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Why We're Emotional Eaters (Part 1)

Emotional eating has become taboo in our culture because it usually has a negative connotation, but it doesn’t always have to be associated with negative emotions or experiences. When you think about eating as a child and were full of emotion, it was often during the holidays or around a celebration of some sort. Even when friends and family just get together to spend time with each other, it usually revolves around eating. Those emotional situations created good memories for some of us. And then again, we can all probably think of a time recently, and even our first ever bad experience with emotional eating. Those negative circumstances usually entail our eating and often overeating or binging because of a response to emotions rather than hunger. That’s what we all refer to now as true emotional eating. During those times of “need,” we usually resort to comfort foods that are high calorie, sweet, salty, and fatty. This is where we can get into real trouble.

A study surveying 1,000 people asked when they turn to comfort foods. The results...

• 86% when happy

• 74% when want to reward self

• 52% when bored

• 39% when depressed

• 39% when lonely

Did you know that 75% of overeating is a direct result of emotions? Higher levels of stress and emotion-related eating is associated with obesity. Maybe some of you are there. Maybe some of you are headed there. And maybe others of you are worried sick you might get there. Either way, it’s a slippery slope and a very dangerous state to be in, regardless of your size.

Cravings can certainly come from emotional distress, and once we find the antidote in food, it’s hard to turn back and quit the cycle of cravings and food addictions. That’s because our bodies are getting some sort of satisfaction through our emotional eating. I mean, who eats carrots and broccoli when they’re distressed? Can you hear the crickets? Yeah, me too. Nobody does that because those vitamins and nutrients aren’t the type of “energy” we’re looking for in that moment. Instead, we’ve learned that starchy carbohydrates, whether salty or sweet boost our serotonin levels, which make us feel really good in the moment. Then there’s fat to help decrease sadness in the short term because it has a bit of a numbing effect by dampening the blow of negative stimuli. While that might all feel fine and dandy in the moment, anyone who has been a negative emotional eater knows that you later become flooded with regret, guilt, shame, and even pain.

It’s important to understand why emotional eating develops in the first place if we’re going to tackle this monster. While there are many possibilities and reasons, it’s usually a reaction to something we’ve experienced and can stem from the way we were treated, what our relationships were like, and our beliefs and ways of coping as a child.


• Strict rules about eating at home

• Dieting or restricted access to food

• Taught food is bad

• Emotions seen as unacceptable

• Escape

• Avoidance

• Trauma

• Post-traumatic stress

• Cultural views of weight & personality

• Sexual abuse

• Food as abuse

• Invalidation

• Loneliness

• Deprivation

• Nurturing

• Rewards

• Punishment

• Negative thinking

One big reason for ditching your diet is to avoid the negative consequences of the constant judgment of dieting. You’re being judged on what, how, and how much you’re eating and also judging yourself for eating. And no matter what your reason(s) for emotional eating, ultimately it disconnects us from ourselves. We’re dealing with this in two ways:

1) by distancing emotional and difficult situations and

2) by ignoring our mind/body connection so much that we’ve stopped recognizing the body’s own signals of hunger and emotion that both need to be addressed and responded to.

It’s like tuning them out for so long we don’t even feel them anymore.

That wraps up our understanding of emotional eating. Go here for the rest of the story on what you can do to deal with it and make better choices. Until then, I'd like for you to take action NOW: Focus on awareness by noticing when you get a food craving after an emotional situation. Document your feelings and everything that happened. This awareness is the first step to addressing this self-sabotaging habit.


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