Identifying and Controlling Your Emotional Eating

May 30, 2017

Food is a prominent feature in any culture: we celebrate life milestone and mourn at events with mounds of food surrounding us. Birthdays, holidays, the main star of these events are food, to the point where it can take over the actual reason for the celebration at times. Since there is no avoiding food, it is not surprising that many people have developed unhealthy emotional relationships with food.

Triggers For Emotional Eating

There are many reasons why a person may be triggered to addictively and emotionally eat. While there are many myths, these are some truisms surrounding factors of emotional eating.


Ever had a stressful day at work and before you knew it you were munching on something? Stress is a huge factor in why people overeat as the act of eating food can lower stress levels. However, by using food to cope with stress wires the brain to rely on food to deal with pressure instead of facing and dealing with the actual cause of the stress. Also, it is likely you will begin to stress about weight gain if eating is how you ease that stress.


Children are often rewarded by being given some kind of food treat, anything from crackers to lollipops. With this training from a young age, people are triggered to want to eat when seeking a reward. However, things get out of hand when food rewards go from an occasional dessert when celebrating an achievement to seeking a food reward for accomplishing day-to-day tasks like laundry.


The anxiety trigger for emotional eating differs from stress-eating in a key way. While stress eating is likely triggered by external factors, emotional eating as a result of anxiety is likely due to internal struggles. For those who struggle with anxiety, food can help distract from anxious thought patterns. However, this can easily lead the anxiety sufferer to binge eating whenever they are feeling acute anxiety.


When dealing with various emotions (anger, sadness, happiness, etc) many people turn to food. Had a rough breakup and the only good thing was ice cream and potato chips? Or maybe someone was incredibly rude to you and since you can’t bite them, you chow down on some food instead. The reasons behind eating emotionally are likely a combination of the above triggers to the point where all emotions are soothed and satisfied by eating something.


A giant bucket of buttery popcorn, large soda and maybe some candy are movie theater staples. Not only do people associate sedentary entertainment with over indulgence, but when bored, individuals turn to food as a source of entertainment. This can cut people off from engaging in activities with friends where there will be no food as their brains may tell them that the proposed activity isn’t as fun as staying home to eat and binge watch Netflix.

Redirect Eating Impulses

There are ways to take control of emotional eating habits and there is no time like the present when working on new habits and coping methods.

  1. Meditation – No need to sit cross-legged chanting, but taking time to think and reflect is key to understanding emotional eating. Think about what triggers emotional eating, and it is more likely individuals can prepare before being triggered again.
  2. Exercise – Any variety of exercise from walking, running, yoga, weightlifting and more can help replace boredom eating, relieve feelings of stress and anxiety, and the release of endorphin’s can stimulate the reward center of the brain. For the best impact, setting up a regular exercise routine is recommended.
  3. Vent – Meditation may not be enough to work through the issues surrounding emotional eating. Letting it out, either by talking to a friend, writing it out, or engaging in another form of expression like art may help to release some of the pent up feelings being relieved by eating.
  4. Limit – If there are times that an individual finds particularly vulnerable to emotional eating, identify when and where to help avoid occurrences. This may require the removal of all foods the individual is prone to over-indulge in, or putting them in pre-portioned containers to help emphasize accountability.
  5. Reward – If an individual is triggered into emotional eating by seeking a reward, this person will need to find new, non-food based rewards. Many people choose to buy something, like a new pair of shoes, to reward themselves. However, this could lead to an excessive spending habit. Instead, a mix of purchased rewards and free ones (explore new park, catch up on missed TV shows) is best if the individual doesn’t want to replace one problem for another.
  6. Therapy – It can be difficult to work through deep-seated problems without a helping hand. Trained psychologists can help guide people through their emotional eating habits and identify if there are other difficulties, like high anxiety, along the way. That way both issues can be treated instead of just one.

Emotional eating doesn’t have to be in control. The sooner that is accepted, the sooner eating habits can be taken back.

Kevin Jones is a full time professional fitness expert. When he isn’t in the gym, he is offering practical research, fitness plans and nutritional tips to the world. Kevin regularly contributes to many fitness and health authority websites. With a passion for family, fun, and fitness, Kevin has found a way to manage and combine these three aspects in an effective and successful way. Connect with him online; LinkedInTwitter


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