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What is Emotional Eating, and What Can You Do About it?

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When is the last time you felt at peace with your relationship to food? How often do you think about whether what you eat is “good” or “bad”? I’ve partnered with a brand new app, Way to introduce more readers to intuitive eating and to reclaim joy and connection around nutrition and the way we eat every day

Most of us have been subjected to the messaging that any eating that is done because of emotion, is bad for us.

That people who eat emotionally can’t control themselves.

That emotional eating happens when we are going through something bad – cue the quintessential image of the sad, lonely woman with her pint of ice cream!

The truth is, that we all eat emotionally, and it’s actually very normal!

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating doesn’t only happen when we’re sad, either. Many people report eating emotionally because of stress and anxiety, happiness, or fear. We may also eat emotionally when we’re lonely, angry, or frustrated. 

Recent research shows that when we eat emotionally, we tend to choose energy-dense foods that are high in fat or sugar. The study also found that emotional eaters often experience negative emotions concerning their physical appearance right after an emotional eating episode. 

Emotional eating is closely tied to eating disorders. In particular in people with Binge Eating Disorder, emotional eating may be a way to cope with negative emotions. It’s important to understand that not everyone who eats emotionally has an eating disorder. There are many more criteria that need to be satisfied in order for that diagnosis to be made.

Emotional eating can have detrimental effects on our health when it’s done frequently, and when it’s the only coping tool we have in our coping toolbox. If this is the case, we need to take a look at other ways of dealing with our feelings.

Physical hunger vs emotional hunger

Keep in mind that whatever the reason for eating, you are allowed to have that reason. Identifying that you’re eating outside of hunger is not a judgment about you as a person.

Being able to distinguish the feeling of physical hunger from emotional hunger is an important step in determining why you’re eating and if, instead of food, you actually something else.

Often, when we eat outside of hunger, we’re looking to satisfy another need, such as comfort. 

Let’s talk about the signs of physical hunger. They are often:

Growling stomach




Dizziness or lightheadedness

Trouble focusing

Persistent thoughts of food

Comes on slowly

In contrast, the signs of emotional hunger are often:

Strong cravings for a specific food

Comes on suddenly

Appears alongside strong emotions

There are times that symptoms of each type of hunger overlap. For example, feeling strong emotions can be a sign of physical hunger OR emotional hunger. In these times, it may be hard to untangle which type of hunger we’re experiencing, and that’s okay! Have a snack, and see if the symptoms you’re experiencing resolve.

How can I tell if my emotional eating is a problem?

Emotional eating, when done frequently or in a specific way, can impact our ability to live our best life both physically and emotionally. Figuring out how your emotional eating is impacting your life, and understanding your triggers, are both great steps towards learning how to cope with it.

Your emotional eating may be a problem if:

You feel guilt or shame after eating emotionally

You frequently eat in secret in order to hide your emotional eating

Eating is your only way of coping with emotions, especially unpleasant ones

Emotional eating is becoming disruptive to your health and well-being – socially, emotionally, financially, and physically

How do I end my emotional eating?

Let’s just clarify something: because emotional eating isn’t inherently ‘bad,’ there’s no reason to stop eating out of emotions altogether. We’re all going to have a piece of cake when we feel joy at a party! 

But once again, if you’re using food frequently as a coping mechanism, and you’re having damaging side effects from your emotional eating, it’s a good idea to work out another way to cope with your emotions.

Steps to Change Coping Mechanisms

Here are some steps to take to help you overcome frequent eating out of emotion:

Way’s Emotional Eats pathway can help you understand your emotions and how you react to them to help you find more peace in your relationship with food. We can’t stop our emotions, but we can see and use them differently. Way is an intuitive eating app that makes understanding emotions more interactive and easy.

Identify your triggers. Emotional eating by its very nature is eating because of a trigger. Even if your eating outside of hunger doesn’t seem to be associated with a certain emotion, it likely is. What you are feeling in that moment, and identify any situations that have caused you distress in the past. Are you experiencing that situation or one like it, now?

Sit in your feelings. Letting yourself experience all of the feelings helps you process them. Covering feelings with food or anything else allows those feelings to grow. This can impact your quality of life and your mental health.

Ask yourself what you really need. Do you need food? A hug? Do you need to talk to someone, or get outside in nature? Emotional eating often comes from a need other than hunger. Try to identify that need, and satisfy it.

Dealing with tough feelings is often really difficult, and it’s definitely a process that takes time. Give yourself the grace to take that time, do the work, and be kind to yourself while you figure it out.

If you’re interested in trying Way, follow this link and use LANGER20 to save 20%.

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