What’s Behind Emotional Eating: Psychology and Physiology
Morgan Medeiros MSc
April 26, 2019

emotional eating psychologyBee-lining for the freezer or pantry after a hard day?

Whether you’re just not acknowledging your emotional eating patterns, or whether you’ve long affiliated with the “emotional eater” label, there’s a good chance you’re feeling a little frustrated and overwhelmed with your behavior.

Like many victims of emotional eating, you want to stop, but aren’t sure how

In facing an emotional obstacle without the crutch of food, you likely feel frustrated, anxious, and upset without the ability to use food as a crutch.

The reality is that long term behavior change is challenging, and requires months worth of emotional work in an effort to rewrite the negative scripts and maladaptive coping mechanisms that underlie emotional eating.

From a physiological perspective, the body is primed to eat in times of physical or emotional distress

When we continually answer that call by self soothing or self numbing with food, a perfect storm arises, and we find ourselves trapped in a vicious cycle of stress and emotional eating.

Fortunately, long term change and acceptance of behavior change is possible with dedication and work.

If you struggle with emotional eating, working with a Nutritionist and/or therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy is a good option.

In the absence of therapy, it’s essential that you learn healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress or emotions without using food.

Initially, this often brings anger, resentment, sadness, disappointment, and/or depression.

Experiencing negative emotions (and realizing that you can handle negative emotions without using food) is the only way to increase self efficacy.

If you continue to numb or deny emotional experiences, lasting behavior change will take much longer and may not be achieved at all.

While it’s okay and even occasionally necessary to have the “adult temper tantrum”, one must eventually mourn their losses and move on, lest they stay rooted in victimhood and anger.

Allowing yourself to feel your emotions (anger disappointment, etc) is essential

However, you must learn to cope with these emotions and express these emotions in a healthy way. Oftentimes, this concept is incredibly overwhelming to emotional eaters, who have long viewed food (either consciously or subconsciously) as their only or preferred source of escape of comfort in difficult situations.

If you’re struggling to take control of your emotional eating, start small: the next time you feel an uncomfortable emotion, allow yourself to experience the emotion and express it in a healthy way: speak to a friend, family member, or therapist, partake in an active pursuit (this decreases stress hormones), or find another (non food) way to soothe yourself.

In time, this practice will shift the focus from food and back to what you’re really feeling, with the renewed belief that your emotions are non threatening and able to be managed.

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