When Emotional Eating Catches You By Surprise

March 16, 2012   25 Comments

My dear husband left for 10 days yesterday on a well deserved trip. (That isn't actually of photo of him :)

Emotional Eating

He is my partner in many things. He does a lot of the childcare, cleaning, and cooking that happens with a small family.

Without him, I will work REALLY hard and if I'm not careful - I will be completely overwhelmed. And, of course, I will miss his company, his encouragement, and his calm demeanor.

Many people asked me if I was getting any help for his time away. That WOULD be a good idea.

But instead of asking for help - a mere hour after he left, I found myself at a bakery staring at one of these:


(Actually, the one I was staring at was apple - but you get the idea.) It wasn't until I reached the car with this PIE that I realized what I had done.

My choice was either cry or laugh - so I chose laugh. He left, I was uncomfortable, so I purchased a pie. I NEVER buy pies. Somewhere in my psyche I decided that I needed this pie.

The PIE had magical qualities that would make his time away be easier. How crazy is that?

This situation is defined as "emotional eating". For example, you have an emotion - like FEAR or SADNESS and decide that a donut, cookie, or ice cream is what you need to fix it.

Food doesn't solve your problems. Yes, it solves the "I'm hungry" problem - but other than that food is just food.

The pie isn't going to make me feel less afraid or sad, it is just a pie. What do I really need? To ask for help, probably. Or just allow myself to feel the emotions and let them flow without needed to shove them down with pie.

I believe the first tool in tackling emotional eating is just to become aware of it. I woke up when I opened my car door at put the pie inside. Did I go back to the store to return it? No, I just shared it with friends and gave it to my kids so I didn't eat the entire thing myself.

One really good way to figure out if you are eating emotionally is to food journal with EMOTIONS. For example when I ate my toast this morning, I was feeling hungry and stressed. I probably didn't even taste it (and yes, I was standing up when I ate it).

After you get a handle on when emotional eating occurs in your day, you can start substituting other things for food. For example, deep breaths, a hug from someone nearby, or chewing on some gum.

Check out the book below for more ideas (I have this one next to my bed). How do you deal with emotional eating? Please share.

After I posted this, I have received direct e-mails from readers who are telling me how hard it is to stop emotional eating. I did not mean to say it is easy . My path to becoming aware of this habit has been a long one. I just didn't want to bore you with the details.

Other posts you might like:


5 Ways To Stop Stress Eating

Snack Girl is stressed out. That is not me in the photo above, but I feel this woman's pain....


Stressed is Desserts Spelled Backwards

The inclination to grab for food when you are stressed is completely understandable. Food calms you down and makes you feel good....

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Thank you - I have been stuck in this mode for a while and it shows. And yes, I need to completely get out of this mode. It's my own doing and I am going to claw my way out of this funk.

I don't know if I'm so much of an emotional eater as I am a boredom eater. I eat till I'm stuffed than wonder why the scale keeps climbing. I'm trying to change my eating habits and it's so hard!

Wow, I guess I am one of the lucky ones. If I am stressed, upset (sad or angry), etc., I don't eat, I loose my appetite -- period.

Great message. I've always been an emotional eater. I actually have this book and it really is a good read.

this is your best article yet !! hope it will help many people. I eat no meats and mainly raw, so a lot of the topics i read and pass info to friends and family. Your food selections if people will follow will help those who want to loose weight and one has to remember this is a healthier way.. not always healthiest. keep on with the info and i have needed some of the advise !! my temptations are dark chocolate and pastries at whole foods... as you would say, at least no fake coloring, preservatives and flavors, but the fat and calories are there !!

Oh, Lisa...this is really me. I have been trying to be aware of my feelings for years now, with little success. I am eternally optomistic though and have been "getting it" lately and hope it stays with me. Thanks for a helpful read this morning.

First, Hope you manage through the next 10 days! Sounds like your husband is a gem. :-)

It might be fun to do special things with your kids this week, like a mini-vacation, rather than a stressed out time without dad - movie night, bowling, kids make (healthy) dinner night, etc. Heck, even take them out to dinner where you can get something healthy & don't have to cook - I never feel like cooking if its just me & the kids.

Thanks for a great post!

Oops... what I originally meant to comment on is that we talked about emotional eating in WW a few weeks ago. Of the 40 or so people in the room, there were about 7 or 8 men - the leader asked each of them if they ever emotionally ate, and NONE did (vs. almost all of the women)... Interesting...

@Maria - thanks so much for the HELP - seriously - my instinct was to relax more without him instead of trying to get it all done - and you just gave me permission :)

big hug to you. Lisa

What I think is really great is that you realized and acknowledged what you were doing. I can't always do that, but am learning how! Cheers to you.

Hi Lisa. Thanks for always being "real"! I eat for emotional reasons often and then beat myself up for it. It helps to know I am not alone! Prayers to everyone who is on the healthy lifestyle journey. Little by little, we will make it!

Cathy :)

It's great timing for me to read this. We are in the midst of big changes -- all good, but changes nonetheless. So far I've been able to resist temptation, but it's easy to go astray. Thanks for sharing your story. It helps me as we go through the next month or so when there will be a lot of upheaval.

Thank you for this Snack Girl! It was only when I developed a yeast infection (TMI?) and was put on a candida diet that I noticed my emotional eating. All my favorite foods being off the list, I realized how often I was going to that well, and what for: pleasure, because, after I examined it, I felt deprived. Mother of four, my life is all about everyone else, I ranted. My husband suggested I eat a piece of cheese. Still working out my perspective, need to start out letting myself be happy, "feed" myself properly, not with yummy treats.

Wait, so you're trying to tell me that CHOCOLATE won't really solve all my problems??? Darn! ;) I totally find myself doing this all the time. And yes, chocolate is my drug of choice. Even better when it is chocolate combined with other fat sources in a baked good.

Oh, I am SUCH an emotional eater. Don't show me pictures of donuts around finals time. It won't go over well. Or Nachos. Or French Fries, for that matter.

Congratulations on this post. What great timing for a lot of people, including me. I gained 0.6 this week as shown by my weigh in at WW. I know it was related to eating more than I should and some of it was "pie" eating - no real reason other than the urge to do something, anything. That's not a good reason and it's not an excuse; it just is. I'm back on track and working hard to not buy a pie unless I'm sure I can cut it into small pieces and enjoy one piece a day. I'm not there yet. Enjoy the time at night when you have some quiet. Turn his absence into a mini-vacation for you during those quiet hours. I am still working on strategies for emotional times. I probably always will.

Great post. It is so sneaky and pervasive, if you're not in the habit of looking for it and heading it off, it gets you. Even when you know it, it can be tough. I always stop myself and ask, "is this going to help me get where I want to be?" and usually, it's "no" or "not that, have ___ instead."

Stress is a big emotion, whether we feel it or not. Fortunately for me, its not one that seems to trigger my munchies.

I found "Junk Food, Junk Mood" by Lindsey Smith, HHC. She gets deeper into the emotional eating I do-making me look deeper. Making me be conscience of it! I am a big boredom eater. If I don't have a zillion things going on my desk at work, I start to munch-healthy stuff or not, so I try to keep the healthy around a lot more. At home, where there's always a list of stuff to get done-I could go without eating until my blood sugar plummets! Its a good book-out recently. It's helped me look at other foods, too.

1. Set the pie on the table next to a bouquet of spring flowers.

2. Brew some tea

3. Call 2 friends who live nearby

4. Say: "I just got a pie, and I brewed some you have 20 minutes to share a slice?"

You're welcome. :)

When I first started reading this, I thought "Ha! 10 days, that's nothing". My husband left almost a year ago, but that's a good thing. Although I'm glad he's gone, the stress of having to do everything myself (I have a 3 year old at home) has taken it's toll and I've gained a bit of weight due to emotional eating. I try not to stress too much about cleaning the house or getting a gourmet meal on the table every night, because if I did, I'd be eating a chocolate cake every night too, but there's plenty of other things to stress about. I do get some help from my parents who live nearby (well, the meals part, not the cleaning). I'm glad you've given yourself permission to relax and I hope you ask/get help if you need it. Unfortunately for you (well, sort of), you will actually miss your husband, that's something I don't have to worry about to add to my stress. :) I wish you a fantastic 10 days with your kids and tell your husband he owes you a back rub when he gets home.

I find myself doing this too. Instead of reaching for an apple or orange I find myself reaching for a Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered caramel, swearing that I'm going to try making the dark chocolate figs you posted about instead.


I too was glad my husband took an out of town

Assignment until I became ill. You don't realize

how much they do until they're gone...hopefully,

U will have a long life together once the children

have grown up and are busy with their lives..

Thanks for this. I'm guilty of this myself... I got away with it when younger but now that hormones and almost-50 mood swings are going, I have found myself with some extra pounds because I soothed the extra emotions in food--and the tiredness that comes from not sleeping much/well during this fun midlife thing.

When my (now ex) husband used to go out of town, I tried just to make it fun and relaxed, like a little mini-vacation for me, too. I'd go to bed early, or stay up late, whichever I wanted. This is not the 10 days to be cleaning out your garage, or any big project. Get a good book, or a movie that your husband wouldn't want to watch. Do some spring shopping for yourself. And plan a Welcome Home party with the kids for when your husband gets home. They can make signs, make some cupcakes, etc.

And I completely agree that the first way to start on the journey to conquer emotional eating is to just be aware of it. I've learned to ask myself "are you really hungry?" when I'm reaching for something off hours. Good for you for realizing what you were doing! And good luck with the 10 days!

This is a big problem for me. I usually crave soft, gooey stuff, but lately I've been craving burgers a lot. When I mess up & eat a lot of something I know is no good for me, I end up telling my husband about it. That lets him know I need his support to get a grip on it. He helps me keep an eye on my food intake for a few days until I feel I have a better handle on it.

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