8 Steps To Free Yourself From Emotional Eating

Let’s be honest, sometimes junk food tastes better when you’re stressed out or sad. Whether you get a bigger meal than usual at a fast food chain after a rough day at work or eat one too many slices of pizza while coping with a breakup, we’re all guilty of emotional eating at one point or another.

By Meghan Dillon3 min read
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Actress Rebel Wilson made headlines last year due to her 77-pound weight loss and cited that combatting her habit of emotionally eating was key in helping her lose weight. After her dad died of a heart attack in 2013, she was “indulging way too much with junk food. Using food to numb [her] emotions,” which led to her being at her “most unhealthiest” in 2014. 

As part of her 2020 “year of health” journey, she addressed her emotional eating. She said, “It worked because it was the whole lifestyle approach and dealing with emotional eating. I’m not totally cured. I don’t think you can be. But I’ve learnt to manage it – and it’s not by reaching for a bowl of ice cream.”

Emotional eating can become a self-destructive habit that can lead to weight gain and other negative health consequences. But before we go over how to combat emotional eating, it’s important to know the difference between emotional eating and binge eating.

Emotional Eating and How It’s Different from Binging

Emotional eating is “when people use food as a way to deal with feelings instead of to satisfy hunger.” You can probably think of an instance where you engaged in emotional eating – eating half a carton of ice cream out of boredom or a whole bag of chips while studying or a piece of cake as “comfort food.” It’s pretty common, and often not a serious problem, even though it’s not exactly a healthy coping mechanism.

Binge eating, on the other hand, is a serious problem. Though binge eating is a severe form of emotional eating, it’s also a “serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food and feel unable to stop eating…excessive overeating that feels out of control and becomes a regular occurrence crosses the line to binge-eating disorder.”

The key difference between emotional eating and binging is that binge eating feels out of control. 

The key difference between emotional eating and binge eating is that binge eating feels out of control. If you’re suffering from a binge-eating disorder or are unsure if your emotional eating habits qualify as binge eating, it’s best to seek medical intervention. 

How To Free Yourself from Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is more common and is easier to control, which means it’s easier to overcome. Here are some tips to implement to help you in moments when you’re tempted to respond to your emotions with food.

1. Find the Root Cause of the Issue

This might take a lot of time and you might need the help of a therapist (more on that later), but you can’t solve your emotional eating problem without addressing the root issue. It could be as simple as snacking because you’re bored or procrastinating. Or it could be more complicated like you eat to feel safe because you grew up in a food-insecure home, or it could be rooted in a childhood trauma you have yet to address.

2. Journal To Identify Your Triggers

Whether you emotionally eat or struggle with binge eating, it’s always a good idea to try to find what triggers this response so you can learn how to cope when these triggers manifest. Whether it’s stress from work, negative emotions, boredom, or something deeper like a trauma response, journaling can help you identify these triggers, which is the first step in learning how to address them. You have to be able to catch yourself first, before you can introduce new behaviors.

3. Set Healthy Boundaries

There are many simple ways to set boundaries to curb your emotional eating habits. From cutting yourself off from snacks at a certain time of night (late-night snacking gets the best of all of us) to limiting yourself to healthier snacks to making yourself wait five minutes and see if the impulse passes, setting small boundaries can go a long way in curbing this unhealthy habit.

4. Talk About It with a Therapist

As mentioned before, it’s important to find out why you’re emotionally eating. A therapist can help you uncover the root cause and help you discover your triggers. Once you identify why you emotionally eat, your therapist (particularly a cognitive behavioral therapist) can help you develop skills to break these unhealthy habits.

5. Portion Control

This step is more useful while you’re still trying to identify why you’re emotionally eating, but it’s also a useful tip that you can use for the rest of your life. We all have our guilty pleasure foods, and sometimes depriving ourselves of them causes more harm than good. Instead of going cold turkey, learn to portion control some of your favorite foods. This can be as simple as sharing an order of fries when you go out to eat or buying smaller bowls to reduce your chip intake.

You can’t solve your emotional eating problem without addressing the root issue.

6. Don’t Eat in Front of the TV

Though it’s tempting to have a snack while watching your favorite show, it’s easier to overeat in front of the TV, which many of us learned in the early days of the pandemic. While it’s best to avoid eating in front of the TV altogether, you can try portion control if you can’t resist snacking while catching up on your favorite show.

7. Find Healthy Snack Alternatives

Whether it’s salty or sweet, we all have cravings that are difficult to curb. Instead of resisting them altogether, find healthier alternatives to help curb your cravings. If you have a sweet tooth, try snacking on fruits, dark chocolate, and healthy snack bars. For saltier cravings, opt for nuts, popcorn, and veggie chips.

8. Find Healthier Ways To Cope with Stress

A lot of emotional eating is tied to stress, and finding healthier ways to deal with stress can help curb your emotional eating habit. Discuss coping methods with your therapist to find what’s best for you, but don’t be afraid to try yoga, deep breathing, walking, and reading.

Closing Thoughts

We all emotionally eat from time to time, but there’s a point where it becomes a self-destructive habit that’s sabotaging your health. Luckily, there are easy steps you can take to combat this issue before it gets worse, empowering you to be your healthiest and best self.

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