Are You Eating Your Emotions?

When my boyfriend moved back to Canada last Sunday, I suffered some heartache. And without much of anything to distract me, I quickly found myself craving – and reaching for – chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. As I dug my spoon into the container, I quickly realized that I was feeding my feelings more than my stomach. It’s called in “emotional eating” – and I’m not alone; experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotional eating.

Emotional eating is the practice of consuming food (usually “comfort” or junk foods) in response to emotional feelings rather than hunger. Emotional eaters use eating as a main strategy to manage their emotions, both negative and positive. It’s dangerous and addictive.

But are you an emotional eater? Here are a few signs:

  1. You’re eating and you’re not hungry. Emotional eaters are filling an emotional void, not an empty stomach.
  2. You’re craving a specific food. When you’re hungry, any number of options will satisfy that hunger. When you’re an emotional eater, you desire one specific food.
  3. You have an intense urge to satisfy your craving instantly.
  4. You turn to foods like ice cream, chocolate or other unhealthy comfort foods.
  5. You know that you are full and you continue to eat.
  6. After you eat, you have feelings of guilt.

The first step in treating emotional eating is recognizing it. Once recognized, there are a few steps that all of us can take to nip this unhealthy habit in the butt:

  1. Replace the food with something else. Instead of reaching for Ben & Jerry’s, go for a walk or a jog. Call a friend. Do housework. Or even take a nap!
  2. If you find yourself unable to replace eating with another activity, at least replace the food type. Instead of eating pizza or junk food, try consuming celery or carrot sticks.
  3. Know that you don’t need to eliminate junk food from your diet entirely. Instead, recognize that junk food isn’t a healthy way to cope with emotions. You can occasionally indulge for the right reasons. I recommend the 80/20 rule as a general nutrition guideline – eat healthy 80% of the time.
  4. Instead of eating the entire cake, try taking just a few bites. Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois, states: “Your memory of a food peaks after about four bites, so if you only have those bites, a week later you’ll recall it as just a good experience than if you polished off the whole thing.”

Eating your emotions is a habit that can be broken. It might take some extra help; if you’re overwhelmed by your food addiction, I strongly recommend that you seek professional help.

Are you an emotional eater? If so, what foods do you turn to?

About Davey Wavey

Davey Wavey is a certified personal trainer and YouTube sensation with more than 250 million video views. For Davey's fitness tips and secrets, sign up for his free monthly newsletter - or download any of his affordable and effective workout programs.

Comments

  1. I’m more of an emotional play games / listen to music / take nap… but if its within reach… lol triple berry pie XD lol with ice cream nom nom haha *slaps hand*

  2. Ugh, I know this one. The BF and I are going through an odd patch, so this morning, as I was alone in the office at work, I ate an entire six serving chocolate fudge cake. And I was doing so well! Now I feel hot and bloated. Help?

  3. It’s more woman than man that eat their emotions. Personally, i don’t eat extra when im emotional, i eat less. I eat more when im bored, that’s when the cravings come to me

  4. pfffft, i’ll clean out that whole jar of peanutbutter thank you. hell, i’ve binged on protein bars!

  5. As a guy I didn’t think emotional eating would be an issue, but here i sit nearly two years after returning from Afghanistan and nearly 100 lbs heavier. Ugh. I know i need to change it but the motivation is no where to be found and i eat a disgusting amount of food even when i’m not hungry. Suggestions?

  6. Sadly yes I use food for an emotional crutch at times also. Kind of a hard habit to break. The feeling of being full instead of empty or good instead of sad because of a favorite food.

    Anymore I try to make a break in eating. I wait at least a half an hour to see if its a real hunger or a desire. If its emotional eating I find the wait makes me do something else to fill the time.

  7. Hi, I’m Kate and I’ve been an emotional eater for years. I’m on a strict diet (thanks to my manager). I just crave what I can’t eat – anything with sugar, dairy, or oil. I’ve been trying to be better about it all – swapping the food I’m craving with a healthier alternative (generally raw fruit or veg), making sure I keep myself full all day, drinking lots of water, and allowing myself 1 “cheat” day per week (instead of just not allowing myself to eat certain food or food groups).

    • Yes, swapping for a healthy alternative is a great idea. Remember though, emotional eating isn’t really dependent on your stomach – even if you keep yourself full, you’ll still have the urge to indulge in the sweet stuff!

  8. charlotte says:

    I am definately an emotional eater. I was always told emotions were for whimps and was never allowed to show my emotions; I turn to chocolate or ice-cream and it is a habbit I really want to break. But it is hard to do when you can’t get support from family or friends, and your profession help couldn’t care less.

    • I totally understand you it happens to me too, my friends and family think they are helping me by telling me “I’m ok” but I know I have a problem and I’m trying to change. Don’t give up Charlotte I know is really hard, but you have already start with the hardest step ACCEPTANCE, now is about keep holding on =)

  9. Lénaïc Noirot says:

    Good, sweet , as usual. Thanks.

