9 Ways to Conquer Emotional Eating


By: , – Robert A. Barnett and Carol Landau, Ph.D., Family Circle
  :  9 comments   :  29,097 Views

"When I get stressed out, I can polish off a dozen Munchkins in no time flat," admits Jennifer, 37, a New Jersey mom of four. Pressure is at its worst when her husband travels for business. The housework piles up, the kids want more attention, she's exhausted and suddenly the sweet stuff becomes irresistible. "I eat things I don't even like," she confesses. "That's how bad it gets."

When we use food to dull our anger, sadness or anxiety, most of us reach for calorie bombs loaded with sugar, carbs, fat and salt. Not only do they remind us of good times (think: birthday cake, movie theater popcorn) but they also stimulate our brain's reward system. At that very moment it feels so good. Then our bad mood returns—with a side of guilt. And over time you need to consume even bigger amounts of those junk foods to get the same pleasurable feeling, just like chasing a high with other addictions, says recent research. But there's a way to break the cycle. 

We developed a plan to gain control of emotional eating. Then we gave it to Jennifer and other Family Circle readers to try and checked back in with them a month later. They agreed: Change is hard but the plan works! Follow these tips that helped them—and can get you—to conquer emotional eating once and for all.

Find Your Own Winning Formula
Take a minute to recall a past accomplishment. Perhaps you'll remember running a 10K or planning the perfect family vacation. Next, figure out what helped you succeed. Support from friends? Great organizational skills? Now apply those keys to success to your emotional eating. That's what Kathie*, 49, a Rhode Island mom of two teens, did to stop binging on cookies at night. She thought about how she quit smoking when her kids were young by taking up yoga to reduce stress. Not only did Kathie realize she had to refocus on taming tension to kick her junk food habit, but she also got a confidence boost. "If I was strong enough to stop smoking then, I can certainly stop with the cookies now!" she says.

*Names have been changed

Wait Out Your Emotions
Instead of trying to numb yourself with food when you feel sad or anxious, listen to your feelings. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. And know that bad moods do drift away. (Unfortunately, calories don't.) Try this tip: After dinner, instead of continuing to eat, make yourself a cup of tea, set a timer to 5 minutes, sip and let your stress melt away. This worked for Jennifer on nights when her husband was out of town and she felt lonely and overwhelmed. "I wanted something sweet," says Jennifer. "But I had some tea, calmed down and let go of the negative feelings." She lost 5 pounds in one month without dieting.

Put Your Best Food Forward
Out of sight, out of mind may sound way too simple, but it's effective. Don't bring home ice cream for yourself; trash those candy bars sitting in your desk. You'll also want to maximize exposure to healthy foods by making fruits and vegetables more visible in the fridge or on the counter. That one small move can boost consumption of fruit by 18% and veggies by 25%, say Cornell University researchers. Store healthy foods you might go overboard on—nuts, dried fruit, air-popped popcorn—in controlled portions in a ziplock bag.

Even better, know that eating more healthy foods can boost your mood in the long run. Psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, M.D., co-author of Fifty Shades of Kale, often prescribes "brain foods," including walnuts, almonds, lentils, kale, red beans, fatty fish and eggs. "You can get habituated to good stuff too," says Dr. Ramsey. "That's the great thing about the brain: You can always change it."

Click here for more tips to control emotional eating from Family Circle. 

More from Family Circle:
How do you conquer emotional eating? 

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    I think I like what oolala53 said...stay focused on 4 or 5 days a week and then allow a bit of freedom for the weekend. I think that would help with my menu planing too. I know what to buy and eat and I don't have to think too hard. Then for the weekend? relax a little bit or at least not beat myself up with what I put into my face. lol. - 3/2/2014   8:48:28 AM
    I am huge emotional eater. I tend to binge on salty foods especially fries, chips, wafers the list will goes on. The tips sounds good i'll surely follow them. - 10/18/2013   11:50:48 AM
  • 7
    for me it's about journaling how I feel that helps. Also going for a walk helps too. I do chat with God about my feelings as well. - 10/2/2013   11:23:23 PM
    I have no problem resisting sweets, it's the salty snacks I have trouble avoiding. When I'm especially stressed, I go for the peanut butter, chips or nuts. Portion control means nothing to this emotional eater. It's really tough not to reach for the comfort foods. Using some of the suggestions in the blog should give me a handle on the problem. - 10/2/2013   5:43:49 PM
  • 5
    The best defense for me has been committing to a meal plan 5 days a week that includes no sweets. At first, I thought it would be impossible, but it wasn't! But I did overeat sweets on weekends for a long time. That was okay with me; it was way better than overeating them every day, and I knew that those who are sensitive to sweets do better if they go for 4 days at least at a time without them. Eventually the contrast between eating well most of the time and cruddy feelings from overeating on weekends made it easier to drop the overeating. But I still enjoy some sweets a few times a month. I would never have thought a few times a month would be enough, but it's more than enough. I just like leaving room for other foods more! It took a few years but I didn't give up and 44 months later, I am so glad.

    But also convincing myself that it was worth tolerating the anxious feelings that made me want to eat was crucial, too, as noted above. I had told myself for years that those feelings were awful, terrible, and too hard to take. I realized that wasn't true. They are uncomfortable and annoying, but they are totally bearable, especially for such a good cause. Peace with food! - 10/2/2013   11:27:21 AM
    Triathletegirl yes you are right! I am an emotional eater and preportioned snacks won't help, I will eat them all (maybe more slowly if they are in baggies) in one evening! I just can't bring sweets and goodies home that I will binge on. I can keep goodies out of my house since I live alone but to those who live with someone who likes and can eat sugary salty snacks, I don't have any advice except to tell your partner to hide them! - 10/1/2013   11:49:15 PM
  • 3
    There were some good tips, but most of the tips are for normal people looking to lose a few pounds. An emotional eater won't care if the nuts are put in individual pre-portioned ziplocks. We will eat all the portions in the house. The best advice in this article for emotional eaters is to not bring food home in the first place. Then again, I guess different things work for different people. - 10/1/2013   2:47:42 PM
    I like the blog. But I wanted ti save it. Couldn't fine out how. - 10/1/2013   2:15:42 PM
  • 1
    These are all great tips. I am going to pint it up and use some!! I am a huge emotional eater and I have now been given some tools to help conquer. I needed to read this today because I resolved that since it is a new month, I have to start anew and get back on track. - 10/1/2013   10:27:54 AM

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