Emotional Eating Are you an emotional eater Know the Cause

Emotional Eating Are you an emotional eater Know the Cause
Written By: Counselling Psychologist
M.Sc. Psychology - Swansea University, UK.
Reviewed By: Counselling Psychologist
MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
Last Updated: 28-03-2023

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Do you generally eat to feel better or relieve stress? We usually don’t eat to just satisfy physical hunger. According to a census, almost 2.9 million people have a binge eating disorder.  Many people turn to food for comfort, to reward themselves, or for stress relief. We tend to eat junk food, sweets, and other comforting but very unhealthy food. Emotional eating is basically using food to make yourself feel good- to fill emotional voids, rather than your stomach. But unfortunately, emotional problems can’t be fixed with emotional eating. Afterward, not only do you feel guilty for eating but the reason why you started eating also remains.

Usually using food to reward yourself or celebrate is not a bad thing. But when eating becomes your primary emotional coping mechanism- when your first instinct is to open the fridge/refrigerator whenever there is a minor inconvenience or you are under stress, upset, angry, lonely, bored, or exhausted- you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle of eating instead of addressing the issue at hand.  Emotional hunger can never be filled with food. Eating feels good at the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. You beat yourself up for not having more willpower. No matter how powerless you feel over food and feelings, it is possible to make positive changes. Learning healthier ways to deal with your emotions, get over cravings, avoid triggers, and finally put a stop to emotional eating.

The first step to putting a stop to emotional eating is to identify your personal triggers. What places, situations, or feelings are making you reach for comfort food? Most unpleasant feelings can be linked with eating food, but they can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for reaching a goal or celebrating a holiday.

Common causes of emotional eating:

  • Stress: have you ever noticed how stress makes you hungry? This is not just in your mind. When there is too much stress, your body produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for sweet, salty, and fried foods- foods that give a jump of energy and pleasure. Uncontrolled stress almost always leads to emotional eating.
  • Stuffing emotions: some people eat to temporarily silence or “stuff down” unreasonable or uncomfortable emotions including fear, anger, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, shame, and regret. Rather than just sitting there numbing yourself with food, you can avoid the difficult emotions you’d rather not feel.
  • Childhood habits: did your parents treat you with ice cream, take you out for pizza when you won a competition or got good marks on a test? These habits often carry over to adulthood. Sometimes our eating might be driven by nostalgia.
  • Social influences: sometimes going out with people to get a bite to relieve stress can lead to overeating. It is easy to overindulge in eating simply because the person in front of you is eating or because there is food in front of you. You may also sometimes eat more out of nervousness in social gatherings. Or perhaps your circle of friends or family encourages you to overeat, and it is just easier to go along with it when there is a group.

If you don’t know how to manage your emotions without emotional eating, you won’t be able to control your eating habits for a long time. Most diets fail because they provide logical nutritional facts which only work if you have total control over your eating habits. In order to stop emotionally eating you have to find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally. You need to know that whatever the problem is the answer is not in the fridge.



López-Galán, B. and de-Magistris, T., 2019. Testing Emotional Eating Style in Relation to Willingness to Pay for Nutritional Claims. Nutrients, 11(8), p.1773.

Altheimer, Gizem, and Heather L. Urry. "Do emotions cause eating? The role of previous experiences and social context in emotional eating." Current Directions in Psychological Science (2019).

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