How to Overcome Emotional Eating

How to Overcome Emotional Eating

Until recently, I did not ever think that I would ever classify myself as an emotional eater. But stressful situations in the recent past have had me questioning my eating habits and this caused me to reach out to a wellness expert and nutritionist and seek some answers about emotional eating.

I have never hidden the fact that I suck at following proper nutrition. In fact, I am almost proud of it. And I hope my readers and followers will eventually get over that little bit of detail.

My concern, however, is that I tend to eat whatever is in front of me, behind me, and sideways when I am overly stressed (if you ever happen to be in one of these places when I am stressed, I may be compelled to eat you too).

I was under enormous stress a couple of weeks ago and this led to a bout of emotional eating. During this period, I couldn’t find the willpower to workout and this led to me gaining weight. I am a really private person so that is all I will say about that for now.

Anyways, back to the crux of the story at hand. Emotional eating. I sought professional advice on the subject from Desi Horsman, a well-known wellness expert, whom I have in the past worked with on another interesting topic. You can read up on that over here. Desi highlighted vital points on emotional eating which I will share with you now.

So what is emotional eating?

Desi starts off by explaining that we each have a very unique and complex relationship with food. And that complex relationship can usually be defined by answering some of these questions:

Do you eat when you are not hungry?

Do you skip meals?

Do you eat when you are happy or upset?

Emotional Eating

“Most people are very uncomfortable with their feelings and food is used to turn those feelings off or numb them. Food then is used as a substitute for pleasure or love or to fill that empty feeling from loneliness or boredom. Overeating, binge eating, eating when not hungry and using food to reward oneself also falls under emotional eating. When hunger cannot be satisfied but you have a constant need to eat; that’s emotional eating,” Desi explains. 

At what stage does one recognise they are an emotional eater?

If you want to know whether or not you are an emotional eater, test yourself by answering these questions that Desi posed.

Do you eat more when you are stressed and what do you eat when stressed?

Do you feel better emotionally after you have eaten?

Do you eat when you are not hungry?

Do you continue eating after you are full?

Do you feel guilty after you eat?

Do you feel powerless around food?

Do you use food as reward for an achievement or at the end of a bad day?

I did not answer yes to all of the above questions; I do not feel guilty after I eat, nor do I feel powerless around food. What were your answers? You can share in the comments below.

I have to mention here that I only use food as a substitute when I am stressed and have never used it to replace loneliness or boredom. If I am stuck in traffic and there happens to be food in my car, then I will eat most of that food because heavy traffic does stress me out (I usually pack raw carrots in a lunch box if I anticipate heavy traffic).  Keeping this part of my emotional eating in mind, I asked Desi Horsman to explain how stress affects one’s eating habits and she narrates below.

How stress affects our eating habits

Short term stress for many people can lead to a loss of appetite but if stress persists and becomes daily and chronic, the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol remains raised throughout the day and can throw you into a cycle of continual cravings. By eating, the body signals the brain to relax and shut off stress process, which is one of the reasons you feel good after eating.

The other reason is that the body craves sweet and rich high carb foods which trigger the brain to release serotonin which is your ‘happy hormone’ and boosts your mood. This is why these foods are called comfort foods and lead to comfort eating. The effect of these foods does not last long, leading to a sugar drop which in turns leads you to eat again. High stress also means less sleep or lack of good quality sleep which in turn causes the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin to rise. You feel hungry even if you don’t need to eat.

How to Overcome Emotional Eating

How to overcome emotional eating

“Finding the root cause of your eating issue and getting the support needed is your priority. A life unfulfilled and lacking connection will express itself in how you eat.

Have a good nutritionally dense breakfast and lunch which will minimize cravings and overeating in the evenings.

Sit down and eat slowly and mindfully without the distractions of TV or other screens. Food is meant to be part of our pleasures.

Don’t skip meals to ensure your blood sugar remains constant throughout the day to prevent binging.

Be kind to yourself, watch how you speak to yourself and about yourself, and work with your inner critic. Listen to your body – everything you need to know is within you. Trust in your body’s wisdom,” Desi advises.

I have actioned some of these tips on how to overcome emotional eating and been receiving support in this regard. I do not know what your reasons for emotional eating are but I hope the problem is manageable and that you will seek help.



