Nutrition | Weight Management
August 15, 2016

Food when stressed? When sad? How to manage emotional eating


Sometimes we eat because we are anxious, upset, happy or bored.


Eating because of a feeling and not physical hunger is called emotional eating. To make matters worse, we tend to overeat and choose high-calorie, sweet and/or fatty foods during these moments.

Tough and stressful times are guaranteed to happen throughout life. Using food to suppress emotions does not work. The feelings always come back, and you may be left with additional feelings of guilt due to poor food choices. Learning to deal with these emotions effectively is crucial to reaching your goal weight if you’re trying to slim down — and maintaining a healthy weight once you get there.


Five ways to prevent emotional eating

1. Be aware of your feelings. “Check in” emotionally when you start craving food to decide if you are really hungry or just feeding a feeling.

2. Write down what you eat and your feelings at the time. Research has shown that people who keep track of their food intake in writing lose more weight than those who don’t take this step. Record your feelings and your degree of hunger as well as what you ate.

3. Limit temptations. Keep unhealthy foods out of the house as much as possible. If you do keep unhealthy food in the house, be sure it’s packaged in single-serving bags to prevent mindless overeating. If you typically crave sweet foods when strong emotions strike, consider these strategies for slaying a sugar addiction.

4. Set a timer for 10 minutes and walk away. When the timer sounds, if you’re still craving the food — and you’re actually hungry — eat a healthy snack.

5. If you’re not actually hungry but are craving something unhealthy due to your moods, find something else to do until the craving subsides.


What to do besides emotional eating?

  • Take a walk.
  • Write a thank-you note.
  • Read a book.
  • Clean, vacuum, dust.
  • Call a friend.
  • Clean out a junk drawer.
  • Play cards.
  • Plan a get-together with friends.
  • Brew some tea.
  • Do laundry.
  • Run errands.

Stress, Weight Management

If you’re struggling to lose weight, there’s professional help. The Vanderbilt Center for Medical Weight Loss is a comprehensive weight loss program based on medically proven evidence that delivers long-term results, with a plan tailored to each person’s needs.

4 thoughts on “Food when stressed? When sad? How to manage emotional eating”

  1. Carol A. Wallace says:

    I would love to do these things, but most of them I cannot do. I have a lot of pain due to fibromyalgia for 37 yrs, I am a diabetic with neuropathy, osteoarthritis & crave all the things I shouldn’t eat, which I know in the long run causes me more pain. I NEED HELP & I KNOW IT.

  2. Peggy Buchannon says:

    I’m in the same boat with Carol. It’s really tough.

  3. Sunday reams says:

    I have hypothyroidism and have gained 10 lbs. which may not sound like much but it will not come off. I know this slows down your metabolism but is it possible to get it off and how! I am only 5FT. tall so this makes a difference. I have gone up two sizes in clothes.I am afraid this will continue to rise.

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      That is so frustrating! We cannot give medical advice through this page, however. I would talk to your doctor to see what your best strategy should be. You probably already know that regular exercise and a balanced diet rich in lean protein, fruits and vegetables is helpful for managing overall health. But for the specifics of your condition, you should speak with your doctor. Thanks for reading.

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