June 30, 2019

What Is Emotional Eating?

healthy snacksemotional eatingEmotional Eating: What is It?

Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than hunger. And, that can sabotage your health.

Emotional eating provides some level of reward or satisfaction that goes beyond simply satisfying the stomach of hunger. We tend to gravitate to emotional eating when:

  1. We are confronted with a problem or challenging circumstance.
  2. We are feeling stressed.
  3. We are bored.

Most of us engage in emotional eating from time to time, but when it becomes a habit it can lead to eating disorders, weight gain, and obesity. Controlling emotional eating can be difficult because in the short term it makes us feel good or better. Most people reach for high glycemic foods during emotional eating which temporarily raising serotonin levels, or the “feel good hormone”.

What Are the Rewards of Emotional Eating?

As stated above emotional eating provides with some “reward” or some level of satisfaction. We engage in emotional eating to suppress or soothe negative feelings or emotions. These include:

  • anger
  • fear
  • stress
  • boredom
  • loneliness (increasing problem despite social media)
  • and sadness.

Increasing our serotonin levels by eating high glycemic foods helps manage those negative emotions. Food is also a great distraction. It takes our mind away from our troubles – at least temporarily.

Triggers for these emotions include:

  • Work or personal stress.
  • Unresolved relationship conflict.
  • Emotional or physical fatigue.
  • Financial issues.
  • Health problem in ourselves or loved ones.

Emotional Eating Foods

High glycemic foods are popular among emotional eaters with ice cream being the number one choice. Other popular emotional eating foods include chocolate (my favorite), cookies, pizza, potato chips, and even steak (not high glycemic).

Signs of Emotional Eating

Below are the hallmarks of emotional eating.

  • Emotional eating comes on rather suddenly.
  • Emotional eating requires instant satisfaction.
  • Emotional eating involves craving very specific foods.
  • Eating continues after hunger is satisfied until the emotional need is met.
  • Guilt is frequently experienced with emotional eating.

If you think you may have a tendency to emotional eating ask yourself these questions. The more questions you answer “yes” the more likely you are an emotional eater.

  • Do you eat more when stressed?
  • Do you eat when not hungry?
  • Do you eat to feel better?
  • Do you eat to reward yourself?
  • Do you eat until you are stuffed?
  • Do you see food as a “friend”?

Steps to Manage Emotional Eating

  • Try to identify the triggers that you lead to emotional eating. Keeping some type of journal may help those triggers.
  • Recognize the emotional need you are trying to satisfy and see if there are other options to satisfy it. Physical activity can be a great substitute.
  • Look into any number of stress management strategies like any form of exercise, deep breathing, and meditation.
  • Substitute a healthier food. Comfort foods do not necessarily have to be unhealthy. Find a healthy substitute like a piece of fruit. Take healthy snacks to work with you.
  • If your craving is so strong for an unhealthy food, sometimes just of few bites of it will satisfy the emotional need so take a few bites and walk away.
  • Find ways to combat boredom.
  • Do not keep unhealthy foods in your house. Chances are if you bought unhealthy snacks you are probably going to eat them.

If you have taken the above steps and still engage in emotional eating then seek professional help.

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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