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Are You an Emotional Eater?

Emotional eating is when we eat (consciously or unconsciously) in response to certain emotions. They can range from sadness to stress, anxiety, anger, boredom, loneliness and even happiness!

This type of eating usually shows up as:

  • Binge eating

  • Night eating

  • Unnecessary snacking

  • Constant grazing

But wait, before we jump into this let me make one thing clear - emotional eating itself is not a problem. Think about it, we've been using food to enhance special moments for millennia. Everyone loves a celebration, and there’s no celebration without food. It seems that regardless of culture or religion, people love to eat when they're celebrating. Food is a gesture of love, it enhances the experience, brings us together, and provides a platform for bonding.

It's when the eating becomes mindless and is used to fill a void that we see issues arising. If food is used as our primary source of comfort - to soothe negative emotions or as a distraction from the present moment, things tend to get tricky. While in the moment eating your favourite donut might feel good, that moment doesn't usually last and the excitement over food gets replaced by feelings of guilt, shame or desire more (and MORE), and this is when we start to see detrimental effects to our health. Think bloating, gassiness, reflux, nausea, looking 'puffy' (fluid retention), feeling stressed out, ashamed and anxious.

Why Do We Emotionally Eat?

Most commonly..

1) History of chronic dieting/deprivation

2) Hormonal imbalances

3) Unresolved trauma

A key reason for emotional eating is that people are not equipped with other tools to manage the stress or emotional upheaval of their life so instead they use food to self-medicate, much like they might cry for milk when they are a baby.

So how exactly does food make us feel better?

Research has shown that emotional eaters usually reach for energy-dense foods - anything high in refined carbs, fats and/or sugars. And this makes sense! Carbs increase the production of an amino acid known as tryptophan. Tryptophan is what we use to make our happy chemical serotonin, which means that eating carbs leads to a boost in our overall mood! I see this all the time.. when people sit down to have their biscuit with a cup of tea or a bar of chocolate in the evening or a handful of lollies from the office bench, what are they really doing?

Studies have found that individuals confuse hunger and satiety with the same physiological changes that happen in their bodies when they’re emotional.

Whilst occasional soul food is inevitable and completely OK, many women have spent a lifetime using food and or alcohol to soothe themselves and alleviate feelings of emotional deprivation. So when trying to improve their health and body, I encourage people to develop other tools that make sure they’re adequately meeting their emotional needs.

How To Overcome Emotional Eating

1. Stop Restricting

It's important to note that when we turn to food to distract from the present moment, ease feelings of hurt from the past or emotionally ‘fill the tank’, this can happen in an attempt to restore homeostasis. In other words, you've been restricting your food intake intentionally or unintentionally and your body is desperately trying to restore balance. This is one reason why emotional eating can end up in an all-out binge.

2. See a Naturopath

A consultation will help you determine whether your hunger hormones, blood sugars, stress hormones or menstrual cycle are impacting your hunger and relationship to food.

3. Implement Stress Sanagement

What do I love to do that chills me out? What are my passions?

And the next time you find yourself standing at the fridge or mindlessly smashing food into your mouth while staring at the TV ask yourself - what stressful event happened earlier that day? If you put the food away, what emotions would arise?


  • A morning mantra

  • High-five yourself in the mirror each morning or anytime you get something done

  • Seek out a yin yoga class

  • Download the Insight Timer app for a guided meditation

  • Write a nightly gratitude journal or share what you're grateful for with your partner

  • Look for breathing exercise GIFs on the internet and follow them for a minute or two.

  • Have a bath with essential oils

I want to finish by saying that eating to excite your senses rather than to fuel your physical body is OK! Even eating to comfort a broken heart or stressful day is fine. However, food should never be the primary coping mechanism it prevents us from processing emotions and developing strategies that make us better, healthier humans.

Have you downloaded our free Emotional Eating Survival guide?


Frayn M, Livshits S, Knäuper B. Emotional eating and weight regulation: a qualitative study of compensatory behaviors and concerns. Journal of Eating Disorders. 2018;6:23. Published 2018 Sep 14.

Nguyen-Rodriguez ST, Unger JB, Spruijt-Metz D. Psychological determinants of emotional eating in adolescence. Eating Disorders. 2009;17(3):211-224.

Tan, Cin Cin & Chow, Chong Man. (2014). Stress and emotional eating: The mediating role of eating dysregulation. Personality and Individual Differences. 66. 1–4. 10.1016/j.paid.2014.02.033. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2014.02.033

Konttinen, H., van Strien, T., Männistö, S. et al. Depression, emotional eating and long-term weight changes: a population-based prospective study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 16, 28 (2019).


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