- Emotional eating can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.
- Identify what triggers your emotional eating so that you can anticipate it in the future and take steps to avoid it.
- Instead of eating to assuage your emotions, find healthy alternatives like exercise, meditation, and reading.
- This article was reviewed by Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN, owner of Melissa Rifkin Nutrition LLC.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Food is more than just fuel. Sometimes food can become a way of assuaging our emotions after a bad day or during a stressful time of life. This is called emotional eating.
“Emotional eating is a symptom of many different problems, all unique to each individual. Overcoming emotional eating is a practice over your lifetime – it’s just a coping strategy you need to replace with other ones that have fewer negative side effects,” says Jennifer Hollinshead, a registered clinical counselor, and founder and clinical director at Peak Resilience.
When emotional eating becomes a habit, it can lead to weight gain and feelings of being out of control around food This cycle can develop into an unhealthy relationship with food, a necessary component of life. Insider spoke to Hollinshead about how to stop emotional eating and get it under control.
When emotional eating is considered unhealthy
“Emotional eating can become unhealthy if its contributing to negative side effects such as weight gain or loss, poor self-worth, feeling out of control, or problems at work, school, or in relationships,” Hollinshead says.
Although emotional eating is not considered an eating disorder, it can lead to eating disorders like binge eating. So, it’s important to get it under control before it progresses to that point.
The first step to controlling your emotional eating is to “grow self-compassion and coping tools to deal with the stress and various forms of oppression you may face – sexism racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, ageism amongst so many others,” Hollinshead says.
How to tackle your emotional eating
Instead of eating when you’ve had a bad day or are especially stressed, Hollinshead suggests adopting some other coping strategies including:
- Self-help books
- Positive affirmations such as “I am a person of worth” or “I am a person deserving of kindness and respect”
“Once you have practiced building more self-compassion and coping tools, a food journal can help you discover your unique eating patterns,” she says.
There’s limited research to support the idea that food diaries or journals can help a person control or stop emotional eating. However, Hollinshead isn’t the only expert to recommend this. The Mayo Clinic also suggests keeping a food diary to tackle emotional eating.
In the journal, record the emotions you felt before, during, and after eating. “Notice any patterns; for example, I emotionally eat when I’m angry and don’t want to feel it,” she says.
One step at a time
“Everyone is different; please try to be realistic and gentle with yourself,” Hollinshead says. “Create small new habits that you can solidify one at a time, over a long period. For example, every day, when you get home from work or school, you have a large glass of water and play a guided meditation to transition from stress to relax.”
After implementing these new, healthier practices, you’ll hopefully have a deeper understanding of the struggles that contribute to your emotional eating so you can cope with them another way.
“This will result in greater self-awareness, self-compassion, clarity, and improved physical, mental, and spiritual health,” says Hollinshead.
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