Emotional eating facts

  • Emotional eating is responding to feelings such as stress by eating high-carbohydrate, high-calorie foods with low nutritional value.

  • The quantity of food that is consumed is the primary difference between emotional eating and binge eating.

  • When untreated, emotional overeating can cause obesity, problems with weight loss, and even lead to food addiction.

  • Reducing stress, using food as sustenance rather than as a way to solve problems, and using constructive ways to handle emotions can help to prevent emotional eating.

What is emotional eating? Emotional eating is the tendency of its sufferers to respond to stressful, difficult feelings by eating, even when not experiencing physical hunger. Emotional eating or emotional hunger is often a craving for high-calorie or high-carbohydrate foods that have minimal nutritional value. The foods that emotional eaters crave are often referred to as comfort foods, like ice cream, cookies, chocolate, chips, French fries, and pizza.

About 40% of people tend to eat more when stressed, while about 40% eat less and 20% experience no change in the amount of food they eat when exposed to stress. Consequently, stress can be associated with both weight gain and weight loss.

While emotional eating can be a symptom of what mental health professionals call atypical depression, many people who do not have clinical depression or any other mental health issue engage in this behavior in response to momentary feelings or chronic stress. This behavior is highly common and is significant since it can interfere with maintaining a healthy diet and contribute to obesity.

What is the treatment for emotional eating?

Teaching the sufferer healthier ways to view food and develop better eating habits, recognize their triggers for engaging in this behavior, and develop appropriate ways to prevent and alleviate stress.

Exercise, since regular physical activity tends to dampen the production of stress chemicals, even leading to a decrease in depression, anxiety, and insomnia in addition to decreasing the tendency to engage in emotional eating.

Meditation and other relaxation techniques is also a powerful way to manage stress and therefore decrease emotional eating.

Refraining from drug use and consuming no more than moderate amounts of alcohol are other important ways to successfully manage stress since many of these substances heighten the body's response to stress.

Refrain from over-scheduling yourself. Learn to recognize and respond to your stress triggers. Take regular days off at intervals that are right for you. Structure your life to achieve a comfortable way to respond to the unexpected.

For those who may need help dealing with stress, stress-management counseling in the form of individual or group therapy can be very useful. Stress counseling and group therapy have proven to reduce stress symptoms and improve overall health.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective as part of treatment for combating emotional eating. In CBT, the therapist uses three techniques to accomplish these goals:

  • Didactic component: This phase helps to set up positive expectations for therapy and promote the person's cooperation with the treatment process.

  • Cognitive component: This helps to identify the thoughts and assumptions that influence the individual's behaviors, particularly those that may predispose the sufferer to emotional eating. A variation of the cognitive component of therapy is teaching mindfulness, paying nonjudgmental attention to the present moment. Mindfulness involves thinking more reflectively, increasing one's emotional awareness, and tends to lead to an increased ability to separate one's emotions from hunger.

  • Behavioral component: This employs behavior-modification techniques to teach the person how to stop emotional eating and use more effective strategies for dealing with problems.

If stress produces a full-blown psychiatric problem, like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clinical depression, or anxiety disorders, then psychotropic medications, particularly the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be extremely useful. Examples of SSRIs include sertraline, (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), or escitalopram (Lexapro).

Read the full articles on over eating and ways to avoid it here: