Learn to Stop Emotional Eating

Cupcakes to soothe anger. Chips to tamp down frustration. Ooey-gooey cheesey dishes to numb hurt feelings. Emotional eating, for sure.

cupcakes on display emotional eating

A trip to the cupcake shop may sound like a good idea after a stressful day, but it won’t solve your problems.

These strategies to deal with negative emotions may work in the short run. Maybe. Possibly. But an unwelcomed side effect of emotional eating is that it delays or prevents us from achieving our health goals. And it does nothing to deal with the problems that are truly bugging us.

Learn to Stop Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is very common. And we can learn to stop it. You can learn to stop it. For many people, breaking free of emotional eating takes a lot of hard work. For others, it takes a lot of hard work and the help of a trained psychotherapist. Both biology and psychology are at play, so don’t be shy about seeking help. Here are a few steps to help you shake free from emotional eating. I have a more thorough discussion in Prediabetes: A Complete Guide.

1. Recognize emotional eating. Record what you eat along with your mood for at least a week or two. Try to identify those thoughts, emotions or behaviors that led to emotional eating.

2. Label your emotions. Experiencing negative emotions isn’t a bad thing. In fact, having negative emotions is normal. But allowing irritation, worry, sadness or loneliness to be the reason that you polish off a bag of salty, crunchy snacks is unhelpful and potentially dangerous. Practice noticing and labeling your emotions. How exactly do you feel? Is it anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, embarrassment? Naming your feelings and observing them without judgment will help you learn about them.

Is it worry? Embarrassment? Naming your emotion can help stop emotional eating.Click To Tweet

3. Practice non-food coping skills. You already know that I see superpowers in my 5-year old mutt Benny. He makes me laugh, and he warms my heart. He’s good at playing, and he’s good at cuddling. Spending time with him is one of my usual strategies to soothe myself without calories. You should have an arsenal of coping strategies at the ready for when you need something to help you deal with emotions. A few ideas:

  • listen to soothing or uplifting music
  • chat with a friend
  • buy yourself flowers
  • go for a walk
  • sip soothing, fragrant tea
  • exercise your coloring skills
  • create art
  • practice yoga, meditation or prayer
Playing soccer with a pup, a non-food coping strategy

Playing with Benny is my way to recharge and reset. He helps me shake off a bad mood.

For more about soothing without food, check out Reset Your Day in 5 Minutes or Less. How you choose to soothe yourself is as individual as you are.

4. Build in food treats. I get some resistance on this strategy, but it may actually be the most important one. Whatever food you reach for when stressed probably has some special meaning to you, and at one time or another, you probably labeled it taboo. Is it chocolate (my favorite food), mac and cheese, pizza, hot-from-the-oven cookies, French fries? Whatever it is, eat some without guilt. Don’t reward yourself with it. That just reaffirms that it’s a “bad food.” Eat it simply because you like the way it tastes. Practice enjoying this favorite food in a reasonable amount, perhaps as part of a balanced meal. In this way, you’re learning that it’s okay to treat yourself and you’re removing the notion of treats as cheats. We all deserve treats, but cheat days are the wrong mindset.

These 4 strategies are just a start to help you break free of emotional eating. Please, please, please seek professional help if you struggle quite a bit with this.

A lot of people struggle with emotional eating, negative self-talk and other destructive thoughts. Just know that there is relief for these bad habits. Next week, I’ll post more about negative self talk.


Jill Weisenberger

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's also the author of four books, including a best-seller. She's a nationally-recognized media expert in high demand for print and online interviews, as well as corporate and one-on-one nutritional counseling. Jill's philosophy is that nutrition science should be understandable, realistic and oh so delicious.

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Like most of my patients and clients, I lead a busy life. You probably do too. Fortunately, you don’t need weeks, days or even hours to start living better and healthier. This blog offers timesaving strategies and bite-sized nutrition and health information. Come by often for tips and inspiration to healthy living – no matter how busy you are. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist offering credible, practical nutrition advice to keep busy people healthy. Yes indeed, we can be both busy and healthy.

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