Emotional Eating

What is Emotional Eating ?

Many of us are emotional eaters at heart ! We eat because we are celebrating, we eat because we are commiserating. We eat because we are bored or we eat because we are lonely.

However when our eating patterns have an adverse impact on our lives, we need to look at ‘what in fact is eating us ?’

This form of Emotional Eating occurs when an individual uses behaviour with food to change or manage their feelings.

In many cases the person does not know how or what they are feeling, what they do know is they can feel tension in their body and this tension will cease once they eat .

Emotional Eaters tend to …

  • Be confused about how they feel
  • Have difficulty naming feelings
  • Have difficulty managing their feelings
  • Have difficulty with a specific feeling (often feel fat instead)
  • Do not feel entitled to have certain feelings
  • Have difficulty expressing feelings.


Emotional Eaters tend to eat to…

  • Hide or cope with negative or bad feelings
  • Bring suppressed feelings to the surface
  • Feed a hungry heart
  • Deal with stress (real or perceived)
  • Deal with self abuse
  • Deal with trauma
  • Deal with Boredom, Anxiety, Loneliness, Fear, loss etc….
What is the Difference Between Emotional Hunger and Physical Hunger ?

There are distinct differences between a physical cue for hunger from the body and an emotional cue for hunger.

Physical Hunger……

  • Starts in the stomach
  • Is very gradual
  • Does not have to be for a specific food
  • Individual tends to eat when they are hungry and stop when full.

Emotional Hunger…

  • Starts in the mouth or head
  • Its very quick
  • Usually its about a specific food
  • Individual doesn’t usually stop when they feel full if in fact they get to feel full at all
  • Individuals tend to Feel guilty after eating.


First it is important to know You are entitled to feel everything you feel ! Whether its fear, anger, guilt or shame, you are entitled to feel it ! This is the first step to addressing emotional eating. Take ownership of what you are feeling no matter what ! Feelings are like signalling systems , they are an attempt by your body to get your attention. I believe it is best not to label feelings as good or bad as they are showing you something that you need to acknowledge . Feelings are also like children – they need to be heard !.

The following are some tips on how to deal with emotional eating.

  • 1. Try and identify the feelings that you are eating in response to by keeping a food diary. Your food diary not only records the food you eat but where you ate it, how hungry you were, and what you were feeling before and after you ate. Self monitoring is the best way to identify feelings which are not being expressed or managed appropriately. In many cases individuals are not aware of these feelings so the types of food the person craves or their eating style can also be a guide when I am working with clients.
  • 2. After you have identified the feelings that you are eating in response to, then you can become aware of the triggers that are maintaining your emotional eating examples….. a situation, a thought, an image, the media, stress, trying on clothes, a feeling,etc…


  • 3. Changing emotional eating does not have to involve healing the wounds from the past, but it helps to try and learn to look at the world through unwounded eyes. Also try to separate the feeling from the eating behaviour. So basically you are learning to respond to the feeling differently. Emotional Resilience involves acceptance of our feelings, not liking them sometimes, not being able to make sense of them other times, but accepting that they are part of us . A feeling is a feeling not a fact !


  • Ask yourself what other way could I manage/express/handle/tolerate feeling xxx ?


  • In many cases we feel something then we are judging ourselves because of this feeling and this is why we end up eating ! Example ‘ If I feel fat then that means no one will like me’. Other times we believe is wrong to feel xx ? Example ‘ If I feel angry that means I am a bad person’


  • Handling your emotions involves not judging yourself for feeling whatever you are feeling. Sure, sometimes they are not nice but again we don’t have to like them always we just have to accept we have them. In many cases it is our attempt not to feel the feeling rather than the feeling itself that causes resistance which results in emotional eating.


  • So to recap identify, acknowledge, accept and express your feelings in a way that honours you and your body and this will change the need to emotionally eat. Find another way to manage your feelings …. If you’re tired – sleep, if you are bored – reach out, if you are angry – express it calmly toward the person you are angry with, if you are hungry – eat !


  • 4. Sometimes a person is missing a skill that if developed then the need for emotional eating would subside. These skills can be any of the following…..

           Skill Set…….

  • Anxiety Reduction
  • Assertiveness
  • Communication
  • Confrontational
  • Flexibility
  • Mindfulness
  • Planning
  • Problem Solving
  • Relaxation
  • Self Soothing
  • Stimulus Control (managing food in your environment)
  • Social
  • Stress Management
  • Time Management.


  • When I am working with a client who is experiencing emotional eating , I help the client become aware of the feelings that are creating the patterns and make the unconscious conscious. It is then the client can appreciate and acknowledge their feelings without resistance and in many cases the eating behaviours become obsolete !


Suzanne 087 2056560