Dieting: Confessions of an Emotional Eater

Are you an emotional eater?  If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone.  I have to confess…I am an emotional eater.  When I’m upset I eat.  When I’m stressed I eat.  When I’m worried I eat.  And let’s be clear, these are the times I have uncontrollable urges to eat junk (candy, cookies, ice cream), all the stuff I know is bad for me.  I could be eating healthy for months, then something upsets me, and it’s all over.

The crazy thing about being an emotional eater is that you know that eating isn’t going to make what you’re upset about any better, but you do it anyway.  In fact, you know that eating the junk that you’re craving is actually going to contribute to making you feel worse, but you do it anyway.  You even know that once you start it’s going to become a vicious cycle of craving, eating, and then feeling guilty about it.  Even so, you still do it.  Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result? Maybe so, but I still try not to be too hard on myself when this happens to me.  I sometimes think it’s worse when I try to fight the urge to eat through my emotions, it just seems to make my cravings even stronger.

Emotional eating is something we do in an attempt to suppress negative feelings in our life.   There are many triggers that accompany emotional eating, here are a few…

  • Relationship or marital problems.
  • Financial worries
  • Unemployment
  • Health problems of your own or family member.
  • Stress at work.
  • Bad weather
  • Fatigue or lack of sleep.

So what’s an emotional eater to do?  This is what I try to do…

I try to recognize what it is that’s upsetting me.  Is it a big problem or a little problem?  Is it something I can make better or is it totally out of my control?  Is there a way I can look at what’s troubling me and see a silver lining in it somewhere?

For me the reason isn’t what’s important, it’s more about acknowledging that there is a reason, and then giving myself the permission to eat the thing that I’m craving.  Yes, you heard right.  I don’t fight my craving, I actually give into it.  Doing this gives me a degree of control over my emotional eating.  This way, after I eat whatever I think it is that will make me feel better, and it doesn’t help (cause it never does), I can at least stop the cycle by not feeling guilty about it.

Don’t let the emotional eating control you.  Instead, make an attempt to control the emotional eating.  Before you blindly go through the kitchen or supermarket and put every sugar filled item you can find into your mouth.  Take a moment and make a quick plan by asking yourself a few questions.

What are you going to eat?

M&M’s?  Chocolate chip cookies?  Brownies?  Ice cream?  Ice cream topped with M&M’s, chocolate chip cookies, and brownies?

How much are you going to allow yourself to eat?  Limiting the amount is key.

Is it going to be a one pound bag of M&Ms?  Is there a chance that half the bag might be enough?

How are you going to comfort yourself when eating this stuff doesn’t make you feel better?

A quiet bath?  A walk?  A swim?  A good book?  Take some time for yourself that doesn’t include food.

Then, after you put this bout of emotional eating behind you, make a conscious effort to eat as healthy as you can for the next few days (longer if possible).  And if you’re feeling like your emotional eating is happening too often, try journaling what you’re eating and why.  Make sure you journal the days that you eat healthy too, you might notice you actually feel better on those days.  It’s all about awareness.

So that’s what I think.  Here is some of what other bloggers are saying about emotional eating…

From New Jersey Moms Blog – In Defense of Emotional Eating

I think I am realizing, I am not an emotional eater, but rather a stress eater. This food thing isn’t actually a problem during my normal life. I only crave empty calories with junkie-like voracity during times of unusually high anxiety. Lucky for me, my stress induced anxiety seems to come in short bursts. So I don’t over eat all the time. I have quick bouts of eating horribly and then just like that, I’m back to normal. This week, since we’ve moved in and are beginning to settle, I’ve been all healthy grains, lean proteins, fruits and veggies. I even bought my kids M&M’s the other day and didn’t eat a single one.

From Cathy at Lose Weight Find Life – The Disconnect of Emotional Eating

To stop emotional eating, we need to be able to distinguish the difference between physical hunger cues and emotional (head) hunger. The main difference is that physical hunger cues build up over time. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly and usually craves something sweet, salty or crunch – normally an unhealthy food choice. A person is able to satisfy physical hunger by eating something, however, can never satisfy emotional hunger. Emotional hunger is like an empty hole that is never full or satisfied.
. . .
What makes emotional eating so dangerous to our health and waistline is the fact that after we eat we are still hungry. Emotional eating is irrational eating. It can never be satisfied and, in time, we will gain weight if we succumb often to emotional eating cravings. When we gain weight, we feel worse which, in turn, makes us eat even more. It is a vicious cycle of emotional eating – feeling badly about ourselves – since we feel bad about ourselves, we eat! It starts an unhealthy eating spiral that gets worse and worse as time passes.

Are you an emotional eater?  Is there anything that you find helpful?  Can you share your story with us?

Also See:

*cross posted at BlogHer

3 comments for “Dieting: Confessions of an Emotional Eater

  1. Rebecca
    January 27, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    My name is Rebecca and I’m a Casting Producer for the TLC show Freaky Eaters. We are launching into our second season and we are looking for ADULTS who hide food, food addicts, and emotional eaters for the show.

    For more info, please send an email to with your name, age, number, and brief description of your eating habits.

  2. August 10, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Hey everyone, great article Catherine. You’re right the key is to decipher what is real physical hunger and what is emotional hunger… I am a specialist mindset weight loss coach, I have written an article on what drived the emotional hunger here I hope that helps you! Cheers! Kylie 🙂

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