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Diet / Weight Control Infocenter

Emotional Eating

by Scott Haywood

Occasional emotional eating is normal. Everyone has celebrated with food before, that's what birthday parties, Christmas lunch and BBQ's on SuperBowl day and the Forth of July are all about. But emotional eating can become a serious problem when it leads to negative emotional and physical imbalances in our lives.

Frequent emotional eating can easily become a destructive cycle. Emotional eating becomes entrenched in the lives of its sufferers when they use food to regulate their mood, cope with stress or overcome feelings of anxiety or boredom.

This type of behaviour can easily lead emotional eaters to become overweight or obese because many of them feel hungry most of the time.

"Satisfying" this insatiable hunger with food, many emotional eaters consume far more calories than their body needs and they gain a lot of weight which becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible to lose.

Common signs of Emotional Eating

Here are some common signs of emotional eating:

Eating when not physically hungry.

Eating during times of strong emotions, like anger or depression.

Eating when bored.

Rapid eating.

Eating immediately after arriving home from work.

Eating alone out of embarrassment at the quantity or type of food being eaten.

Eating until uncomfortably full.

Feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after overeating.

Recognizing emotional hunger

Recognizing emotional hunger (as apposed to real physical hunger) is one of the keys to overcoming or staving off frequent emotional eating.

Some of the characteristics of emotional hunger include:

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly.

One minute you're not hungry at all and the next minute you're starving.

Emotional hunger often craves specific food, like pizza, candy or a cheeseburger.

Emotional hunger begins in the mouth and the mind, not the stomach.

Emotional hunger often accompanies an unpleasant emotion.

Emotional hunger involves automatic or absent-minded eating.

Emotional hunger isn't satisfied when you're full.

Emotional hunger makes you feel guilty.

Are you an emotional eater?

To find out if you might be an emotional eater, rate yourself on the following statements about your current lifestyle (adapted from the book Fattitudes: Beat Self-Defeat and Win Your War with Weight, by Jeffrey R., Ph.D. Wilbert, Norean K. Wilbert, St Martin's Press, NY, 2000.) using the scale:

0 = Never

1 = Rarely

2 = Sometimes

3 = Often

4 = Almost Always

1. I've try to lose weight, but always fail.

2. I don't feel in control of my eating.

3. I often eat when I'm not hungry.

4. I eat food when I'm stressed or upset.

5. I eat food for pleasure or as a reward.

6. I think about food a lot.

7. I can't stay on track when dieting.

8. I binge eat.

9. I feel ashamed of myself and my eating habits.

10. Food helps me deal with feelings.

Add up your TOTAL SCORE


0 – 10. It is very unlikely that you are an emotional eater.

11 – 20. You engage in some emotional eating but it's unlikely that it is harmful.

21 – 30. You are a moderate emotional eater and should consider professional assistance.

31 - 40 You are a heavy emotional eater. Professional assistance is highly recommended.

What to do if emotional eating is a problem

Here are some suggestions that may help you overcome problematic emotional eating:

Become aware of your motivations for wanting to eat.

When you feel like eating, ask yourself if you could possibly be upset instead of hungry.

Keep believing in yourself. You are in control and have the power to make changes in your life.

Develop new mood regulation strategies. For example, share your problems when anxious and exercise when you're bored.

Remember support is available. If you need to, find a weight loss class, hire a lifestyle coach or engage a licensed therapist.

Focus on the things that matter. Like taking care of yourself, improving your emotional well-being, eating well and exercising.

Be wary of using diets. Dieting can lead to more emotional eating and won't help you to address the underlying reasons for being overweight.

Love yourself for who you are and forget about trying to be perfect.

Don't swallow your emotions for the sake of sparing others from getting upset. If they've upset you, let them know about it and tell them that you won't tolerate that kind of behavior in the future.

Make yourself - not a diet - responsible for what you eat.

Focus on the cause and solution rather than the affect. Constantly focusing on the negative symptoms of the problem won't help you solve them. Focus on what you're going to do about your current circumstances rather than the circumstances themselves.

Take responsibility for your life, stop thinking about food and LIVE!


Remember, we're all emotional eaters to some extent. It's nearly impossible not to be in America, where eating is an integral part of our celebration rituals and a fundamental aspect of our family and social life. But when emotional eating interferes with your health and happiness you know it's time to do something about it and the sooner the better.

See Also:

The Mind-Body Connection: Complexity in Weight Loss
You can’t eat your way into healthy thinking, but you can probably think your way into healthy eating, which in turn, actually could make your thinking healthier… if only you could figure out where to start.

Ten Golden Rules of Dieting
Modifying our diet is one of the keys to losing weight. Here are Ten Golden Rules to Dieting that you can trust to help you lose those unwanted inches and pounds.

After the Glycemic Index, now Meet the Satiety Index
If you had to choose just one food for snacking, based on how long it would keep you from getting hungry again, what would you choose to eat?

Scott Haywood is the editor of Australia's premier weight loss websites www.weightloss.com.au and www.weightlossdirectory.com.au.

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