Eating Controlled By Emotions – 5 Tips to Break Free!

There are many reasons for eating that are not completely based on the nutrition our body requires. Sometimes food is a means for wonderful social connection – it can definitely bring people together for social enjoyment, like family gatherings or school reunions. Food can also part of a special reward or perhaps for celebration of a milestone in life, such as birthdays, graduations, weddings or anniversaries. But many people turn to food when they are not physically hungry in order to satisfy a craving, to fulfill a need for comfort or to relieve stress. That’s when eating becomes controlled by emotions, or ‘emotional eating’.


Eating Controlled By Emotions - 5 Tips to Break Free!

First, let’s look at the big issues that emotional eating causes, and the possible triggers. Then we will look at 5 positive steps you can take to break out of the negative cycle of emotional eating.

What are the big issues with emotional eating?

  • It is a temporary solution to cover up a real emotional issue that is going on inside you. When the eating is over, the underlying emotional issue is still there and it could be even harder to face the issue.
  • You often feel worse after emotional eating, instead of feeling better. The food is often ‘comfort food’ or junk food that has a lot of unhealthy fats and/or sugars. This can leave you feeling guilty, sometimes physically over-stuffed or unwell, and often upset with yourself about a lack of willpower.
  • Covering up emotions by eating can become a habit that is hard to break later on – it becomes a downward negative cycle that can be hard to stop.
  • Emotional eating can lead to weight gain, resulting in poor self-esteem, lack of confidence and a feeling of hopelessness.

What are some triggers?

  • Stress, boredom, loneliness, depression, general daily anxiety, anger, fear, shame, sadness, nervousness, and resentment are all common triggers.
  • Sometimes emotional or comfort eating is tied to habits from our childhood or from our cultural background. For example, a Mother showers her family with ‘love’ by making their favorite cinnamon buns whenever there is a major stress.
  • There are also times when social pressure could be a trigger, such as when everyone else is having extra desserts from the dessert buffet at a company function.

What’s the difference between ‘emotional hunger’ and ‘physical hunger’?

Here are 5 main differences – to read more detail about this, check out

  1. Sudden: Most of the time, emotional hunger hits you suddenly; feeling physically hungry happens more gradually.
  2. Comfort foods: Emotional hunger is a strong and urgent craving fixated on certain comfort foods; physical hunger isn’t usually as urgent and is not specifically focused on comfort foods.
  3. Mindless eating: Emotional hunger leads to mindless eating, where you are not aware of details such as the taste, smell, or enjoyment of the food, or the amount consumed. Physical hunger leads to eating with awareness and for the purpose of enjoying the food in limited quantities.
  4. No stopping: Emotional hunger seems to have no limits in terms of stopping; physical hunger is satisfied when you are physically full.
  5. Negative feelings: Emotional hunger results in a whole lot of negative feelings that perpetuate the cycle; after feeding physical hunger there are few (if any) negative feelings.

What positive steps can you take to break the negative cycle?

Here are 5 steps:

  1. Knowledge: Learn to tell the difference between ‘emotional hunger’ and ‘physical hunger’.
  2. Triggers: Learn to identify and be conscious of your emotional eating ‘triggers’ – these can be very ‘individual’, and specific for you. A good awareness tool to use is a diary. You can track your moods / emotions, when you eat, and what you eat or what your cravings are.
  3. Take a break: When a craving suddenly comes on, don’t deny the craving but instead take a short break – anywhere from one to five minutes. The idea is to have a chance to think about what’s happening in your body and with your emotions, to essentially be a detective for a moment. You might still decide to eat the food you are craving, but at least you have more awareness and have made a conscious decision instead of being caught in an automatic and mindless response.
  4. Feed your emotions in a positive way: Once you have identified the emotional trigger, you can look for a positive way to deal with that emotion. Here are some examples:
    • If you are feeling lonely, make a call to a friend and arrange to meet them for a cup of tea or coffee.
    • If you are feeling anxious, get on your bike and go for a spin to burn off some anxious energy.
    • If you are feeling mentally stressed, take a break and go for a brisk walk to clear your mind and have a change of scenery for a few minutes.
  1. Keep yourself strong: Developing a healthy lifestyle will help you stay positive and give you strength and energy to deal with emotional issues as they arise. This could include developing good sleep habits, having a whole foods diet on a regular basis, getting proper exercise, having a solid spiritual connection, taking time to relax, and developing a circle of friends so you have social time with others.

Emotions are part of our ‘primary food’ – the circle of things that keep us healthy, happy, balanced and absolutely loving life. The food we eat is called ‘secondary food’ and it fits into the circle of primary food. Through Health Coaching, I work with Clients to balance the primary and secondary food in their life, so they can live the life of their dreams! Are you ready to find YOUR perfect primary food balance, and live the life of your dreams? Contact me, and let’s chat!


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