Emotional Eating and How to Stop It: Breaking Free from the Cycle

Emotional eating and drinking: Alone at Home: Sad Young Caucasian Woman Holding a Glass of Wine in the Kitchen

Emotional eating is a common problem that affects many people. It is characterized by the consumption of food in response to feelings rather than hunger. This article aims to provide answers to common reader questions about emotional eating and effective strategies to break free from this cycle.

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is the practice of consuming large quantities of food — usually ‘comfort’ or junk foods — in response to feelings instead of hunger. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions. People tend to turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or as a reward. However, emotional eating rarely fixes emotional problems. It usually makes them worse. Afterward, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but people also feel guilty for overeating.

What Causes Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is caused by various factors. These include:

  • Stress: High levels of stress lead to high levels of cortisol, a hormone that triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foods.
  • Suppressing emotions: Eating can be used as a way to temporarily silence or “stuff down” uncomfortable emotions, including anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame.
  • Boredom or feelings of emptiness: Food is used to fill an emotional void or to kill time.
  • Childhood habits: People may have been raised to connect food with feelings instead of with hunger and nutrition.

How Can You Identify Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating can be hard to identify as people often regard it as simply overeating. However, there are certain signs that indicate emotional eating:

  • Eating when not physically hungry
  • Eating to the point of discomfort or eating in secret
  • Feeling powerless or out of control around food
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed after eating
  • Craving specific foods when you’re upset, such as craving ice cream or pizza when you’re feeling down

Emotional Eating and How to Stop It: Effective Strategies

Breaking free from the cycle of emotional eating can be challenging, but it is possible. Here are some effective strategies:

  • Practice Mindful Eating: This involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. It involves noticing the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds of our food.
  • Find Healthy Ways to Manage Stress: Instead of turning to food, try some physical activities, such as yoga or walking. Other stress-reducing activities include reading, listening to music, or taking a bath.
  • Support Network: Don’t underestimate the power of social support. Talking about your feelings with a friend or counselor can make a big difference.
  • Get Enough Sleep: Lack of sleep can increase cravings for unhealthy foods, leading to emotional eating. Make sure you are getting enough sleep each night.


Emotional eating is a common issue that many people struggle with. However, by understanding the causes and signs of emotional eating and implementing effective strategies, it is possible to break free from this cycle. Remember, it’s not about having perfect control over your diet; it’s about making peace with food and eating.

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