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Understanding Emotional Eating

Food, the nourishment for our lives, can be loaded with issues. In our troubled relationships with food, emotional eating ranks at the top of the list. Understanding the phenomenon and recognizing the symptoms are great ways to start redefining your relationship with food. The first thing to understanding the problem is recognizing the traits of emotional eating.

Psychiatrist Roger Gold, an authority on this issue, outlined some characteristics of emotional eating at They are:

  • Hunger that comes on suddenly: Physical hunger comes on slowly. Hunger from emotional eating often comes on quickly and suddenly.
  • Craving very specific foods: Cravings for specific, usually unhealthy foods is a sign of emotional eating. Often people like the rush they get from satisfying their cravings. That rush is fulfilling emotional hunger.
  • Urgent hunger: Physical hunger, unless you haven't eaten for a very long time, is usually pretty patient. It will wait for food. Emotional hunger demands to be satisfied immediately.
  • There are a couple more, so


  • Unconscious eating: When you're eating for physical reasons, you are usually mindful of what you're doing. If you catch yourself eating "just because," then it's likely you're eating for emotional reasons.
  • A sense of guilt after satisfying your hunger: Feeding your body what it needs is not something to feel guilty about. If you feel guilty after you eat, it's likely because part of you knows you're not eating just to satisfy physical hunger.

If these traits are prominent in your relationship with food, now might be a good time to try to break the habit. Pay attention to your emotional triggers by keeping a journal of what you eat, when, and why – trying to very specific if it was physiological hunger that lead you to eat or an emotional incident. Journaling will help you figure out your eating pattern.


Join The Conversation
mlisenbe mlisenbe 7 years
it'e really hard to control the cravings... i was like that before and thanks because i've recovered from it :)
vasanta vasanta 9 years
a little bit of EE can really help sometimes, though.
amber_castaldo amber_castaldo 9 years
I tend to be an emotional eater. This really became prominent while I was pregs. I gained around 90 lbs. Not to say I didn't enjoy being pregs, I had been a vegetarian for 15 years but while I was pregs all I wanted was bbq chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans. I even finished a whole chicken by myself. I took the eating for two and made it literal. I couldn't control my hunger - it was mostly healthy food but I was consuming more then double of what my body was use to. I definitely find myself falling back into that now and then but I am much more aware of it. I know I am stressed out when BBQ chicken is all I can think about. Now I just try and hold out until a meal but I usually try to give my body what it wants within reason.
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
I don't consider myself an EE.
Spectra Spectra 9 years
I'm not much of an emotional eater, but sometimes I get cravings for very specific foods, like pickles or jicama or cabbage. I give in as long as it's not something like fried cheese curds or something like that.
sunkissbabe sunkissbabe 9 years
I am definitely an emotional eater. Over the years, I have been able to 'curb' most of my cravings. However, depending on my stress level, I will sometimes binge and feel completely guilty for doing so!!!
anna_muffin anna_muffin 9 years
I have much less emotional cravings since I've stopped feeling so d*mn guilty about them....I also found out, that for me it works best to actually try to satisfy them. When I get exactly what I want, I often realize after just a few bites that it's enough...otherwise I would just eat everything I'd find and still not be satisfied. Sometimes it's even enough to promise myself to satisfy the craving the next day (the shops close at 6pm here).
Soniabonya Soniabonya 9 years
i get random cravings throughout the day. so much so i dunno what is emotional and what is physical need (as in nutrients). lol, like theere's anything nutrious about a cheeseburger. i tend to keep myself from my cravings but then end up bining on some other food :(
cvandoorn cvandoorn 9 years
I wasn't craving anything yesterday until I walked back to my apartment and found a flyer for Rally's down the street. I've never had Rally's, but it definitely made me crave cheeseburgers, so I went to Wendy's and got me one :(
wackdoodle wackdoodle 9 years
what about a craving for roasted cauliflower with a bit of curry seasoning? I've got a very specific craving for roasted cauliflower. Is that emotional eating or just the desire for a veggie? That's how my cravings go - veggies.
FoxyJo FoxyJo 9 years
Too funny LaurenG22! I definitely think it is OK to give in to your cravings ONCE IN A WHILE but, I do sometimes feel guilty if I have gone overboard :( I have learned that writing down what you eat helps too. If I am craving something I just tell myself "Do you really want to write that down?" and then I just SOMETIMES forget about it ;)
LaurenG22 LaurenG22 9 years
sometimes I crave dark chocolate and wine... and I always satisfy my craving! ;)
gabiushka gabiushka 9 years
Thanks Fit, all those fitness magazines don't even bother on mentioning something so important for our health.
gabiushka gabiushka 9 years
I learned about my triggers too a while ago, but still from time to time when work gets busy I do eat because of stress.
kia kia 9 years
It took me a while to figure out my triggers and then deal with them. It is really nice to not feel guilty from not controlling my eating habits now. If emotional eating is an issue for anyone out there try the journaling. If you don't already know your triggers you will have an "ah ha" moment once you realize.
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
UGH that picture is killing me. I haven't had french fries in MONTHS! I love them, but they are the only food I completely cut out of my diet for now. So tasty though haha. I'm more of a bored eater. I like to just munch on things constantly, so it's a struggle for me to not munch on CRAP. But when I'm upset I do tend to eat more. It's kind of like Why even bother mentality.
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