Are You an Emotional Eater?

In three weeks, we will say goodbye to 2014 and welcome the New Year. High on the list of  New Years resolutions will be to lose weight and eat healthier. Just watch television in the evening, most commercials this time of year are focused on diet and health or pharmaceutical commercials targeting depression and erectile dysfunction.


Clearly the message for the New Year is to lose weight, be happy and have more sex.

All kidding aside, before you make a resolution to lose weight, first ask yourself the following questions:

Do you find yourself reaching for food when stressed, depressed or anxious?

Do you find yourself mindlessly snacking on your children’s food when preparing, cooking or cleaning up, even if you’re not hungry?

Do you find yourself eating after your kids go to bed during down time?

If yes, do you reward yourself with treats, tell yourself you deserve this, only to feel guilty later on for what you ate?

Is it hard to control yourself when food is around?

Do you eat when you are full or not hungry just because food is there?

When you feel full, do you ignore the sensation of fullness and continue eating?

Do you reward yourself with food?

Do you feel guilty about food you have consumed during the day?

When bored, do you find yourself eating?

Do you use food as a way to make yourself feel better?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, don’t fret right away. We all have moments where we eat more than we intend to, use food to reward ourselves and finish the last bit of food from our children’s plates just because it’s there.

The next question is the most important:

Are these behaviors something you do almost every day, forming a pattern over weeks and months, perhaps even years?

If so, you are likely using food as a way to cope with your emotions.


The first step in understanding your emotional relationship with food is acknowledging you have tendencies to use food as a way to cope with your emotions.

The next step is to understand your triggers.
A trigger is an event, situation or emotion which starts a behavior or thought. Common triggers for people to emotionally eat are:

  • Boredom
  • Stress
  • After a difficult time with a child
  • Tension or fighting with your partner/spouse
  • Being tired
  • Feeling lonely
  • Depression
  • Time of day (e.g., grazing in the afternoon, during the stressful times with children, or late at night)

Take a minute and identify your personal triggers for emotional eating. What are they?

Next, ask yourself the questions in the following categories and explore the strategies listed below:

Childhood Influences and Habits
What message about food did you learn growing up? Did you have a parent who ate healthily or struggle to maintain their weight? Was there a parent who was frequently on a diet? Did a family member have health related issues such as obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure? What types of food were served at mealtimes? When you were upset, was food one way you were encouraged to feel better? Was food used a reward for an achievement?

Understanding your family history and childhood experiences can be a helpful part of understanding your emotional components of eating.

What’s Your Current Stress Level?  Is it low, medium or high? What are the most stressful parts of your life now? Is it your children, your spouse, a recent move, financial strain, loss of a significant person or relationship in your life? Do you have limited time to take care of yourself, and most of your time is spent caring for others? Are you a single mom, recently separated or divorced? Do you have stress at work? Do you have difficulty parenting one of your children, perhaps all of them?

The amount of stress in your life will impact your emotional and physical health and well-being. If you would like to read more about stress and physical and emotional health, please click here to read 55 Ways to Cope With Stress .

What’s Your Most Stressful Time of the Day? As moms, we have certain times of the day which are most challenging. For example, the most stressful time for moms who are at home with their children can be between the hours of 2:00pm and 6:00 pm, commonly known as the witching hour, when children are tired, hungry and decompressing from their day. For many working moms, the hours after work and into dinner time and beyond are stressful; cooking dinner, helping children with homework, driving to activities and athletic practices and preparing for work the next day make for late nights.

What are your most stressful times during the day?

emotional eaterFind Something Other Than Food. Instead of reaching for goldfish crackers, cookies or left over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, make a list of alternative activities to do when you are feeling the urge to eat because of stress or other emotions. You can reach out to talk to a friend, go for a walk, journal or play a game with your child. If you can’t think of activities to do in leu of eating, please go here for a list of activities to jumpstart to planning.

Keep A Journal. As an experiment, keep a journal to track your feelings, urge to eat and how you chose to cope with the urge to eat. I have created a Food and Feelings Journal you can use by clicking here:Food and Feelings Journal.   Whenever you eat something take a minute to fill in the journal. Journaling in these categories over a weeks time can likely provide good information and you will see a pattern emerge. You may notice a particular time of day is difficult, or interactions with certain people in your life increase your desire to use food as a way to cope with your feelings.

Find Ways to Manage Your Feelings. If food is how you cope with your emotions, you will have to find other ways to manage your feelings. At first this may seem overwhelming. Instead of eating your feelings and stuffing emotions down farther, try a variety of activities to help process your feelings. Talking to supportive people, journaling your feelings, exercise or other enjoyable activities can help manage your emotions. If you are at loss for what activities to do, please go here for some inspiring activities

Manage Your Cravings and Urge to Eat. Are you aware of the difference between emotional eating and hunger? Hunger comes on slowly and gradually whereas emotional hunger is fast and intense. When a person is hungry, eating will usually stop the feelings of hunger. In contrast, emotional hunger is not satisfied after eating; a person will continue to feel dissatisfied and crave more food. If you have a craving, take a minute before you eat and ask yourself:

  1. Am I really hungry?
  2. Is my hunger related to a stressful situation or event?
  3. What am I feeling right now?
  4. Am I using food as a way to cope with my feelings?
  5. If so, do I want to eat this or do something else?

Healthy Habits To Keep in Mind:

Keep a Regular Sleep Routine
If you read my blog regularly, you know this is something I talk about a lot. Sleep is the foundation of physical health. By getting enough sleep and being rested, your body is more efficient to regulate hormones and other chemicals in your body, maintain energy levels, and cope with stress more effectively.

Similar to sleep, I recommend exercise as a way to manage stress, improve physical and emotional health and overall well-being. Many people use exercise as a way to undo-overeating or as a way to justify eating more calories. Shift the way you think about exercise; use it as a way to maintain physical and emotional health as a way to take care of your body and mind.

As we head into the season of celebrating with friends and family, there will be plenty of food, drinks, and festivities, along with a lot of stress, especially for women. Take some time to think about how your emotions impact your relationship with food. Before you set your goal in the New Year to lose weight, refocus your commitment health starting with understanding the emotional reasons why you eat.

© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2014

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