Emotional eating

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Emotional eating is eating in response to your feelings, especially when you are not hungry. In emotional eating your emotions, and not the body, dictate when and/or how much you eat. When sad or confused, some emotional eaters resort to binge eating, while for others such emotions may be reasons for avoiding food.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Often, in spite of knowing what we’re supposed to be eating, there are additional factors that influence how much and what type of food we consume. One of these factors is stress, which is linked to increased emotional eating.
  • It is important to understand there are different reasons why different people give in to emotional eating. The first step to handling emotional eating is to identify your emotional eating triggers.

All about emotional eating

Emotional eating has many causes. The following are some of the main reasons - besides hunger - that stressed people eat:

  • Cortisol Cravings: The levels of cortisol also known as "the stress hormone", increases with stress. When cortisol levels go up there is increased cravings for salty and sweet
  • Social eating: Often people who are under stress will seek out social support as a way to relieve stress. This form of overeating is a social form of emotional eating which can make you feel better in the short term, but leaves you to regret later on.
  • Nervous energy: Just as stress and anxiety may lead to nail biting or teeth grinding, they also lead to eating when not hungry. Many people, out of nervousness or boredom, just munch on chips or drink soda to give their mouths something to do.
  • Childhood habits: Among many of us there are some emotion-based attachments to food while growing up. When in times of stress we often feel good while falling back on our favorite food. This type of emotional eating normally happens when people want to celebrate by eating.

Difference between emotional and normal hunger

There are several differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger, according to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center web site: [1]

  • Emotional hunger comes on suddenly; physical hunger occurs gradually.
  • When you are eating to fill a void that isn't related to an empty stomach, you crave a specific food, such as pizza or ice cream, and only that food will meet your need. When you eat because you are actually hungry, you're open to options.
  • Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly with the food you crave; physical hunger can wait.
  • Even when you are full, if you're eating to satisfy an emotional need, you're more likely to keep eating. When you're eating because you're hungry, you're more likely to stop when you're full.
  • Emotional eating can leave behind feelings of guilt; eating when you are physically hungry does not.

What can I do?

Facing your emotions head-on is the best way to tackle them. Here are some ways to try them: [2]

  • Write in your journal about your feelings and fears.
  • Write a letter to the firemen and rescuers in New York.
  • Make a quilt or cross-stitch memorializing the tragedy.
  • Write a story about the event from a rescuer's point of view.
  • Listen to some reassuring music like peaceful new age or relaxing classical.
  • Help local volunteers organize a fund-raising effort.
  • Put patriotic decorations up around your house.
  • Talk to someone close to you about your feelings.

Combine these with the following strategies:

  • Exercise regularly

Daily exercise relieves stress and puts you in a positive mindset, which provides greater strength to pass on the unhealthy fare.

  • Get enough sleep

Research shows that sleep deprivation can increase hunger by decreasing leptin levels, the appetite-regulating hormone that signals fullness. With adequate sleep, you’ll be less tired and have more resolve to fight off the urge to grab foods for comfort.

90 degrees

Research suggests that for men savoury foods are more likely to trigger an almost uncontrollable urge to indulge.

For women the metabolic rate - and, therefore, the speed at which calories are burnt - rises markedly in about 30 per cent of women during menstruation, allowing about 60 calories extra per day to be eaten without gaining weight. [3]

User Contribution

More on Emotional eating

What can I do to help

Additional information


  • What is Emotional Eating?
  • Stress and Emotional Eating: What Causes Emotional Eating?
  • Stress and Emotional Eating: How To Stop Emotional Eating


  1. WebMD
  2. About.com
  3. Times Online