Emotional Eating: How to Overcome it Today

First of all, let’s clarify what emotional eating is:

Have you ever experienced a craving for certain foods when you’ve been angry, sad, or stressed? This is emotional eating.

Can you think of a time when your eating seemed uncontrollable?

Understandably, most of us have some emotions tied up with eating – it’s an activity that surrounds many milestones in our life, for example religious rituals, family get togethers, and various other celebrations.

However, you are not powerless over food…fact!

Granted, there may be episodes when you feel like you’ve lost control of your eating, however there will also be those other times when you feel completely in control.

Controy to what some programs try to teach you, please be aware that emotional eating is not a disease.

This is good news, because it means you can begin to identify the triggers, develop alternative behaviours, and ultimately overcome it.

Something else we need to be straight about…

If you’re a compulsive dieter, who also eats in response to emotions, the answer to your weight loss is not another diet plan, it is to control emotional eating.

It’s extremely important that you get this:

No diet can work for you as long as you’re eating in response to your emotions.

Tracking your emotions

Knowing when you’re most likely to eat in response to an upsetting emotion can be very helpful.

To understand this better you need to keep a record of any episodes of emotional eating for about 7 days.

You don’t need to record everything you eat, just make a record of anything that seems to be paired with an emotion.

By asking yourself, “Am I hungry?” and “Is this a planned meal or snack?” it will help you determin if you are eating in response to hunger, or emotions.

For example, you could keep a record like this:

By the end of the week you should have a really good idea of some of the emotions that trigger this type of eating.

Once you have collected this info, go back and have a look over it again. Check for:

  • Time – what is the most likely time for an emotional eating episode?
  • Location/people – are there particular circumstances/people that trigger emotions?
  • Food/amount – do you favour particular types of foods?
  • Emotions/feelings – what emotions do you notice, for example loneliness, sadness, anger?

To demonstrate how effective this can be, let me tell you about Tanya…

Tanya is a busy single mum, with 3 young children. She doesn’t have problems with eating in the mornings, she’s so busy getting the children ready for school, and getting herself ready for work.

At the office, she has coffee on her breaks, then eats lunch with her colleagues. She gets home around 5.30pm, and rushes to prepare dinner. In fact up to this point, emotional eating isn’t a factor in Tanya’s day.

She gets dinner out of the way, dishes are done, the children are in bed. When she finally sits down to watch TV, this is when the cravings begin, and she starts to snack. She finds herself in the kitchen eating cookies, chocolate, ice cream – whatever’s handy. Most of the time she’s standing over the workbench, eating quickly, and not using a plate.

When she asks herself, “Why am I eating?” she’s not really sure; she certainly isn’t hungry, but the cravings are very strong.

Tanya’s situation is very similar to the experiences of many people. Can you relate to her?

Her daily routine is so busy that the emotions triggering her eating don’t get a change to surface until she is alone at night, and starts to feel bored, disastified, and lonely.

However, Tanya has been able to overcome this – you’ve probably guessed how – by recording her emotional eating patterns!

By recording her eating and emotions, Tanya was able, for the first time, to identify the times when she was most susceptable to overeating. She also started to get a better understanding of the emotions which triggered this eating, and the foods she favoured most during these times.

By identifying the patterns that triggered emotional eating, Tanya was then able to control her eating, and begin to successfully deal with these situations, without resorting to food.

Challenge for YOU

I challenge you to make a record of your emotional eating for one week, to help you discover the root of overeating. This could be the first step in helping you deal with these emotions. Will you give it a go?

Check out my previous post on emotional eating, or this one on mood and eating.

Do you have any tips for someone dealing with emotional eating? Please share your thoughts, and experiences!

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About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom December 6, 2008 at 4:19 am

I remember this topic coming up from your other posts, and I find it to be extremely interesting. These are good tips, because the key is to find what emotions trigger your eating. It’s very easy to overlook the fact that your eating habits may be tied to how you are feeling at the time. Keeping track of what you eat may help you discover trends, which in turn can show the cause of the eating. Actually writing out eating habits can be extremely helpful, and enlightening.


Emily Hagen December 6, 2008 at 7:58 am

Great article! I have identified myself as an emotional eater (definitely in the evenings when I am bored or finally able to release from my stressful day) and I think keeping a record is a great way to identify and eliminate this kind of eating from my life. Thanks for the suggestion!


Sabs December 7, 2008 at 6:00 am

I am also an emotional eater. Whenever I start thinking about food during my critical times (such as while watching tv late at night), I first eat a raw carrot. Very often this is sufficient for me and stops the cravings.


Melanie December 8, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Hey Tom,
Yes, you’re right, I really do believe it’s “enlightening!”

Hi Emily,
Thanks for commenting. I hope journalling will be helpful!

Hey Sabs,
I’m glad to hear from you, what a great tip…thanks for sharing!


Justin December 9, 2008 at 6:04 am

What a great article Melanie. Ive never had a problem with emoptional eating myself, but I know plenty of people who do.

Glad I found your blog, Ill be adding it to my RSS reader… Cheers!


Justin’s last blog post..Where is your gym?


Melanie December 9, 2008 at 6:37 pm

Hey Justin,
Glad you found the blog too! Hope you see you around here again :-)


Kerry December 10, 2008 at 2:48 pm

I find I eat for the wrong reasons when time and circumstance are issues. For example, I may actually be feeling tired, but due to busy family life lying down for a rest is just not an option, so I’ll find myslef reaching for a snack to ‘pick me up’ instead.


Melanie December 12, 2008 at 5:40 am

Hi Kerry,

Is there anything you can put in place to prevent this happening?

For example what would help you get enough sleep – can friends/family be of more help?

Can you make time for a 20 minute nap? 20 minutes are all you need to feel completely refreshed, in fact sleeping longer can make you feel groggy.


Jason December 25, 2008 at 4:45 am

Hi there. I really liked this post. I am going to link to it from my blog so others might find a better way to deal with emotions. i know emotional eating, I lost 130 lbs and I still fight it sometimes, but I am winning now.



Melanie December 27, 2008 at 2:07 pm

Hi Jason,
I checked out your blog, your before and after pics are amazing, totally inspiring!! I will definitely point my readers to your site, sometimes just knowing that someone else has lost so much weight is enough to motivate!

Do you have any articles on how you lost all your weight? I’d love to read how you did it.


Jon February 2, 2009 at 10:43 am

Thanks for the outline on tracking when I eat and the reason.


Melanie February 2, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Hi Jon,
You’re welcome! Please let me know if you need any further info.


diets that work November 8, 2013 at 3:14 am

And if we ate less fat, then we wouldn’t be so fat.
‘Everyone thinks that weight loss iis all about ‘eat less, exercise more.
You lose weight fast during the initial stages, due to the net loss of water weight
since protein and carbohydrates both help hold water in body cells.


Carol W March 19, 2014 at 1:14 am

I’ve been dealing with this for awhile. I find that if I brush (and floss) my teeth, the craving goes away. Sometimes I just need to chew gum. If the craving is really bad, I will go to the gym, find someone to hang out with, or talk on the phone.


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