The Psychology of Emotional Eating

The Psychology of Emotional Eating

At some point, almost all of us will be driven to emotional eating. In fact, according to some experts we are genetically hard wired to indulge in emotional eating when times get tough. Food is a fantastic thing: it tastes delicious, it can be a wonderfully social experience to eat, and is a great way to reward yourself. However, if you find you are turning to emotional eating regularly, when you’ve had a bad day or when you feel the need to comfort yourself, then it may well be that you have a problem with emotional eating that needs to be brought under control. This is particularly true if you are gaining weight, or attempting to lose weight, and finding your attempts to be unsuccessful.

It is important to note that if you struggle with emotional eating then you are struggling with a real condition: many people assume emotional eaters simply demonstrate a lack of control, but this isn’t the case. Discipline alone generally isn’t enough to help an individual to control their emotional eating. Want to end your emotional eating? Here are a few hints and tips:

Find Other Pleasures

Eating for pleasure it not a bad thing; as we have previously stated, food is something to be shared and enjoyed. However, emotional eating becomes dangerous if food is your only pleasure. It’s important to find other pleasures and other ways to soothe yourself when you feel you need a reward that don’t revolve around food. Those other non-self-destructive activities could include, but are not limited to: joining a gym or getting involved in a supportive group sport, knitting or another therapeutic craft activity, socialising with friends, or dancing. Coping with crisis and difficult feelings is not easy, but building a coping strategy that doesn’t involve food, and becoming more able to tolerate and process those feelings in the first place, can enable you to build a healthier life away from emotional eating.

Learn to Love Your Body

Perhaps one of the most difficult to process aspect of emotional eating is that most emotional eaters actually hate their bodies. If you are trying to overcome emotional eating in order to reach your goal weight, then body shame and hatred are going to be counterproductive to helping you reach your target: in fact, these things are likely to drive you to emotional eating. Where possible, learning to stop hating your body will help you to break the emotional eating cycle and really make a change. Stop focusing on the parts of your body that you don’t like: Find a body part that you like and focus on that instead, as part of your journey to love the skin you’re in.

The Benefits of Emotional Eating

The good news is emotional eating isn’t always a bad thing. According to Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., the former director of the Research Program in Women’s Health at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Clinical Research Center, indulging in the occasional carb binge can actually be good for our mental health. This is because “carbohydrates set off a series of chemical reactions that ultimately lead to a boost in brain serotonin.” Dieters on low carbs tend to register the lowest moods in studies, and those who constantly commit to low fat diets suffer similarly low mood levels, so indulging in the occasional high carb or high fat treat can give you a much needed mood boost when you’re feeling low. Because of the monthly hormonal rollercoaster that they are subjected to, women tend to be more vulnerable to suffering from stress and other emotional triggers at certain times of the month. This can increase the cravings that you experience, and often succumbing to these cravings can make you feel better: something that simply isn’t a bad thing provided it is nothing more than a once or twice monthly treat.  


“Emotional Eating? Five Reasons You Can’t Stop”, Psychology Today

“The Impact of Eating Disorders on Body Image”, Bulimia.com

“The facts about emotional eating”, Real Simple

“End emotional eating: No diet will work until we change our guilt-ridden relationship with food, says this top psychologist”, The Daily Mail

"The facts about emotional eating", CNN 

 Written by Melissa Phillipson.

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