How You Can Overcome Emotional Eating

When you become aware of your triggers, you can then seek out a better plan of action to stop feeling helpless and start your healing process going forward.
02/24/2016 10:38am ET | Updated February 24, 2017
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We've all been there. You get some bad news, a parking ticket or have a fight with a friend or family member, and what's the first thing you want to do? If you're like me, some days hit the snack aisle.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is the consumption of food -- usually "comfort" food or junk foods -- in response to feelings in place of actual hunger. Feelings caused by emotions formulated to make us believe that food can bring us comfort.

Why you often want to eat the worst foods when you have an emotional eating episode

According to one study, there are various biological factors which link mood, food intake, and brain signaling that trigger the peripheral and central nervous systems as we eat. In more simplistic terms, when you take that first bite out of a piece of cake, your body releases dopamine, which stimulates the area of your brain that tells you that you feel pleasure.

Where's the harm in seeking comfort in food?

All you want is to feel better, so if that piece of candy or cake makes you feel better, what's the problem? The problem is that it likely doesn't stop at one piece, and once you've finished swallowing that food your remorse can kicks in, and you feel more powerless than before.

Do you suffer from emotional eating?

The first step to overcoming your emotional eating habit is to admit that you have it. If you think you have an emotional issue with eating, you can complete an assessment, like this one from Psychology Today or seek the help of a professional. A few indications that you may be suffering from emotional eating include:

  • You eat when you're not hungry or "unconsciously".

  • You use food as your top source of pleasure.
  • You have a toxic relationship with your body image.
  • I think I am an emotional eater. What are some ways I can overcome my emotional eating?

    Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or solution to stop your emotional eating cycles. The only way to actively stop emotional eating is first to be aware of it, and second, find other ways to manage your reaction to triggering situations. Here here are a few of the ways you can manage your emotional eating.

    1. Confide in someone you can trust who can help during times of stress and anxiety

  • Find ways to reward yourself that have nothing to do with eating. Evaluate other things in your life that bring you pleasure and turn to those in times of need.
  • Be present and allow yourself to feel. Since feelings such as boredom, anxiety, and sadness trigger some emotional eating episodes, allow yourself to process emotions thoroughly before turning to an external solution
  • When you become aware of your triggers, you can then seek out a better plan of action to stop feeling helpless and start your healing process going forward.


    If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.