and how you felt afterward.
Over time, you’ll see a pattern emerge. Maybe you always end up gorging yourself after spending time with a critical friend. Or perhaps you stress eat whenever you’re on a deadline or when you attend family functions. Once you identify your emotional eating triggers, the next step is identifying healthier ways to feed your feelings.
In order to stop emotional eating, you have to find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally. You need alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment.
Take 5 minutes before you give in to a craving. While you’re waiting, check your feelings and emotional state of mind. Even if you end up eating, you’ll have a better understanding of why you did it. So the next time, your response will improve. Another crucial point is to learn to accept your feelings—even the bad ones
Exercise daily: it boosts your mood and your energy levels, and it’s also a powerful stress reducer.
Make time for relaxation. Give yourself permission to take at least 30 minutes every day to relax, decompress, and unwind. This is your time to take a break from your responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
Connect with others. Don’t underestimate the importance of close relationships and social activities. Spending time with positive people who enhance your life will help protect you from the negative effects of stress.