The Blog

5 Signs You're an Emotional Eater and What to Do About It

So many of us have been taught that we need to "weigh less in order to live more," but I really believe we have to live more in order to weigh less. We have to stop waiting on the weight and start having fun -- only then will we finally stop being a slave to food and get out of body jail.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
Girl holding chocolate cupcake in hands wearing leopard print scarf and brown nail polish.
Girl holding chocolate cupcake in hands wearing leopard print scarf and brown nail polish.

I started counting Weight Watcher points when I was 12 years old. By the fourth day, I was polishing off a sleeve of Thin Mints under my bed. I remembered the leader telling me it was all about willpower -- I guess I needed to work on that.

Since I had failed at the points system, I gave other diets a try. Over the next decade I did South Beach, Atkins, gluten-free, the grapefruit diet, the Master Cleanse, Zone... the list goes on and on.

Every diet was the same thing: The first two days went great, the third day I got really hangry (hungry + angry), and by the fourth day I'd be on the kitchen floor with a box of tissues and an empty pint of ice cream. What was my problem?

One day, on the third day of my seven-day juice cleanse, I snuck into the supply closet of my NYC advertising agency and polished off an entire bag of Dove Chocolate Promises. Yes, the whole bag. Ashamed, nauseous and completely pissed off, it finally hit me: If this diet thing was gonna work, it would've happened by now.

I considered, what if the problem isn't me? What if the problem is the diet? What I discovered soon after is that there are two types of people out there: one type who has an education problem, who really doesn't know what you need to eat to be healthy, and the other type is the person who knows what they should do but can't seem to make it happen.

For the first type, traditional diets like Weight Watchers and South Beach are great because they provide a simple educational structure for learning and executing healthy eating. As for the second type, we could write a damn good diet book ourselves with our wealth of knowledge. The challenge doesn't lie in knowing what to eat and how much, it's in why we eat. Regardless of how badly we want to lose weight, or how clear the system is, because we have an emotional dependence on food, no matter how strict the rules are, we're gonna break them.

In the years since my Dove chocolate incident, I've completely changed my relationship with food, upgraded my life and lost 30 pounds (no calorie counting or crazy workouts required). Now, as a coach and emotional eating expert, I've helped countless women all over the world create a life and body they love through my signature method, Live More, Weigh Less.

What I want to help you with today is understanding if you're an emotional eater, so you're no longer wasting your time and money on traditional diets that are never going to work for you. I'm also gonna tell you what you can do to find peace with food and finally lose weight.

Here are five signs you're an emotional eater. If this is you, dieting will probably be a complete waste of time:

1. You eat when you're not hungry. Our hunger is our body's way of telling us we need physical nourishment. Now, when you want food and you don't have the growling, rumbling feeling in your tummy, it means you're craving emotional nourishment. For many of us food is the fastest, cheapest, simplest way to feel entertained, loved and comforted. I can't tell you how many times I ran to the candy bowl at 4 p.m. because I was bored, or went through an entire pint of ice cream because I was lonely. I was never actually hungry in those moments -- I just wanted to be filled.

2. You have food FOMO. We've all heard the term "FOMO," aka "fear of missing out," but many of us equate it to seeing pics of our friends having fun without us on Facebook. Food FOMO is when we're watching a friend eat a cookie and wanting it to snatch it away and devour it, or when you're visiting your grandmother and shoveling her special meatloaf in your face because you're not gonna get it again for a year, or watching all of your friends have a third glass of wine and feeling the pressure to join in. We subconsciously believe that the magic, the happiness, the satisfaction is in the food, and we want our share.

3. You and your body are not such good friends. Because most emotional eaters are eating more than they need to, and are overriding their bodies' natural signals (aka hunger) we tend to develop a bad relationship with our bodies. We pick ourselves apart in the mirror, call ourselves weak and careless for looking the way we do and convince ourselves that if we could just get our sh*t together then we'll finally start dating or have more confidence at work. If you find yourself in this trap, I'm gonna get you out by the end of this blog.

4. You don't want other people to really know what you eat. I remember secretly loving it when my boyfriend was working late because it meant I could eat whatever I wanted without feeling embarrassed. I had this idea that if he really saw how I ate then he wouldn't love me. When we hide our food it perpetuates our belief that there's something wrong with us and that if people really knew what was going on, then they'd think we're a freak or a weirdo.

5. You feel guilty for eating. You know when you dive into a chocolate lava cake at a restaurant and every time you put a spoonful of chocolatey heaven in your mouth you're thinking, "I shouldn't be eating this. I shouldn't be eating this. I shouldn't be eating this"? What a buzz kill! When we do this we're completely robbing ourselves of the eating experience, which leaves us craving more and more of the "forbidden" food to feel satisfied.

Is this resonating with you? Before you go into this place of "I'm more messed up than I thought!" I need you to know that there's nothing wrong or broken about you. You just got some wires crossed and some bad training. We're gonna handle it.

I've helped hundreds of women find freedom from emotional eating all over the world, and the thing that has helped me and all my clients the most is this very simple act: Have more fun. Yes, it's that simple.

Here's why it works:

1. Having more fun means we're more entertained, less bored and have a list of things to do when things get out of whack. Next time you want a cookie, get a 10-minute back massage. Next time you want to down a bag of chips, have a dance party.

2. Having more fun makes us more attractive. A woman who's lit up, lights up a room, and everyone wants a piece. This creates more attraction and romance in a long term relationship and more suitors knocking on your door if you're single. Love is our deepest need, and if we're starving for it, we're always gonna fill the void with food.

3. Having more fun forces us to put ourselves out there. I can't tell you how many women I know think that once they lose 20 pounds, that's when they'll start dating, ask for a raise or start having more adventure in their life. They end up sitting at home doing nothing and trying not to eat. All that boredom of course sends our cravings into overdrive. We have to start living our lives now, not 20 pounds from now. The fulfillment and meaning that comes from taking charge of our lives gives us the spark we've been searching for in our late night binges.

So many of us have been taught that we need to "weigh less in order to live more," but I really believe we have to live more in order to weigh less. We have to stop waiting on the weight and start having fun -- only then will we finally stop being a slave to food and get out of body jail.

In the comments below I really want to know:

1. What is the biggest thing you struggle with when it comes to emotional eating?
2. What at the three things you're gonna start doing for fun?

If you want even more ideas on how to make your life a frickin' blast and end your struggle with emotional eating, check out

Sarah Jenks helps women who've been struggling with weight for years, finally have a life and body they love, even if they've tried everything. She's been featured in ForbesWoman, The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Martha Stewart Weddings and the Knot. Sarah has helped hundreds of women lose weight by helping them create a life that is a frickin' blast through her signature program, Live More Weigh Less.

For more on personal health, click here.

For more by Sarah Jenks, click here.