How to combat emotional eating

Losing weight would be so much easier if we didn’t have emotions! Why does emotional eating happen – and what can you do to stop it?

Have you ever hunkered down on the sofa with a big bag of crisps after a draining day? Or angrily crunched your way through a packet of peanuts whilst simmering with rage?

We’ve all done it. Because we’re human, and humans have powerful feelings.

But eating in response to emotions poses a problem for fat loss, long-term health, and even your mental wellbeing. After all, nobody wants to be an emotional eater. So what’s the alternative?

Why do we emotionally eat?

Most people have eaten in response to stress at least once in their lives. (1) Common triggers are stress, conflict, loneliness, boredom or procrastination, worry, sadness, grief… the list goes on!

These negative emotions lead to an emptiness which we try to fill with food. It makes sense when you think about it. As babies and young children, we were soothed and comforted by food. Later in our childhood we may have been cajoled into better moods with the offer of a favourite food.

The trouble is, we’re adults now. And using food as a go-to during periods of stress is a sure-fire route to excess weight.

How to stop emotional eating

Our relationship with food is complex, and goes well beyond calories. To understand the reasons you emotionally eat, you need to look at your long-held values and beliefs, your self-image, and your habits. This is important foundational work that I do with clients.

Once you know yourself on this level, it won’t be too difficult to spot your triggers. Perhaps it’s an argument or conflict, negative feedback, feeling left out, or being physically and emotionally drained.

This knowledge allows you to insert a new stage between “trigger” and “eat”. From there, it’s a case of being brave and committing to doing the work.

Physical hunger or emotional hunger?

When you feel yourself triggered to emotionally eat, ask yourself if this is true hunger or emotional hunger? If it is true hunger, there’s nothing wrong with eating! Just make sure it’s a healthy snack that will fill you up – stay away from those hyper-palatable foods that you know you can’t stop eating.

Physical hunger:

– builds up quite slowly

– can be satisfied with any food

– stops when you are full or nearly full

– doesn’t invade your thoughts

– is not accompanied by negative thoughts about food

Emotional hunger:

– comes on suddenly and is hard to shake

– makes you want specific foods or even brands

– can lead to overeating with no sensation to stop

– often comes with feelings of shame or regret

7 practical tips to manage emotional eating

1. Know your triggers

Keep note of what happens in the lead-up to your emotional eating episodes. This will help you identify the events and environments that you need to be aware of.

2. Stop and pause

When you feel the urge to emotionally eat, commit to pausing for one minute. Take yourself to a different location and sit quietly. Ask yourself what you really need.

3. Find a new response

The next step is replacing “eating” with something else. This could be a walk, a workout, calling or texting a friend, a spot of gardening, petting your dog, or doing a hobby that occupies your hands.

4. Manage your stress

Do what you can to remove stress from your life, and manage the stuff you can’t get rid of. Try journaling or just writing your thoughts down. Get more sleep and go to bed earlier. Do things that make you laugh. Share your worries with a friend or professional. Take 5-10 minutes each day for pure relaxation.

5. Don’t buy those foods

A very practical way to prevent emotional eating is to not buy those foods in the first place. But this isn’t a long term solution, and won’t get rid of the urge to overeat, so be sure you tackle the root of the problem too.

6. Move your body

Regular exercise is a great way to manage stress. And when you feel yourself heading into emotional eating, simply moving your body can change everything. Go for a walk, get up and dance, do some stretches – just move your body.

7. Get support

When life is so stressful that it’s impacting your eating habits, you need to share things with someone. This could be your partner, a good friend, or a professional like me. I’m primarily a weight loss and fitness coach, but my approach is built around self-knowledge to improve your life.

Get in touch if you need an intelligent approach to diet and fitness.

Coach Joseph Webb.

‘The number one rated Personal Trainer In Henley and Oxfordshire’

References used in todays blog:




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