End Emotional Eating

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What is emotional binge eating?

It’s when you eat large amounts of food when you’re upset, tired, stressed, angry, bored, anxious, lonely, sad, or have low self-esteem 0r relationship problems.  If you’re like me, you usually binge on junk or “comfort” foods.


One study in my files says that 80% of excessive eating is caused by emotions – NOT hunger!

I figure it’s ok to eat for emotional reasons once in a while.  The problem is that we eat emotionally so often that it becomes impossible to distinguish betweeen true, physical hunger and endless emotional hunger.

When I surveyed my facebook friends on their biggest fitness problem, the number one thing people told me they do wrong is binge eat.  At office parties, at home in front of the TV, at the bar on weekends.


If you binge eat, you need to find out what TRIGGERS the emotion that leads you to overconsume.

To do this, try keeping a 2-column food/stress journal.  (My younger clients also keep a “zit journal”, which is kind of gross, but necessary)


Write down what you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat in one column.  In the other list the stresses, thoughts, and emotions you’re feeling right before and while you’re eating.

You’ll see the link between the two columns very very quickly.

Here are the most typical emotional triggers that lead to binge eating:


This is the number one problem for me, I eat when food is there.  At office birthdays, everyone presses you to try their cake.  At a friend’s house, you don’t want to be rude and turn down anything, so you eat it all.

office party social eating

Negative Thinking:

A LOT of people eat when they feel unworthy.  When their self-esteem is down, they eat for comfort.  Or they actually scold themselves WHILE they’re binge eating, berating their lack of will-power.

negative thinking sad face ball


This is when you eat for physical reasons that aren’t really hunger.  Eating to cure headaches or because you didn’t sleep well are two common causes.

(Or maybe you’re using the phenylethylamine in chocolate to fill other desires, like in the movie Down With Love)

down with love movie poster

Nervous Energy:

When I’m stressed out or anxious, I become “orally fidgety” and chew gum.  Other people bite their nails or grind their teeth or smoke.  But many many people much on chips or soda to give their mouth something to do.


This is a biggie.  Standing in the kitchen, staring off into space, and finishing off a box of Chips Ahoy.


My mom is a GREAT cook.  So lots of my comforting memories revolve around food.  If your parents used to reward you with treats, or take you out to celebrate, or built the habit of dessert after every meal – it has probably become a habit.  And breaking a comforting habit is very emotional.

Misc Emotions:

Have you ever eaten to “fill the hole”?  Stress, fatigue, andger, anxiety, and loneliness usually make the “void”, not true hunger.

Someone who doesn’t like confrontations might go eat 2 snickers bars instead of telling a co-worker that they need to step up.

empty stomach

Food takes the edge off of anger, resentment, fear, and anxiety – and almost everyone uses food for this reason.

Emotion-based hunger usually focuses on a particular food.  One of my friends just texted me that she wants pizza because she’s “craving cheezy greasy stuff.”  This is a comfort food.

To help you identify comfort foods in your food journal, here’s a list of the most common comfort foods.

hot fudge ice cream sundae

Number One for both men and women: ICE CREAM.

Men: Pizza, Casserole, Beer, Steak

Women: Chocolate, Cookies

The first step in ending emotional eating is to identify what triggers you to start bingeing.

Your homework: Keep a journal for the next week and find out what sets your eater off.  Next week I’ll give you my best strategies to bust each type of binge eating.

woman writing in food journal

7 Responses to “End Emotional Eating”

  1. Deirdre Says:

    Fables – Translated by George Fyler Townsend
    The Thrush And The Fowler
    A THRUSH was feeding on a myrtle-tree and did not move from it because its berries were so delicious. A Fowler observed her staying so long in one spot, and having well bird-limed his reeds, caught her. The Thrush, being at the point of death, exclaimed, “O foolish creature that I am! For the sake of a little pleasant food I have deprived myself of my life.”

  2. Are You An Emotional Eater? (Quiz) | Wold Fitness Notebook Says:

    […] Are you an emotional eater?  (I’ve written about this before: Emotional Eating) […]

  3. Evon Vanschoyck Says:

    Thanks for this site. We all love to save a dollar and your advice helps

  4. Sugar Cravings Taking Over Your Brain! | Wold Fitness Notebook Says:

    […] There are 2 main PHYSICAL reasons  (there are many emotional reasons too, check out this post for some info: Emotional Eating) […]

  5. Luke Says:

    Thanks Evon! It is cheaper to eat on a plan than to binge when you’re eating out!

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