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Stopping Emotional Eating

by nina on April 14, 2011

Emotional-EatingLast week a reader asked a question that I am sure many of you can relate to and have had to deal with in your recovery from eating disorders and struggle to become an intuitive eater that is in touch with their bodies and eats for biological reasons only. Emotional eating is a huge part of the disordered eating struggle and why it is so often difficult to get in touch with our body’s hunger and satiety. Learn how to separate the two, what is actually driving that emotional hunger and how to cope with it.

Top Question of the Week:

Hi Nina

I am an emotional eater and have been for years now. I have also been to various slimming clubs and am with one at the moment BUT, I knew that this diet wasn’t the answer.
I just went along because I wanted a “Quick” loss. Then the “Bully”
finally got me a couple of days ago and I am now “Off the wagon” yet
again. I am now back to emotional eating!!! There is an internal
conflict going on inside of me. Half of me says I want to keep the
weight off for good and even lose more, the other wants my “Drug” to
numb my feelings and make me feel better. To be honest, I don’t know
which way to turn. Its not so much the junk food, sweets and
chocolate, cakes etc that I want, its WHAT THEY DO FOR ME, that I
How on earth do I break the link between changing how I feel and
eating junk food to do it?!!!

Stopping Emotional Eating

When trying to recover from disordered eating and reset your body so that it is tuned into natural hunger, it is crucial to learn  how to cope with feelings that come up without resorting to food to numb them away. It is also important to identify how much the actual dieting-starving vicious circle is contributing to the emotional eating and deal with that issue first.

Negative feelings from overeating drive emotional eating

From my experience I would say that the main negative feeling that was driving my overeating was the overeating itself. I was so disconnected from life and completely obsessed with food and weight that my emotions were entirely tied into what I had eaten, whether I had stuck to a diet or meal plan and how much I weighed.

So the first part was removing that destructive force that was ruling my emotions. Each time I didn’t stick to my diet I would feel major frustration, hopelessness; despair and that would be followed by a binge to cope with how terrible I felt.

Letting go of guilt and legalizing food

It is essential to let go of the guilt around food and to work on legalizing all foods and not living with the good vs. bad theory around food. That is one of the major triggers of negative emotions followed by binge eating and thinking that you will start the diet again tomorrow – only to have more of the same failure and despair.

So the first principle is to stop the behavior that is actually causing the ill feelings and frustration – the food, weight and dieting obsession.

Remove the number one trigger to emotional eating

When you truly have freedom from these things, you have removed the number one trigger from emotional eating. As disordered eaters all of our self esteem, thoughts and feelings about ourselves are tightly locked into food and weight.

When we no longer obsess, when we eat what we truly desire and completely legalize food, we are then in a position to deal with normal emotions that come up in life in a different way.

For many people eating was the only way that they knew how to deal with the common negative feelings that come up on their lives. This of course was made worse by the fact that the overeating brought on more negative feelings and a loss of self esteem.

Diet obsessions fuels emotional eating

From my own experience, as soon as I stopped the deprivation and despair that arose from dieting, restricting and binge eating, I could clearly see that they were the negative emotions fueling my eating disorder.

However the next part in the process is learning to be part of life again and deal with all other situations unrelated to food that can cause pain, frustration, anger or just boredom and loneliness.

Developing a new skill set to deal with emotions

This is where you need to develop new skills and behaviors and practice them no matter how difficult and nonsensical they seem.

Throughout the process of becoming an intuitive eater you actually learn for yourself what aspect is biological hunger and what is simply an emotional need to numb out and deal with stress and anxiety.

It is important to keep track of what you are eating and why, without focusing on it too much. You will KNOW yourself and trust yourself enough over time to understand whether it was emotional or biological hunger.

If you do identify emotional hunger, then it is time to work with either a coach, therapist or a support group to develop alternative coping mechanisms. These are essential to learn and even years later after I have been eating intuitively, I still apply these alternative coping behaviors in my life.

Just because I have recovered from disordered eating does not mean that I am always happy and thrilled with life. Quite often I am faced with negative emotions, feelings and loneliness that I did not learn how to deal with due to using food and an eating disorder to prevent myself from leaning new skills.

But the great news is that you CAN change, you CAN learn new skills and complete recovery is possible.

Learning to take care of ourselves:

We often did not learn to take care of ourselves in ways that are productive, loving, nurturing and esteem building. I certainly know a lot of people like this, but I also know people who have developed this skill set. This is what I notice that they do:

  • Express their emotions
  • They stay connected socially
  • They do not isolate
  • Take care of themselves physically
  • Do not allow themselves to be put down or abused
  • Know how to give and receive love
  • Make sure that they are stimulated mentally and creatively

These are just some of the behaviors that I have personally observed. Perhaps they stand out particularly to me because they are the areas that where my skill set is lacking.

An exercise for you

Maybe you could try doing your own experiment and look for people in your own life who seem to have a great skillet of coping with their emotions and day to day life. What is it that they do differently? Observe it and try to implement it in your own life.

I have written a post about 100 ways to end your obsession with food and weight that may also be helpful.

Add your own items in and keep it at hand. It is important to be vigilant about this and to realize that we can only ACT ourselves into right thinking. There has to be action.

Right action leads to right thinking which leads to happiness.

This week there will be more posts on emotional eating, coping with the grief over no longer having food as a comforter, dealing with more intense feelings as a result of having to deal with life head on and how emotional eating can sometimes be a good guide for what is going on in our lives.

Love and Freedom,


P.S If you have any questions or comments about this topic, please drop me a line either on the comments or contact form. I would love to hear from you – whether it is about challenges you are facing or breakthroughs that you have had regarding emotional eating.

P.P.S If you haven’t downloaded Becoming an Intuitive Eater you can still do so for free by filling out your name and email address below.


Nina Vucetic

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