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12 Weeks No Diets – Emotional Eating



Thanks for the positive response to “12 Weeks No Diets!”  I’m so happy to hear so many of you are excited about it! 

Since my posting on Monday, I’ve gotten a lot of emails about emotional eating and ways to overcome it.  Emotional eating can be a pretty heavy topic.  I’ve definitely had my issues with it… trust me!  I have some experience in the area, but I’m not an expert.  This post just touches on some of the main issues behind it.  There are references at the end that provide more details and more ways to cope.


What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than the true feeling of physical hunger.  Emotional eating is feeding our feelings, not our hunger.  Reasons we may eat can include anxiety, loneliness, boredom, sadness, happiness, celebration, stress, etc… and any other reason you can think of that you eat other than hunger.  We’re basically eating to fill a void.  Emotional hunger can arrive suddenly, while physical hunger builds up and comes on gradually.  When we eat to fill a void we often reach for “comfort” foods.  For some, this may be high starch/carb laden foods.  Emotional hunger often needs to be satisfied instantly. 


The Numbing Effect

When we eat when we’re not hungry (emotional eating), it’s difficult to tell when we’ve had enough.  When we eat when we’re not hungry, we can’t tell when we’re full.  It’s almost like a numbing feeling.  It’s like the endless bag of potato chips.  We eat for emotion and don’t stop until the bag is gone, or, we don’t stop until we feel uncomfortably full.  If we still have a void, we can easily look for more food.  When we eat for true physical hunger we can tell right away when we’re full… so we stop eating. 


Emotional Eating & Weight Gain

When we consistently eat for reasons other than hunger, we will gain weight.  Majority of the time when we eat for emotion, we eat unhealthy food… so this doesn’t help the situation.  If our body is not physically hungry and we eat anyway, our body most likely did not need the calories.  Even worse is when we use food as the main reason to cope with our emotions.  I’ve said this over and over again, weight gain occurs when we CONSISTENTLY eat when we’re not hungry.  Even if we are eating healthy, if we’re over eating we will gain weight.


 Coping With Our Emotions

We all have moments when we eat out of emotion… the problem occurs when we use food as our main form of coping.  Learning to cope with our emotions without food is vital… especially if we have a weight problem.  This can be very hard… especially if we’ve been eating out of emotion for many years.  I have had clients who haven’t felt true physical hunger in decades.  When we stop eating for emotion, we are forced to face those emotions.  If we’re use to snacking after dinner and we stop, we need to find something else to fill that void.  The really hard part comes when we really want to eat something, but know that we are not physically hungry.  We have to deal with that feeling which at times can be tough.  The good news is the more we learn to deal with it, the easier it will become.  The goal is to consistently associate food with hunger.  The more we get use to this, the easier it is to be around food and have no desire to eat because we’re not hungry.  The ultimate goal is to consistently eat when we’re hungry.  If we have a moment when we eat out of emotion, we just accept it for what it is and move on.  Just take it one meal at a time.

This article covers a very small part of emotional eating.  I by no means am an expert in this area.  If you feel you need more guidance, two great references are author Geenen Roth (her books cover emotional eating in detail as well as ways to cope), and the book Intuitive Eating (this book has one chapter on emotional eating, but the entire book is ideal for someone who consistently eats when not hungry).  If you feel you need more help, please contact a local Dietitian and he/she can guide you in the right direction.

23 Responses

  1. Heather @ The Joyful Kitchen said on January 7, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    love this post…i’ve had more than my fare share of emo-eating episodes. honestly, it’s just been in the past couple of months that i’ve started to really understand how to overcome it. Something else that has helped was reading Part 2 of this on Caitlin’s blog:

    It made me really stop and think about how I really felt when I was eating. It’s hard, and my husband has had to hold me and love me more than ever, but coming out on the other side makes it all worth it 🙂

  2. Beth @ DiningAndDishing said on January 7, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Great post! I am seriously trying to not emotionally eat in 2010. I did it once in a while while in college and have gotten much better since I graduated. However, my goal for 2010 is to free myself from it completely! I love the book Intuitive Eating. So helpful.

