"Netflix and... Ice Cream?"
Are you battling emotional eating?

This guide includes 10 tips to help you lose more fat
...especially if you are prone to emotional eating

When you hear the term Emotional Eating, you may imagine someone on the couch with a blanket and a bowl of ice cream, crying over a lover breaking their heart.  

A tub of ice cream or a whole bar of chocolate later, and the person is content and feeling better relative to how they were earlier. It may seem like a phase that people eventually move on from or outgrow as time passes, but Emotional Eating has claws that dig deep and the health risks associated with it are far too many to ignore.

What is emotional eating?

There are days when your strongest food cravings come at you when you're emotionally compromised. The feeling of being sad or depressed may force you to gravitate towards food for comfort — consciously or unconsciously. It doesn't have to be a feeling of loneliness, sometimes being stressed out or just being bored will trigger a psychological hunger. When you eat despite not being hungry, and you do this frequently, that's what you call emotional eating.

Emotional eating is defined as the consumption of food in response to emotional events in your life. While it was defined as eating based on solely on negative emotions (loneliness, fear, anxiety, helplessness, etc.), recent findings also suggest positive emotions are factors too. It is considered a potential health risk because studies have linked it to unnecessary weight gain, binge eating, and even depression. [1-4]

One of the biggest problems with emotional eating, aside from having an uncontrollable need to eat, are the food choices emotional eaters pick. Ice cream, chocolates and candies, chips and dip, pastries and cakes, these are all high-carbohydrate, high-calorie foods with little to no nutritional value. The nature of the common foods consumed risk emotional eaters to health risks related to metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health issues that can potentially lead to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. [5]

How Do You know If It’s Emotional Hunger?

Being emotionally hungry can lead to people mistaking it for actual hunger. Here are some ways to tell if you're emotionally eating.

  • Your hunger comes out of nowhere. Whether you're working in front of the computer or watching T.V., you suddenly feel the need to eat something. It's as if you have a void you need to fill and your body thinks you can fill it with food.
  • You crave specific comfort foods. You don't crave for vegetables or fruits. You want to stuff your mouth with food you know can be bad for you: Sugary and salty snacks, creamy cakes, and even that expensive frappe from Starbucks loaded with all the flavors and extra whip cream.
  • You often find yourself eating uncontrollably. It all starts with a handful of chips or a small bite and before you know it, you've eaten half of tomorrow's worth of calories in one sitting. To make it worse, you may not have even enjoyed the food, you just stuffed them right in one after the other.
  • You keep wanting more food despite being full. There's full and there's stuffed. You know you shouldn't eat more, but you also know you can. As long as your eyes see food, you have to keep chewing on something.
  • You feel sad or guilty afterwards. The rush of guilt that comes right after an emotional eating episode makes you swear not to repeat the same thing tomorrow, but you know deep down you're not mentally strong enough to hold yourself accountable. And the cycle goes on.

Known Causes And Triggers

If there's an effect, there's a cause. In order for something to happen, something else must make it happen. It's the same with emotional eating, it just doesn't happen randomly. Here are some of the factors that may influence and trigger emotional eating.

  • Stress. Stress is one of the leading causes of emotional eating. [6] The feeling of being overwhelmed with problems around you can lead to the body producing excess cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol just so happens to contribute to salty, sweet, and fried food cravings-foods that provide a quick burst of energy and instant gratification. [6-8]
  • Avoiding bad emotions. No one likes to feel bad and if you don't have the ability to tolerate painful and sad feelings, you're susceptible to emotional eating.
  • Boredom. This is a common behavior for those who are overweight or live a sedentary lifestyle, especially those who like to watch TV. One study cites watching unappealing or boring programs on TV encourages excessive eating. [9]
  • Upbringing. This goes way back to when you were a little kid. Maybe when you were throwing tantrums your parents bought you ice cream and it made you feel better, or perhaps they rewarded getting good marks in school with pizza or a bucket of fried chicken and fries. These innocent habits don't exactly translate well into adulthood, especially when you're conditioned to reward yourself with food even with the simplest of achievements i.e. the "I deserve this" mindset.
  • Socializing. Getting together with old friends or going out with colleagues is a brilliant way to stay happy and feel needed, but it can lead to overeating. When you're out with friends and having fun, it's all too easy to overindulge because there's a lot of food and everyone else is eating a lot of food. Sometime being too nervous during a social event can cause overeating too. [10]
  • Physiology. Sometimes being too hungry leads to overindulgence. Allowing yourself to feel too tired or deprived of food will make you think of eating buffet's worth of food. When you're hungry, it makes you extra vulnerable to emotional eating specially because your body is literally screaming at your brain to eat something.

