What Is Emotional Eating?

by | Eating Disorder Recovery

When you experience negative emotions, what’s the first thing you do? Some people talk to someone they trust. Others write in a journal, or take a walk. Some might even crawl into bed and wait for the next day when things might be better. 

Some people, however, turn to food when they’re trying to soothe negative emotions. 

Emotional eating occurs when you use food as a way to find comfort from fear, anger, sadness, loneliness, or any other extreme emotion. You’re not eating for nutrition or to satisfy hunger. You’re eating to feel temporary relief from negative emotions. 

Sound familiar? Let’s take a closer look at what emotional eating looks like, and what you can do to manage your emotions more effectively.

Signs of Emotional Eating

Almost everyone knows what “comfort food” is, and everyone is different. But, there’s a difference between indulging in comfort food once in a while, and using food, in general, to soothe negative emotions. With that in mind, it’s important to know what emotional eating actually looks like. Some of the common symptoms include: 

  • An urgent desire for food
  • Craving specific comfort foods
  • Turning to food when you experience any minor inconvenience
  • Feeling guilt after eating
  • Eating more than you usually do

As you might expect, eating habits like these can lead to physical health issues. 

What Triggers Emotional Eating? 

There are both physical and psychological triggers for emotional eating. Some of the most common include boredom, habitual eating, fatigue, or even social influences. But, at the root of every trigger are emotional issues that aren’t properly being worked through. 

Your “triggers” might be what gets you to raid the pantry or fridge, but there’s likely something more under the surface that is causing you to turn to food when you’re feeling negative emotions. 

So, what typically causes emotional eating? It can be the stress of everyday life. Maybe you’re feeling burnt out and overwhelmed at work. Maybe your relationship is on the rocks, or you’re just anxious about what’s going on in the world. 

It can also stem from major life events. Change isn’t always easy, and not everyone handles it well. If you’re experiencing a change you consider stressful or negative, you might turn to food to cope with it. 

Many people who struggle with emotional eating have already had strained relationships with food. You might not even realize it, at first. Were you always told to “clean your plate” when you were young? Comforted by someone who gave you food to soothe your stress? 

While these things are done out of a place of love, they can change the way you see food from an early age, so you’re more likely to turn to it as a source of comfort later in life. 

How Can You Stop Emotional Eating? 

If you know you’re eating to find comfort from negative emotions, the first step is to recognize the problem. How is this habit impacting your life? Why do you think you turn to food whenever you’re feeling down? 

Thankfully, you don’t have to go through it on your own. Lean on your support system for help and for accountability. Again, your emotional eating is likely stemming from somewhere. A therapist can help you discover that underlying cause, so you can start working through the issues and finding healthier, more effective ways to cope. Contact Valued Living Therapy to start working with an experienced therapist.

Valued Living Therapy

We are a dynamic, trauma-informed, multi-specialty group practice of mental health professionals offering therapy in the heart of Edina, MN and online throughout Minnesota.

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