Curb Emotional Eating

It’s not unusual after a hard day to seek solace in a bowl of ice cream or a slice of pizza. If you find yourself seeking comfort in food a little too often, you may be eating in response to your emotions, rather than to hunger. 

Occasional emotional eating isn’t a problem for most people. After all, that’s what makes comfort food so appealing. But turning to food every time you have unpleasant feelings -- or even positive ones -- can lead to weight gain, says the American Dietetic Association (ADA).  Being overweight can increase your risk for obesity-related health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease. And it can take a big toll on your self-esteem and emotional health. 

Understand Your Cravings

The ADA suggests that the first step in dealing with emotional eating is to learn to recognize the difference between emotional and physical hunger. Here are some clues that can help you identify emotional eating:

  • Sudden or unexplained hunger when you have eaten recently.
  • Craving one specific type of food, such as pizza, because no other food  will satisfy your hunger
  • Difficulty stopping eating once you are full
  • Feeling guilty after eating
  • Eating to reward or nurture yourself

What You Can Do

Once you learn to identify emotional eating, it helps to keep track of those things that trigger you to eat when you are not hungry, the ADA says. Many people often eat in response to feeling sad, anxious, depressed or lonely. If this happens to you, try to think of alternatives. For example, take a walk, call a friend, engage in a hobby or do anything else that can distract you from wanting to eat. It also helps to replace unhealthy comfort foods with healthy ones and practice portion control. You don’t need to completely give up foods that comfort you, just eat less of them.

If You Need Extra Help

Check with your doctor

If you’ve been an emotional eater for a long time, you may find it difficult to stop on your own. Talking with your family doctor about your concerns is a good place to start.  If you are depressed or have low self-esteem, it may even be helpful to talk with a counselor.  Finding a support group for people dealing with similar concerns can also provide needed guidance for dealing with emotional eating.


Since 1989, the HealthQuest LIFELINE Employee Assistance Program has been helping State of Kansas employees with life’s challenges.   If one of your challenges is emotional eating give LIFELINE a call confidentially at 1-800-284-7575.  For more information about LIFELINE services, visit us online at

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