Emotional Eating

10 Tips to Overcome Emotional Eating

Presented by BetterHelp

Food is a crucial part of life. Sure, we need it to survive, but it’s also an integral part of our culture. Food connects us and can bring us joy. From baking for loved ones to conversations over dinner, food is intrinsically tied to the experience of being human.

However, for some, food can also become a coping mechanism and something to turn to when they’re stressed, sad, or even happy. When food becomes how you cope, it can become problematic.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at emotional eating, including why people turn to food for relief, the dangers of emotional eating, and tips for how to overcome it.

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is when a person uses food to deal with their feelings instead of as a source of fuel. So, instead of eating when they’re hungry, they might eat when they’re sad, stressed, angry, bored, anxious, or excited as a way to numb their emotions.

If you’re an emotional eater, you might find yourself grabbing a cookie when you’re anxious about a test, ordering takeout after a breakup, or chewing on chocolate when bored. If that sounds like you, know that you’re not alone.

However, what causes so many people to turn to food for emotional relief? Why eat when you’re not hungry?

Why People Turn to Food for Relief

There are several reasons why food can become a way to cope. Challenging emotions can result in feeling empty, and that emptiness can sometimes feel like hunger. Additionally, there’s a chemical component at play. Eating releases dopamine, which is a brain chemical that can make you feel good.

It’s also easy to develop routines around food since food is a non-negotiable part of life. You have to eat to survive, so it’s easy to develop unhealthy habits around food, and habits are notoriously hard to break.

Food is also incredibly available and legal. You can get food around the clock. In some places, you can even have it delivered to your door. This type of accessibility, paired with a constant barrage of food advertisements, can make us more inclined to eat when we aren’t hungry and turn to food in times of emotional turmoil.

Downsides of Using Food as a Coping Mechanism

Unlike drugs or alcohol, food isn’t bad on its own. In fact, it’s necessary for our survival. As a result, many people wonder why using food as a coping mechanism would be a problem.

Unfortunately, turning to food when you’re not hungry can have some unintended consequences, including:

  • Weight gain
  • Guilt about food choices
  • Inability to healthily regulate emotions
  • Development of eating disorders, like Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder
  • Skin issues
  • Gastrointestinal effects
  • Higher risk of health complications (i.e., diabetes)
  • And more

So, what if you turn to food to cope? How can you overcome your emotional eating habits and be more mindful about food?

10 Tips to Overcome Emotional Eating

If you’re ready to gain control of your emotional eating, here are 10 strategies to try.

Figure Out Your Triggers

It’s important to understand what sort of situations trigger your desire to eat. Perhaps you want to eat every time you have a stressful day at work, or maybe you use food to numb when you’re feeling bored. Take a look at your life and the moments when you turn to food so you can begin changing your routines and patterns.

Rule Out Underlying Issues

Some physical and mental health issues can make it more difficult to regulate emotions and accurately gauge hunger cues. Be sure to meet with a healthcare professional to make sure there isn’t something more at play.

Keep a Food Journal

Keeping a food journal will help you realize the types of foods you’re eating and take inventory of how often you’re turning to food to cope. You can also use it as a space to express your emotions.

Take a Moment to Assess Your Hunger Before Eating

Before you turn to food, drink a glass of water, take a lap about the block, and do something entertaining to make sure you aren’t just thirsty or under-stimulated. It can be easy to mindlessly eat even when you’re not actually hungry.

Remove and Replace Unhealthy Foods

More often than not, people don’t use healthy foods for emotional coping. So, try to remove the junk food from your house and replace it with healthier alternatives. If you only have carrots instead of chips, you may be less likely to eat your feelings.

Consider Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is a practice that encourages you to be mindful and check in every time you sit down to eat. It requires you to check in with your body before, during, and after eating something to continually gain insight and assess hunger levels so you get better about only eating when you’re actually hungry.

Practice Meditation and Mindfulness

One of the best ways to regulate your emotions is via meditation and mindfulness. If you feel like you want to eat to overcome emotional distress, try meditating first and see if the desire to eat subsides. Being mindful can help you stay present and assess what you actually need to feel better.

Focus on Your Food Behaviors

Try to clean up your bad food habits, like eating while watching TV. Instead, work to sit at the table every time you eat, so you’re present with your food. You can also try tips like sitting your fork down between bites to make sure you pace yourself with your food.

Find Other Coping Mechanisms

If you’re using food to cope, start trying other coping strategies, like exercise, art, journaling, reading, playing games, and more. Try out several strategies until you find some that stick.

Get Support

It’s not easy to overcome emotional eating alone, so consider reaching out to a therapist, doctor, or health coach for extra support as you navigate the journey.


Emotional eating can take a toll on your life. Thankfully, with a few strategies and support, it’s possible to find healthy coping mechanisms and overcome your emotional eating habits.


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