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Emotional Eating: What It Is and Tips to Manage It

Do you find yourself racing to the pantry or to the fast-food drive-thru after a long, stressful day? Well you’re not alone. Finding comfort in food when you’re feeling emotional is common and this is known as emotional eating.

Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix the root of your problems. In fact, it usually makes you feel worse, especially when the guilt and shame sets in.

Fortunately, there are strategies to help cope with emotional eating that will not only make you feel better emotionally, but mentally and physically as well: 

Figure Out the Root Cause

The first step in managing your emotional eating is to figure out your “why” behind it. Every time you find yourself emotionally eating, write down all of the reasons that it makes sense as to why you’re turning to food. It could be due to short-term reasons such as having a bad day at work or having a lot on your to-do list, however, it could be from long-term issues such as chronic stress, long-term anger, depression, etc. Journaling your “why” will help you to see a pattern and you will be able to find other ways to cope. 

Find Other Ways to Cope

Once you've figured out your why, it's time to choose a better coping mechanism than food. Here are some examples of what that can look like: 

  • Stress – breathing exercises, meditate, take a walk, yoga, or cuddle your pet
  • Loneliness – text, call or video chat with a friend or loved one
  • Sadness – make a list of things you're grateful for, watch a comedy movie, or talk to a friend/family
  • Boredom – finish a project, watch a movie, read a book, or find a new hobby
  • Anxiety – confide in a friend, spend time with your pet(s) or consider reaching out to a counselor or therapist

Next time you’re about to turn to food for comfort, try out one of these recommendations above depending on the emotion you’re experiencing or find your own! 

Practice Mindful Eating 

How many times have you sat down in front of the TV with a bag of chips for a quick snack only to realize moments later that you have practically consumed the entire bag? When you eat to feed your feelings, you tend to do so quickly, mindlessly consuming food on autopilot. Practice mindful eating by slowing down, savoring the flavors, and not eating while distracted by your phone, TV, or computer. Pay attention to the textures, shapes, colors and smells of your food. How does each mouthful taste? How does it make your body feel? This will help you to feel fuller quicker and will leave you feeling more satisfied. 

Work on Your Healthy Habits 

You'll be better prepared to handle the stresses of life and your emotions in general if you're physically strong, relaxed, and well rested. Here are some healthy lifestyle habits that can help to prevent emotional eating: 

  • Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
  • Increase your fruit & veggie intake.
  • Exercise regularly. 
  • Make time for relaxation. 
  • Drink enough water. 

If you've tried self-help options and the tips above but you still can't control emotional eating, consider therapy with a mental health professional. Therapy can help you understand why you eat emotionally and learn coping skills.


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