Recognizing & Overcoming the Pitfalls of Emotional Eating

In recent years, greater attention has been focused on the problem of emotional eating for both women and men. Some experts have gone so far as to claim that most weight gain can be blamed on emotional eating. According to Women Today magazine, it has been estimated that as much as 75 per cent of overeating is attributed to emotions. Here are some of the things you should be aware of.


For several people, overeating stems from anxiety. For instance, if you find yourself consuming an entire bag of potato chips, anxiety may be the cause. While many people realise that alcohol and illegal drugs are not an antidote to anxiety, they may not understand that indulging in comfort food to combat anxiety can be dangerous as well.


In other cases, overeating may be the result of depression.  If you feel tired, hopeless, and have lost interest in your normal activities, you may be suffering from a depressive episode.  In order to deal with these uncomfortable feelings, people may turn to food in an effort to cheer up.  The problem is that the food can lead to weight gain, which can lead to further depression.


At times, overeating may be a symptom of boredom.  An individual may figure that he or she has nothing better to do than overeat.  This can be particularly true when one is watching television or surfing the Internet.  Rather than trying to determine a cause for the boredom, an individual may just try to “fix” it by indulging in high-fat, high-calorie food.

How do you know if you are an emotional eater?

Ask yourself some key questions: Do I tend to eat when I’m worried? Scared? Sad? Do I find that eating lifts my spirits? Am I spending more time eating than engaging in other activities I enjoy? Do my binges come after I’ve suffered disappointment? Am I turning to food to deal with the death of a loved one…a divorce…or the defeat of my favourite team? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you may be overeating purely for emotional reasons.

If you find yourself at risk of being an emotional eater, you’ll need to take steps to correct your behaviour. Perhaps the most effective technique is diversion. In other words, if you find yourself reaching for the cookie jar, find another activity to engage in. The answer could be taking a walk, kickboxing, or dancing. Or it could be something less physically demanding, such as needlepoint or crochet.

The idea is to get your hands, and perhaps the rest of your body, moving. In time, you might find the urge to overeat subsides as you become involved with other activities.

Another effective step you can take is to identify the triggers for your emotional eating. Do you tend to binge in the mid-morning, mid-afternoon, or right before bedtime? Are you snacking while watching television, while at the computer, or when you’re sitting in your favourite chair? By asking yourself these questions, you can identify the time of day when you overeat, as well as the location for your binging. With this information, you can learn to re-direct your behaviour to less fattening pursuits.

Another helpful technique is to develop a support network to help you combat overeating.  The members of your support team could include your spouse, children, parents, friends, or other over-eaters.  You may even consider joining a support group which specialises in helping those who engage in binge eating.  If you feel the need to overeat, contact a member of your support team. 

Talking through your emotions could provide you with the emotional release you need, making overeating unnecessary.

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