End emotional eating


If you're like a lot of people, you might head for the fridge when you're feeling stressed, lonely, or bored — even though you're not truly hungry. This is called "emotional eating."

Before you know it the food is gone, but your worries are still there. You might also feel guilty or mad at yourself for overeating. You may even be so frustrated, you decide to give up on your weight loss plans altogether.

Tips to avoid emotional eating

Photo of a woman stretching on an exercise ballWhen you become more aware of what's leading you to eat, you can start to control your actions. Try to understand which situations cause you to overeat, find healthier outlets for your feelings, and work on what's causing those emotions.

HealthMedia® Balance® can help you identify some of these issues, get motivated, gain confidence, and overcome the challenges of losing weight.

Here are some other ideas that may help you handle your emotions without overeating:

If you're feeling...Try this instead of eating
  • Blast your favorite music and dance around the living room.
  • Go for a run or brisk walk to work out your frustrations.
  • Try out some new exercise videos (check the library for a great free selection).
  • Take a class or look online to learn a new activity or craft.
  • Write a letter or email.
  • Call or meet up with a friend.
  • Go to a crowded public space like a café or a bookstore.
  • Do stretches, yoga, or tai chi.
  • Go for a walk or hike in a quiet place.
  • Practice meditation or relaxation techniques.
  • Take a nap, go to bed, or try to get more sleep each night

Address your emotions

Finding something to do besides eat when you're bored or upset is the first step.

But dealing with the emotions that cause you to overeat is key to ending the emotional eating habit.

Once you know when, where, and why you eat emotionally, you can find other ways to express your feelings.

  • Keep a journal (PDF) to look for patterns of emotional eating. What are the things that cause you to overeat? How can you change them?  What can you do instead of eating? 
  • Feeling stressed? HealthMedia® Relax® helps figure out what's causing your stress and how to handle it. See more ways to reduce stress in your life.
  • Let supportive friends and family members know how they can help you.
  • When you feel emotional eating coming on, guide yourself toward a new response. Tell yourself, "That is what happened last time. This time, I can do something different."

Poor self-image

Low self-esteem and poor body image can lead to overeating or even eating disorders. You may need professional help to deal with these feelings.

  • Talk to your doctor.
  • Visit the Behavioral Health, Mental Health, or Psychiatry department at a medical center near you

Other challenges

Stress, lack of sleep, and other emotional challenges can also lead to overeating or making less healthy choices.

Learn how to beat common challenges to eating well and staying at a healthy weight.

 Reviewed by: Adam Tsai, MD, November 2018