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What is Emotional Eating?

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Last updated: 10/25/2018
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Many people find that they don’t eat only when they are hungry. We often eat when we are sad, happy, stressed or otherwise going through a range of emotions. It’s not uncommon to turn to food for comfort or solace, to feel rewarded or to alleviate stress—but it’s also not healthy either. Emotional eating can leave you feeling guilty, tired, more stressed or otherwise derailed but there is help.

Understanding Emotional Eating

Have you ever rushed to the store for a pint of ice cream when you were stressed out? Do you hit the fridge in search of munchies when you are sad? If you eat to make yourself feel good, whether it’s to mask sadness, pain or stress then you’ve already felt the wrath of emotional eating first hand.

What is Emotional Eating?

Don’t let emotional eating destroy you!

Emotional eating is the practice of eating to fulfill your emotional needs and it can happy when you are upset, angry, lonely, stressed, bored or tired. It’s one thing to use food as a reward on occasion such as having some cake on your birthday or eating a piece of pie in celebration of a good time; but it’s another thing to regularly eat foods to cover up your emotions.

The primary concern with emotional eating is that you can’t fulfill your emotions with food. You may immediately feel better when you dive into that pint of ice cream or that bag of potato chips but in the long run, emotional eating does nothing to satisfy you in terms of correcting the emotions in a healthy manner. According to the US National Library of Medicine, the feelings that triggered your desire to eat will still be there even after you have consumed your snack and you’ll wind up beating yourself up over the fact that you didn’t have the willpower to put the food down when you should have.

Do You Suffer from Emotional Eating Habits?

There are various habits that an emotional eater will have versus a healthy eater. Many emotional eaters will eat when they are stressed out in order to feel better while others may eat even when they are not hungry at all. These are some habits of emotional eating:

  • Eating to relieve stress
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Eating even after you are already full
  • Eating until stuffed
  • Feeling like you have to eat—even if it’s just a taste every time you walk through the kitchen
  • Eating to feel safe
  • Eating to feel close
  • Eating to reward yourself
  • Eating when bored
  • Eating when sad
  • Eating when anxious
  • Eating when angry

Before you can ever actually break free from the struggles of emotional eating, you must first realize if you are an emotional eater or if you simply enjoy eating a little bit more than others do. Eating with others at a party is acceptable but eating alone just because you are down and out is not. Eating to diminish physical hunger is healthy eating but eating to counteract a bad feeling that you are having is not healthy at all.

What’s the Difference Between Healthy Eating and Emotional Eating?

You may be wondering what the major difference is between healthy eating and emotional eating. There are quite a few but in some cases you may realize that the two cross a very thin line. For instance, healthy eating is surrounded by eating foods that are good for the body such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and proteins. Emotional eating often entails eating emotionally satisfying foods such as salty, sweet or fatty foods that are not so good for the body.

Eating when you are not hungry is often the result of emotional eating. Eating when you are feeling down and out or mindless eating is emotional. If you sit to have a snack and minutes later realize that you engulfed an entire bag of potato chips in no time, the fact is you are probably suffering from unhealthy emotional eating that should be addressed.

There is Help

The good think about emotional eating is that there is help for this type of eating. Although it is impossible to stay completely away from food, there are ways that you can allow your own body to trigger when you need to eat and if you learn to listen to the cues that your body gives to you, you can learn to eat healthy rather than emotionally.

Physical hunger can wait, you may feel hunger pains and your stomach may growl in anticipate of food but you will be ok. Emotional eating is typically an immediate desire to get the food that you want, right away, when you want it—there’s no time to wait.

Often times, emotional eating is backed by deeper emotional problems such as severe anxiety, depression or similar mood disorders that are treatable through counseling and therapy. If you feel like you are suffering from emotional eating, seek immediate help by calling a doctor, treatment professional or eating disorder rehab center that can provide you with supportive tools for recovery.

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