Are You An Emotional Eater?

Acknowledging you have an eating disorder is the first step in curing and preventing it from happening again. Denial will only make it worse over time and it will come to a point where you would end up with diseases that have the potential to be life threatening. If you think you or a loved one have emotional eating problems, we compiled a list of ways to curb the problem and make regain full control of your body.

Tips And Strategies To Stop Emotional Eating

The general idea behind emotional eating treatment is enabling the person to develop a healthier relationship with food in the form of better eating habits, trigger recognition, and ways to prevent or reduce the chances of succumbing to food.

Much of the treatment involve mental and psychological ways to curb the eating disorder, but there are also suggestions with regards to putting up physical barriers for yourself.

  • Keep a food diary. Sometimes all you need is awareness of the food you eat. If that’s hard, perhaps putting it on paper (or your tablet) to help remind you of the food you consumed within the day will work for you. After all, keeping a food diary helps with weight loss and restrained eating so perhaps it could work for something like emotional eating. [11]
  • Manage your stress. Anxiety over meeting new people or panicking because of a looming deadline, anything that forces you to think you’re in trouble is stress. When you’re stressed, it’s when your body is going full instinct mode and as we discussed earlier, stress makes you want to feel good instantly and food is the easiest and most convenient stress reliever available today. Preventing stress from happening is nigh impossible, but you can reduce its impact in your life by being proactive. It will take another article to list down how to manage stress, but the general idea is to always be one or two steps ahead of it. Simple ideas such as doing things ahead of schedule or looking up people you’re about to meet can reduce the stress in both activities.
  • Think twice before you eat. When you have the urge to eat, always ask yourself if you want to eat out of hunger or if your hunger is triggered by something not related to your stomach at all. Pausing for a moment and double-checking yourself helps prevent unnecessary eating activities.
  • Seek support. Maybe it’s not you, but the people around you that’s forcing you to eat whenever they like. Tell them about your problem and ask them to help you overcome your eating disorder. Who knows? Maybe some of them are emotional eaters too and you can help each other out.
  • Escape boredom without food. Food is not just the only way to treat boredom. You can always take a walk outside, solve math puzzles, find a colleague or friend to talk to, watch funny videos on the internet, or just take a short nap. Reading books or articles on the internet can also help.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. Not seeing food is an effective way of controlling your appetite. If you consciously avoid stocking your fridge or desk with foods you know you’re weak against, you’re one step ahead of treating emotional eating and actually preventing it.
  • Eat a little bit of everything. While not seeing the food that can break your mental fortitude works, depriving yourself of your favorite delectables is just as damaging as overindulging on them. The poison is in the dose and the secret lies in moderation. A bite out of your favorite chocolate bar every other day shouldn’t be that bad, but if you want to control your cravings, maybe using an appetite suppressant like PhenterPro SR tablets can help. Unlike other appetite suppressants, PhenterPro SR can also burn fat for energy which in turn can help defeat food cravings for longer.
  • Give in to healthier foods. Cravings are primal instincts so there will definitely be times when the urge is too strong to ignore. You have to prepare for that and what better way than to surround yourself with healthier alternatives? Stocking up on foods like nuts, seeds, brewed coffee, and sweet fruits will allow you to indulge on the type of food that won’t harm you. With that said, portion control still matters especially since sweet fruits still have sugar.
  • Think about the food you’re eating. This is also known as mindful eating, or being aware of what you eat at all times. Don’t let yourself get distracted while eating such as when watching a movie or while waiting for someone. Being mindful helps keep you in control of how much you eat and lets you stop when you know you’ve eaten enough. Some ways of being mindful include waiting a few minutes before deciding if you’re actually hungry and telling yourself how many servings you’ve eaten already each time you are about to “go for one more”.
  • Get more sleep. This is one of the best ways to curb the cravings. As it turns out, quality sleep helps regulate the hormones in our body especially those linked to appetite. If you get quality sleep, the less likely will you feel hungry outside of proper meal times. [13,14] Outside of appetite, sleep can also help optimize your body’s metabolism and can help you burn more fat as energy efficiently which will prevent you from feeling the need to eat because of fatigue.

