Emotional eating and how to stop the cycle

Ever been angry or upset one minute and on your couch the next, unable to remember why you started eating or how long you have spent munching? If so, then you have entered the world of emotional eating. It’s something that can happen to anyone, and is one of the most common dieting obstacles.

At best, emotional eating can pass after a few minutes. At worst, it can take over your life and cause you to eat uncontrollably for extended periods of time. And according to nutritional experts, 75 per cent of overeating is caused by emotions – so if you suffer from emotional eating, you are not alone.

What is the difference between physical and emotional hunger?



Is gradual

Is sudden

Is open to different foods

Is for a specific food

Is based on the stomach

Is ‘above the neck’

Is patient

Is urgent

Occurs out of physical need

Is paired with an upsetting emotion

Involves deliberate choices and awareness of eating

Involves automatic or absentminded eating

Stops when full

Doesn’t notice or stop eating in response to fullness

Realises eating is necessary

Feels guilty about eating

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People often eat to relieve stress or to get something off their minds. The kicker is that stress, and the insulin jump that goes with it, may actually cause you to crave high sugar, high carbohydrate foods – foods that go straight to your waistline and cause you even more stress.

Rather than munching, it’s better to develop new sk for dealing with boredom, self-esteem issues and stress. Try to pinpoint the major reasons for your stress or unpleasant emotions, and see how you can turn the tide. Here are a few suggestions to help you combat your emotions:

  • Get your trigger foods out of the house, get your crutch foods out of arm’s reach.
  • Go for a walk or jog. Physical activity relieves stress.
  • Do deep-breathing and relaxation exercises.
  • Keep a reminder of your goal handy.
  • Talk to a friend.
  • Surround yourself with positive reinforcers, like pictures and people.
  • Keep a journal that includes your best personal accomplishment.
  • Track your eating patterns, including when and why you pick up food.

If you still seem to come back to food when your emotions get the best of you, you can at least be prepared. Eating large amounts of snacks is not a good thing but if you eat low calorie foods, it’s not so bad. So stock the fridge with healthy alternatives – foods that have good nutritional value and are smaller in size. Here are a few food suggestions to keep within arm’s reach:

  • apple or orange slices
  • carrot sticks
  • banana
  • broccoli
  • whole wheat toast
  • bran muffin
  • fruit smoothie


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