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Emotional eaters: Are you one of them? Learn how to control emotional hunger

Do you gorge on chocolate when feeling stressed? Do you mindlessly wolf down a whole packet of crisps whilst watching telly or polish off a whole tub of ice cream after getting home, tired from all day’s work? Do you turn to food for comfort and do you eat even when you are not hungry? Then you are an emotional eater with emotional hunger being your main issue. No wonder you are struggling to keep the weight off.  Let us give you some tips on how to overcome this problem.

Emotional eating is a response to our emotions. Our unhealthy eating habits and the tendency to overeat are very often driven by emotions of which we might not even be aware. With emotional hunger, our choice of food is partially determined by how we are feeling in that particular moment when we are deciding what and how much we are going to eat, if at all. If you are a “smart” eater, you are aware of your feelings and therefore have a greater control over what you are going to put in your mouth.

The signs that will help you spot emotional hunger

  • You can’t remember the last time you actually felt hungry. You eat when you feel a sudden urge, not when your stomach rumbles. Often, you can’t even remember when your eating was driven by actual hunger.
  • Regardless of the situation, your first thought always hones in on food. Whether going through a conflict, disappointment or any other negative or positive experience, your first thought is: “Where is food?” If you eat every time you are experiencing negative emotions or wanting to feel better, you are an emotional eater. It is necessary to find other ways to “feed” your emotions.
  • You feel anxious when you are full. If you are eating constantly, even just before going to bed, because you fear you might feel hungry, you are an emotional eater.
  • Eating is the most important activity in your life. Does food come first on the list of your favourite activities? This means that you eat not to satisfy physical hunger but emotional hunger. This is very common in people who are overweight or obese who in the past would offset their emotional pain by eating. The fact is that if you fail to address this issue, you will never be able to lose weight.
  • You never manage to stick to your diet plan. Have you started a diet many times but never managed to keep at it? Then it’s likely that you have never truly dealt with the root causes of your emotional eating.
  • You feel a sudden urge to eat right now. You don’t want to wait till later. Your emotional pain needs to be soothed immediately, with the help of food.
  • You eat automatically, mindlessly and you don’t stop even when you are full. Emotional overeating is rooted in pain that you want to mask. You want to take the edge off your troublesome emotions, so you don’t really care that you keep helping yourself to more food and that you might end up with a tummy ache. This is then followed by feeling guilty about yet another overeating session and beating yourself up about it. You promise to yourself that this will never happen again.

How to break the cycle of emotional eating

It is important that you don’t beat yourself up about your perceived lack of willpower. Unfortunately, emotional hunger bypasses our willpower. You can say no to yourself umpteen times, yet you will fail again. However, you can do something about emotional hunger. Be prepared to be patient though. Why not try the following tip that might help you succeed?

The conscious pause rule

The purpose of this pause is to create a gap between the impulse to eat and eating. Become aware of the moment of making your decision. Tune into your feelings and the intensity of your hunger. Try to calm down so that you can decide with a clear mind. By taking a break, you will trick your body, making it believe that you are ok. You deliberately slow your body down, which will give you an opportunity to make the right decision. Apply this rule whenever you are about to eat, considering a second helping or when you are trying to identify your emotions.

How to actually do it?

Take a pause and give yourself at least 10 seconds before you start registering your feelings. Try to understand them and describe them in a few words. WHAT are you feeling (sadness, anger, joy...)? Listen to your body. What is its response? Are you sweating? Are you clenching your fists or breathing rapidly? Say to yourself: This will pass. I will survive this. Just relax etc. Stay in the moment and breathe slowly through the nose. Repeat about ten times. Only then make a decision. Give yourself a choice whether you are going to go for a small portion or none at all, or whether you are going to take just a mouthful. Alternatively, you might want to choose a different route, such as going for a walk or doing some meditation.

You can also try the following tips...

  • Go to another room or leave your flat to take yourself away from the fridge.
  • Are you having cravings? Pop in a chewing gum or brush your teeth. This will help you suppress your emotionally conditioned appetite. Or have something to drink – there’s something in the saying that hunger is actually thirst in disguise.
  • Try to go for protein-rich foods, because protein is more filling than carbohydrates. So even if you do succumb to emotional eating, you are not going to eat as much. You can also grab some ready-made protein meals. It’s good to have them at hand for those moments of sudden hunger pangs.


Author: Aši

Photos: Depositphotos, KetoDiet


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