  3. Casey @SpicyandSweet said on January 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    This is a fabulous poast…I am an emotional eater. But I’m working on not being one!!

  4. Jessica said on January 7, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Sensational Estela – you really know your stuff!! 🙂

  5. Diana @ frontyardfoodie said on January 7, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I don’t know if you call what I do emotional eating but it’s like this….

    food is associated so much with all the good times in my life that I eat not for fuel but because it’s fun for me. Sometimes that makes me eat to much. I love food!

    I’m much better than I used to be but when I’m around my family who enjoy food and eating and talking about food and preparing food as much as I do we get a little crazy!

    • Estela - Weekly Bite said on January 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm

      Diana, You’re so right! Emotional eating is also eating for happy reasons and good company! Thanks for pointing that out 🙂 That’s the kind of emotional eating I did during the holidays 😉

  6. The Candid RD said on January 7, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I just got the book “Intuitive Eating” from my mother (she read it years ago and let me borrow it). I really love it, so far, and have been working hard at putting these tips into practice myself. Great post 🙂

  7. Whitney @ Lettuce Love said on January 7, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Great post! I definietly eat when I am bored. I get into a daze and just start munching. I have been trying to stop that.

  8. Anne @ the doctor takes a wife said on January 7, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    I am the queen of eating when I’m bored. ESPECIALLY because baking is like therapy for me… whoops 😉

  9. Naomi (onefitfoodie) said on January 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    great post there is so much great info in here!! I cook when I am bored LOL, I try to keep it healthy though 🙂

  10. katie said on January 7, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    GREAT post girl. so much great info! I def SNACK on pita chips when im bored! not good!

  11. Emily (A Nutritionist Eats) said on January 7, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Wonderful post – Very hard to break the habit, but it is an amazing feeling once you do!

  12. said on January 7, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Intuitive Eating helped me a lot, great book.

    *Check out my 2 great giveaways @ right now! Etsy headband and Natures Gate lotion set could be yours*

  13. lynn @ the actors diet said on January 7, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    great post – i suffered from emotional overeating/binge eating for years.

  14. Nicole said on January 7, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Wonderful post, and so problematic for so many people. I have a lot of patients I see for more emotional behavior change than diet-related, though, the two clearly go hand-in-hand. Thanks for getting this information out there, it’s so important to be aware!

  15. Joanna Sutter (Fitness & Spice) said on January 8, 2010 at 7:06 am

    I am the poster child for emotional eating or non-eating. When I went through my divorce I lost 25 lbs. Now I’m dealing with a job loss and am struggling with stress eating. At first I didn’t know what I was doing, now I’m more self aware and am trying to attack it!

  16. Lu said on January 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    I’m so glad you posted about this. I like the intuitive eating idea. It makes so much sense.

  17. Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen said on January 8, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    This is a great post!!!!

  18. Jenna @ Health and Happiness said on January 9, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Very inspirational and informative post! Emotional eating can get out of control if it happens to often, so true. I can’t wait to read more!

  19. Kate said on January 14, 2010 at 11:43 am

    So many great ideas and inspiration! I love Geneen Roth’s books and just came across another helpful book by Georgine Collins. In Obesity Free Forever
    she shares her journey from 282 pounds to 140 pounds and how she used journaling and answering really powerful questions to end emotional eating.

  20. Kate said on January 14, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Hi! I just discovered the link I included was incorrect for Obesity Free Forever by Georgine Collins. So sorry. Here’s the correct link:

  21. Kate said on January 18, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    I could eat for emotional reasons right now. The correct spelling of the name of the author of Obesity Free Forever is Georgene Collins.

  22. julie said on January 21, 2010 at 1:25 am

    I definitely used to eat to numb myself. Even until recently, I used to eat out of boredom, figuring that if it was all fruits and veggies, it was fine. One night I added up my ear of corn, two peaches, etc., and realized I had eaten about 600 kcal that I wasn’t even remotely hungry for. It’s a bit tricky to learn to eat for hunger and health, not for emotions and boredom and ???