Seeking Professional Help

If you’ve tried every suggestion and self-help options available and you still can’t quite get a hold of your emotional eating problem, perhaps you should consider expert help.

Since emotional eating is more of a mental health problem, you would do well to seek a psychological therapist or any other mental health professional.

Going through therapy can help you understand why you’re an emotional eater and quite possibly trace the reasons and hidden triggers you may not be aware of.


Emotional eating is considered a quick and easy way to relieve oneself from life’s many challenges. The problem lies in the challenges in life that we don’t fix or find a solution to. If we don’t fix those issues, emotional eating will become more frequent until it spirals out of control.

To stop this cycle, you have to find it in yourself to not just be accountable with when, what, and how much you eat, but also try and improve your life in such a way that you will less likely succumb to emotional eating.

References:

  • Cardi V, Leppanen J, Treasure J. The effects of negative and positive mood induction on eating behaviour: A meta-analysis of laboratory studies in the healthy population and eating and weight disorders. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015;57:299-309.
  • Koenders PG, Van strien T. Emotional eating, rather than lifestyle behavior, drives weight gain in a prospective study in 1562 employees. J Occup Environ Med. 2011;53(11):1287-93.
  • Ricca V, Castellini G, Lo sauro C, et al. Correlations between binge eating and emotional eating in a sample of overweight subjects. Appetite. 2009;53(3):418-21.
  • Konttinen H, Silventoinen K, Sarlio-lähteenkorva S, Männistö S, Haukkala A. Emotional eating and physical activity self-efficacy as pathways in the association between depressive symptoms and adiposity indicators. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92(5):1031-9.
  • Roberts CK, Hevener AL, Barnard RJ. Metabolic Syndrome and Insulin Resistance: Underlying Causes and Modification by Exercise Training. Comprehensive Physiology. 2013;3(1):1-58. doi:10.1002/cphy.c110062.
  • Yau YHC, Potenza MN. Stress and Eating Behaviors. Minerva endocrinologica. 2013;38(3):255-267.
  • Al’ Absi M, Nakajima M, Hooker S, Wittmers L, Cragin T. Exposure to Acute Stress is Associated with Attenuated Sweet Taste. Psychophysiology. 2012;49(1):96-103. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8986.2011.01289.x.
  • Geer EB, Lalazar Y, Couto LM, et al. A prospective study of appetite and food craving in 30 patients with Cushing’s disease. Pituitary. 2016;19(2):117-126. doi:10.1007/s11102-015-0690-1.
  • Chapman CD, Nilsson VC, Thune HÅ, et al. Watching TV and Food Intake: The Role of Content. Tomé D, ed. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(7):e100602. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0100602.
  • Salvy S-J, de la Haye K, Bowker JC, Hermans RCJ. Influence of Peers and Friends on Children’s and Adolescents’ Eating and Activity Behaviors. Physiology & behavior. 2012;106(3):369-378. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.03.022.
  • Burke LE, Wang J, Sevick MA. Self-Monitoring in Weight Loss: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2011;111(1):92-102. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.10.008.
  • Moynihan AB, van Tilburg WAP, Igou ER, Wisman A, Donnelly AE, Mulcaire JB. Eaten up by boredom: consuming food to escape awareness of the bored self. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015;6:369. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00369.
  • Knutson KL. Impact of sleep and sleep loss on glucose homeostasis and appetite regulation. Sleep medicine clinics. 2007;2(2):187-197. doi:10.1016/j.jsmc.2007.03.004.
  • Prinz P. Sleep, Appetite, and Obesity—What Is the Link? PLoS Medicine. 2004;1(3):e61. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010061.
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