  10. Hi Davey! I just wanted to tell you that I was sorry to hear that your boyfriend moved back to Canada. I hope things start looking up for you soon! 🙂

  11. davey

    i know exactly what you are talking about here
    having gone through a divorce, then bankruptcy and loosing my house and the aftermath of dealing with all of it i have probably gained 65 pounds that is harder than hell to take off…so yeah i know what you are saying here

  12. Meh, I use the emotional eating to help me pick out food 80% of the time. As a single homo I enjoy going to the market for my daily meals, sometimes for a few more days depending on what’s good. I go by scent, texture, color and of course nutritional value. This is all done in one quick sweep, emotional is a word I would describe, as sometimes I am discouraged from making so many decisions, I just go by intuition. I ask my mind to work for me and it does. Your mind will take care of you if request aid, i often set a budget and have made it to THE DOLLAR many times, I just got what I needed, paid attention to my mind ques and stopped when I felt I was ready, it’s pretty amazing how it works out. Meditation helps

  13. I drink a lot so that’s probably different for me and when I say I drink a lot I mean like 5 liters of different liquids a day I don’t drink alcohol or sodas(cause their gross) but chinese tea’s,coffee and Kombucha are an everyday thing for me, does it fill a void ? Sometimes but if I’m ever down its only for like a couple of hours but then again maybe I’m bi-polar I never eat ice-cream EVER I never eat dairy, dairy is poison and I can’t believe a fitness person would advise dairy like seriouisly obviously you don’t know what dairy does oh and I suppose davey advises to eat wheat? Ima go before I say something stupid that I won’t regret

  14. Hey i knw this is kinda late but im not gay ( I dont think ) but i love ur videos, i looked at the one about wishes and fell in love

    I wish i could loose wait and could find out about my sexuality.

  15. both my mother and i are emotional eaters. not only did i struggle from depression due to child abuse and domestic violence, but i used carb loaded food to deal with the isolation and heartache. ive lost 30 pounds, gained it all back, and lost 30 more pounds. as i move on and heal from my past, i am trying to change my relationship with food. i use all my will power with each and every food choice i make. it’s exhausting, but i’m hoping that i can find other ways to cope. it definitely helps to write music and cry. so i’ve been doing a lot of that instead. now i cook for myself mostly. brown rice, fresh vegetables, fruit. because i love myself, even if no one else does.

  16. for anyone who needs help, i use a technique to help me not eat crap. i tell myself that it’s perfectly ok for me to eat shit if i really crave it, but i have to eat my healthy food first. and if i’m full, then i can’t eat anymore. it’s really kinda simple. i think a lot of over eating comes from poor eating habits. its really good for your mind and body to have your meal organized and set apart from everything else. remember it’s a priority to FEED yourself. that means giving your body the nutrients it needs to be healthy and function. really FEED your body. dont just stuff your face.

  17. I’m not really an emotional eater as much as I am an emotional cooker. When I’ve got a lot of pent up energy I need to kill I tend to start cooking. And ussually in this state is when I experiment with recipes or crave unusual foods. Like have you ever seen the Twilight Show episode with the kid with the powers? And how he makes the people eat burgers with peanut butter? Well, don’t knock it till you try it, that stuff is tasty! But doing things like that have resulted in some pretty interesting dishes that people I’ve force fed it to end up liking! lol But… um… back to the point… Do you think this is as bad as emotional eating?

  18. i admit i am sometime an emotional eater. i may also be an emotional porn watcher… i guess. bad habits are hard to kick but it is not impossible mission.
    however, when i find myself in emotional quick sands, i would rather talk with someone, anyone, than eat or do other stupid things. i also cry, think of ending it all and after a while i just move on… because i run out of emotional fuel to burn.
    btw, i miss that ben & jerry’s i had a year ago in amsterdam. we do not have ben & jerry’s in Romania.

  19. I am the opposite to an emotional eater, When my ex split with me a few months ago I stopped eating, I actually lost nearly 18 pounds in 2 weeks(not a good thing when you are 6ft and weigh 143), for me when I get emotional I just can not eat.

  20. I eat when I’m bored….especially since I know how to multi-task! I’ve noticed I always have to eat when I’m on the computer, but never when I’m reading!

    Cinnamon or vanilla ice cream and any kind of chocolate! mmmmmmm

  21. I admit i’m an emotional eater, I mean sometimes I prefer to read, sing, dance, or photograph instead, but when I do eat I crave french fries, ice cream, frozen yogurt, honey sticks, pickles (which I usually don’t eat because of the seeds..eh im weird about consistancy of foods), or a big spinach salad with fruit, tofu, and walnuts on it with homemade vinegrette ( weird right…I have a salad addiction)

  22. i just ate a whole pizza by myself today.

  23. I am an emotional eater and I have been ever since I was a little kid. I had a seizure when I was about 9 years old and short after that I was prescribed a pill that had been known for an increase in “hunger”. They were apprehensive to give it to me at first, but eventually they had to because I was deathly allergic to the other pill. After switching I gained 40 lbs in 3 months. I felt horrible, but I couldn’t stop. I wish I could remember exactly what the doctor had said about the pill, but I’ve been using the pill as an excuse for why I was overweight. I’m trying to turn my life around right now and be fit and healthy, but it’s so hard for me when I keep eating my feelings. It has been engrained in my brain from such a young age, so I’m guessing that is part of the reason why it’s taking so long to break the habit. Being still dependent on my parents for food at 18, it’s really hard to go out and buy all of the healthy foods that I WANT to eat but can’t because it’s “not in our budget.”

    I’m trying to change myself, but it’s been a rough journey. Thank you so much for your blog and videos, Davey. You inspire me so much!

Trackbacks

  1. […] food triggers. What causes you to snack? Is it boredom? Then do something. Is it emotional eating? Rather than just treating the symptoms, examine and treat the root […]

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  3. […] Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than hunger. Instead of eating to fill a void in your stomach, it’s eating to satisfy an emotional need – and often involves cravings for very specific foods like pizza, ice cream, potato chips, etc. Because emotional eating usually involves unhealthy comfort foods, subsequent feelings of guilt or remorse are common. […]

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