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Break the bonds of emotional eating

Obesity - emotional eating; Overweight - emotional eating; Diet - emotional eating; Weight loss - emotional meaning

Emotional eating is when you eat food to cope with difficult emotions. Because emotional eating has nothing to do with hunger, it is typical to eat a lot more calories than your body needs or will use.

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The Food-Feeling Connection

Food can put a damper on stressful feelings, though the effect is temporary.

Foods high in fat, sugar, and salt can become more appealing when you are under stress, are in a bad mood, or feel bad about yourself.

Emotional eating often becomes a habit. If you have used food to soothe yourself in the past, you may crave candy or potato chips anytime you feel bad. The next time you are upset, it becomes even harder to say no to unhealthy food.

What Causes Emotional Eating

Everyone has bad days, but not everyone uses food to get through them. Some behaviors and thought patterns can increase your chance of becoming an emotional eater.

What you can do

Observe yourself. Pay attention to your eating patterns and the people or events that make you want to overeat.

Develop new coping skills. The next time you want to use food for therapy, think about how else you might deal with the feelings that triggered that urge. You might:

Value yourself. Getting in touch with your values and strengths can help you manage bad times without overeating.

Eat slowly. Emotional eating often means you eat mindlessly and lose track of how much you've taken in. Make yourself slow down and pay attention to the food you are eating.

Plan ahead. If you know a difficult or stressful time is coming up, set yourself up for healthy eating in advance.

Make comfort food healthier. Look for ways to prepare your favorite dishes with fewer calories.

When to Contact a Health Professional

Talk to your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms of binge eating disorder:

References

Carter JC, Davis C, Kenny TE. Implications of food addiction for understanding and treating binge eating disorder. In: Johnson BLA, ed. Addiction Medicine: Science and Practice. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 34.

Cowley DS, Lentz GM. Emotional aspects of gynecology: depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, substance use disorders, "difficult" patients, sexual function, rape, intimate partner violence, and grief. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 9.

Tanofsky-Kraff M. Eating disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2020:chap 206.

Thomas JJ, Mickley DW, DerenneJL, Klibanski A, Murray HB, Eddy KT. Eating disorders: evaluation and management. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 37.

van Strien T, Ouwens MA, Engel C, de Weerth C. Hunger inhibitory control and distress-induced emotional eating. Appetite. 2014;79:124-133. PMID: 24768894 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24768894/.

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Review Date: 8/13/2020  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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