• Sydney Cochran, MS, RD, LD

Dealing with Emotional Eating

Have you ever come home at the end of a stressful day and sat down, only to find yourself scraping the bottom of a bag of chips 20 minutes later, wondering what on earth just happened? Perhaps you like to unwind with a pint of Ben and Jerry's after the kids go to sleep? Or maybe you head to the nearest drive-thru when you're feeling sad or frustrated?

Maybe you've experienced something like one of the above situations and haven't ever tied it to a certain emotion - you just know that you and Little Debbie shouldn't be left in a room together.

Eating satisfying foods is a normal part of a healthy relationship with food and food often can be comforting. It brings back good memories from a favorite meal shared with family or being cared for by mom when you were sick.

When it becomes a problem is when food is your only coping mechanism, if you tune out when eating for comfort, or if this kind of eating is associated with guilt. Eating to distract, sedate, or punish yourself can easily get out of hand and become destructive.

Often in these situations, one might come to the conclusion stated above - that they simply can't be around a certain type of food. In reality, the food isn't the problem. Digging a little deeper can allow you to figure out what you're actually feeling when you reach for food and then determine what you really need.


First, ask yourself if you're hungry. If you're actually hungry, then food is the only thing that can take care of that! Choose a food that sounds good and pay attention to how you feel when eating it, eating until you're full and satisfied.

If you're not physically hungry, ask yourself what you're actually feeling. This might take some time to figure out. You might be bored, stressed, angry, anxious, lonely, or tired, just to name a few. You may also be seeking relaxation, soothing, excitement, or relief. It might help to sit quietly for a few minutes, talk with someone, or write to figure out exactly what it is you're feeling.

Once you know what you're feeling, ask yourself what you need. The only hunger that food can take care of is physical hunger, so it won't actually take care of the emotions you might be feeling. For example, if you're stressed, eating seven cookies might make you feel better while you're eating them, but when you finish you won't have dealt with the source of stress and may even be more stressed because you just ate mindlessly and now don't feel well.

Once you know why you're stressed, you can either start taking steps toward dealing with the issue or choose to do something to bring down your stress level first, like read a book, go for a walk, play a game, or spend time with friends. Making a list of things you enjoy or find relaxing might be helpful as you decide what you need. If you need help from someone else to address what you're feeling, don't be afraid to ask.

After all of this, you may still choose to eat the food and that is fine too. Taking the time to identify what you're feeling and other ways you might be able to cope is a step in the right direction and opens the door for trying something else next time.

#emotionaleating #mindfulness

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