About Desi Horsman:Desi Horsman

  • 1992 Bachelor of Commerce from Wits University
  • 1999 Certified Nutritionist from Life Science Institute, Texas (now in Canada)
  • 2012 Diploma in Nutritional Supplementation from the International Academy of Nutrition, Australia
  • 2013 Diploma in Clinical Nutrition from the International Academy of Nutrition, Australia
  • 2013 Certified Wellness Coach from Wellness Coaching Australia

35 thoughts on “How to Overcome Emotional Eating”

  • These are great tips on how to overcome emotional eating! I certainly find that if I eat a proper breakfast I
    m much more likely to have a good day food wise. If I start my day with rubbish, it is pretty much guaranteed to stay that way!

  • Great advice for emotional eating. I used to really struggle with emotional eating. I’m so happy that I got myself out of that cycle. Though I think all of us do eat emotionally at times. But when food becomes your primary “caretaker”, then you’ll find yourself in a negative pattern. I love how you talk about getting to the root of the behavior. That is such an important step.

  • Something I struggle with even coming to the point of self sabotaging. Not sure how to break this cycle but will read through again and start one step at a time

  • This is great advice, thank you. I am trying to be so much better around food but I am definitely guilty of occasional (probably not as occasional as I’d like to think) emotional eating. I’m going to bookmark this, thank you.

  • I am the WORST emotional eater there is. Since my mom died in Feb I have gained SO MUCH weight because I can’t stop eating.

  • All great advice. It’s harder then just reading some words though, unfortunately. I know the root of my problem, but can’t do much about it. I’m an emotional eater. And I too will eat anything around. I would love to be one of those that don’t eat when they are stressed out or upset. I’ve gained so much weight from eating emotionally. It sucks. I’ve tried channeling that emotion to working out, walking outside, etc, but nothing offers the comfort of food. Not to mention that it actually becomes an addiction.

  • Food has always been my nemesis and although I have sometimes eaten something and felt guilty I generally don’t stay around food when I am stressed. Those are all good tips to keep in mind to avoid stress eating.

  • This is great advice and good tips for those that may be emotional eaters. Very helpful especially for those who are feeling the emotions of sadness and depression.

  • This is very interesting and enlightening post. I know for sure that I am not an emotional eater, as when I am stressed, food is the last thing I want to deal with. However, while that might be for the short term stress, if there are some lengthy stressors, I still can’t deal with food. I end up losing weight in an unhealthy manner. This article does allow me to see some of the things that close friends and family members deal with if we consider that they are emotional issues. Thank you for your transparency in sharing.


  • I am totally an emotional eater! Those comfort foods are always what I turn to! I never noticed it before because I always had a slim figure but after having babies, my body doesn’t work the same way as it use to!

  • I believe that I do exhibit the characteristics of an emotional eater. Sometimes, I’ll stuff myself or make bad choices that I feel completely guilty about afterwards. Especially as I’m getting older, I’ve begun to place more importance on what I eat…

  • I am guilty of being an emotional eater, when I’m stressed or feeling a little overworked. It does help to find out why you eat excessively and what causes it. I think we should also be aware of our habits when we’re emotional. Great tips!

  • I think we can all go through stages where we emotionally eat and while it is not healthy it can happen at time of stress. I agree that finding the root of the issue does help x

  • I realized I was an emotional eater after my dad passed away and I went through a break up. I ate my pain away and months later, saw the result in the mirror and didn’t like it. We all go through it. I’m happy you’ve found a way that works for you to overcome it.

  • This is great information and I agree those are good steps. I agree with Ana that you have to dig deep to find out the root causes of emotional eating. All the effort in the world won’t help until you understand the WHY.

  • When I was younger I used to stop eating altogether when I was upset or stressed. I used to get full after a couple of mouthfuls and I just couldn’t stomach anything. But these days anxiety definitely has the opposite effect…chocolate and wine being my biggest vices!

  • This is great advice. I am an emotional “non-eater”, so when I’m upset or stressed I don’t eat at all. My husband is an emotional eater –we often joke we balance out the grocery bill during stressful times. LOL
    All joking aside this was a really informative article. thanks so much for sharing,

  • Such great advice. I know I go through phases where I emotional eat and other times where I emotional don’t eat. It helps to look at the reason for a habit so you can try and avoid it before it starts.

  • We definitely have to assess our eating habits so we can check if we’re emotional eating. I think these are great ideas on how to do that and it’s going to improve our eating habits so much.

  • I’ve been an emotional eater for quite a while. Especially after I had kids. This year I’m really working on my health and not letting stress cause me to find myself in food.

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