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Emotional eating

Emotional eating usually means overeating as a response to negative emotions rather than being hungry.

This may be because food can be associated with providing some comfort when under pressure, stressed, anxious or experiencing other negative emotions - which leads some foods to be known as 'comfort foods'.

Emotional overeating can lead to a vicious cycle - where it causes weight gain - which in turn can affect self-esteem and body image.

How can you tell real hunger from emotional hunger?

Experts say emotional hunger is more likely to:

  • Begin quickly, needing instant satisfaction
  • Involves a desire for specific foods, such as sugary or high fat food
  • Continue after you are full
  • Make you feel bad about what you've just eaten.


Stopping emotional eating

Keeping a food diary to track what you've been eating alongside what was happening or going through your mind at the time can help identify what triggers emotional eating.

Knowing what these triggers are can help you break the emotional eating habits and deal with triggers instead of turning to food.

It can help to find pleasurable alternatives to eating and to distract yourself from the trigger feelings.

These might include:

  • Read a book or magazine, listen to music
  • Taking exercise, even a walk
  • Have a relaxing bath
  • Try deep breathing exercises or meditation
  • Talk to a friend, or write a letter or email
  • Get stuck into jobs around the home, like housework or gardening
  • Enjoy a hobby
  • Learn to enjoy non-food rewards - such as shopping away from food shops.


Seek medical advice

If you think emotional eating is causing you to gain weight, seek medical advice. A doctor may be able to help deal with the urges, or to suggest a support group, such as the eating disorders charity b-eat.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 10, 2016

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