Emotional eating is a lifestyle problem in which food is used to alleviate dysphoria (negative feelings) instead of focusing on the emotion itself.

Whether conscious or not, when you make the decision to consume food in response to negative emotions, you’re actually eating your feelings and making them stronger.

What causes it?

Emotional eating habits are a response to dysphoric feelings, like unhappiness, boredom, or stress. Something that makes you feel unhappy, or empty, is often the most powerful cause underlying food cravings.

These feelings are hard to face and by their very nature feel unpleasant. So the impulse of eating your feelings is a short term escape from those emotions. The natural pleasure of food offers temporary relief and an escape. For example, “I had an upsetting day at work. I’m sick of the way my colleague treats me — I deserve a treat!”, or “I’m so bored — what’s in the fridge, that’ll cheer me up”.

While it gives short term relief, this eating habit is ineffective at improving that emotion over time because as the emotional buffer of food wears away, a sense of guilt and regret can follow just as quickly.

Apart from not fixing your problem, the real drawbacks of emotional eating are weakened self-control from giving into impulses and increased body fat from excess calories.

I have personally experienced the ills of the rollercoaster ride of emotional eating quite a few years ago. As a diabetic, I had an even greater risk in front of me, so I had to fix this problem.

I discovered there are simple ways to fix the problem, and fortunately we can all do it — as long as we desire self-improvement and are patient.

How to fix it?

What about an easy option — can’t I just do that?
You could just not buy junk food, stay away from the shops when hungry and try a bunch of other strategies that work on the symptoms, but that’s never really going to address your longstanding emotional problem.

You can’t hide from emotions that are already within you. You must face them and discover working solutions to restore your happiness.

A five step guide to overcome emotional eating

  1. Understand the negative emotion that is driving the behaviour. It could be stress, dissolution, unhappiness, regret, lack of fulfilment, pressure, emptiness or boredom.
  2. Discover what in your daily life is contributing to the emotion. Perhaps it’s a repetitive lifestyle that is making you feel despondent and unfulfilled. Perhaps it’s a toxic relationship feeding you with negative energy. Or maybe it’s the way you are not being yourself at work which is slowly wearing you down.
  3. Actively pursue behaviours that will work to alleviate the negative emotions and restore your happiness. Going for a long walk will promote feel-good chemicals and give you a chance to further reflect without temptation surrounding you. You may solve relationship issues and problems and talk them through. Or consider changing your schedule and make sure you get more “you” time in your weekends to feel happy.
  4. Eat well. A colourful and natural food based diet, with regular intake of fibre and protein, may solve a lot of your problems. This is because it will keep you full, but even more importantly, the nutrients found within colourful foods will energise your mind and body, thus leaving you in a stronger position to conquer any cravings caused by your lifestyle.
  5. Move well. Exercise may sound scary, but I can say I’ve seen dozens of people transform their lifestyle and become much happier people after starting even a basic regime of walking.

Why does it help emotional eating though? It makes you happy and resilient, which gives you the emotional energy to face challenges in life and stay on track with healthy eating. Exercise also provides an opportunity to boost your self-esteem and self-control abilities from facing mini challenges.

And weight loss is also a fantastic effect of exercise, but personally I believe the mental and emotional benefits are the greatest benefits of all.

Conclusion

Ultimately, emotional eating is a short-term response to negative emotions. Be honest with yourself, discover what really is making you unhappy — and don’t eat your feelings! You’re better than that.