Food and Feelings: How to Recognize and Address Emotional Eating

Food and Feelings Emotional Eating

For many, food can induce feelings of calm, comfort and even joy. At holidays and big events, there is always food because it’s associated with these feelings. Overeating, however, can cause serious health issues —  and when people eat emotionally over time, they are creating a conditioned response so that whenever an awkward or uncomfortable feeling arises, they reach for food.

Recognizing Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is a habit. Just like brushing your teeth or brushing your hair, you may find yourself standing in front of the refrigerator asking yourself, “Hmm, what do I want to eat?”

By the time you’ve gotten there, you are likely looking for something to soothe you from boredom, anger, anxiety, frustration, tiredness, loneliness or some other emotion.

The first step to recognizing emotional eating is to track your patterns. When and how often are you eating? Is there a candy jar on your desk? Do you fill it frequently or not often? Do you reach into your desk drawer for a 3 pm snickers bar?

What are your patterns?

Addressing and Managing Emotional Eating

Once you recognize what your patterns of eating are, you can begin to dig deeper into the emotional triggers that are popping up. You can also tell if it may be something else altogether.

Being tired may not be an “emotional” state, but it is a physical state in which people often look to food and fuel (such a caffeine) to get a “pick me up.” Overtime, this creates a habit between your brain, your stomach and your mouth:

“Oh, I’m tired, so this may mean I am also hungry.”

From a behavioral perspective, we are conditioned over time when we do things over and over. Just like you can be trained to reach for a snickers bar at 3 pm, you can also be trained to get up and go for a walk or do some jumping jacks to get the blood flowing in your body. This is another way to wake yourself up!

Addressing emotional eating requires changing your conditioned behavioral state and doing something differently.

  • There is a saying, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”
  • Another great phrase is, “Don’t expect to do the same thing over and over and get a different result.”

Therefore, it’s important that you engage new and healthy behaviors to help you build awareness that you are triggered to eat, and then deal with those emotions. While the emotions still may come up, the way to change the habit is to first be aware of the emotional triggers, to take a step back when you experience them and then to consistently do something differently over time.

Practice Your Behaviors

An example of this is to notice what your habits are, such as going through the drive through at 4 pm. Stop yourself and ask, “Is it time to eat?” When the answer is no, ask yourself “What am I feeling right now?”

Look for Emotional Triggers that Drive You to Eat

Examine your emotions and if you can, write them down. This will help you keep a record of the emotions that are popping up.

– What is causing you to eat?
– Does your boss stress you out?
– Are you bored, tired, angry, sad, etc.?

Dig deep into your feelings and mind and you will find the answer. Journal about your feelings if you’re struggling to find something.

Feel the Feelings Fully – Yes, Feel the Emotionally Uncomfortable Feelings

Yes, you’ll likely feel uncomfortable. You’ve avoided feeling the feelings for so long and eating might temporarily have made them go away, and they can still come back. When you feel the anxiety, feel the boredom, feel the sadness and do something different, you are building a different pattern for your brain and via your behaviors.

Then change the behavior by doing something differently.

Shift Your Behavior When Emotional Triggers Come Up – Meaning, Do Something Differently

Examples of doing something differently instead of eating include:

– Going for a walk
– Calling a friend
– Writing in your journal

What else calms you? Take some deep breaths in and out. Doodle or draw a picture. If you have more time, go take a yoga class or do something fun that doesn’t involve food. This will help you divert your attention away from food and onto something else.

Name the Feelings, or Root of the Feelings 

When you name the feelings, you are able to recognize them again and know what your pattern is. Keep this process recorded so you can start the process of setting yourself up with new healthy habits and avoid emotional eating.

Kristin LloydAbout the Author:

Kristin Lloyd, MS, LPC/LMHC, PhD-c has been creating outstanding results for individuals, couples and organizations for over 10 years as a highly-accomplished psychotherapist, transformational mindset mentor, college educator and consultant. She is now leading bariatric patients and candidates through massive mindset shifts to help them create lasting behavioral changes and emotional adjustments for happy and healthy lives.  You can find out more about Kristin at www.bariatricmindset.com.