Emotional Eating

Overview

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating means that you eat for reasons other than hunger. You may eat because you're sad, depressed, stressed, or lonely. Or you may use food as a reward. Food can be soothing and distract you from what's really bothering you.

If you eat for emotional reasons, you may not notice when your body is hungry or full. You may eat more than you need or want.

Emotional eating can interfere with making healthy food choices. And it can keep you from getting to a healthy weight and staying there.

What are the signs of emotional eating?

Everyone eats for reasons other than hunger once in a while. But if you notice that you often reach for food out of boredom or for comfort, you may be eating for emotional reasons. Big life events, like losing a job, can cause emotions that lead you to eat more. So can small hassles like being late for work.

Common signs of emotional eating are:

  • Changing your eating habits when you have more stress in your life.
  • Eating when you aren't hungry or when you're full.
  • Eating to avoid dealing with a stressful situation.
  • Eating to soothe your feelings.
  • Using food as a reward. (For example, "That was really a tough job/assignment/argument. I need some ice cream/candy/popcorn!")

What are some tips for avoiding emotional eating?

Having a plan can help you deal with your emotions without using food. It's about you and what works best for you. Here are a few things you can try.

  • Keep a food journal.

    This can help you find out what triggers your emotional eating. You write down when and what you eat. You also write down what you were doing and feeling before you started eating.

  • Use a hunger scale.

    A hunger scale can help you tell the difference between true hunger and hunger that's just in your head (psychological hunger). When you start feeling like you want something to eat, rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10. The number 1 means you're really hungry. And 10 means you're so full you feel sick. A rating of 5 or 6 means you're comfortable. You're neither too hungry nor too full.

  • Change your response to triggers.

    Plan what you'll do when you notice your emotional eating triggers. Maybe instead of reaching for food, you could call a friend, take a walk, or drink a glass of water. Then you could observe how you feel.

Credits

Current as of: September 8, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator

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