Emotional Eating: When Emotions Affect Your Appetite

Have you ever felt sad or angry and then you searched for good food? Be careful; you may be experiencing ’emotional eating’. At that time, food might calm your mind and relieve your stress for a moment.

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Around 40% of individuals tend to eat more under stress, while about 40% eat less, and the remaining 20% ​​do not experience a change in the amount of food.

What is ’emotional eating’?

Emotional eating is defined as ‘the tendency to overeat in response to negative emotions such as anxiety or irritability’ (van Strien et al., 2007, p. 106). In other words, emotional eating is when you use food as a way to deal with your emotions instead of eating because you are hungry.

Emotional eating does not only happen to women, but men can experience the same thing. However, many men do not realise and admit that they are emotional eating. This condition is due to the men ego or prestige, afraid to be considered moody like women.

Emotional eating is usually associated with negative feelings, such as when you are feeling lonely, sad, anxious, afraid, angry, bored, or stressed. During times of stress, the body experiences an increase in the hormone cortisol in response to stress. You also experience an increase in appetite as your body tries to provide the energy it needs to respond to stress and seek food to calm your emotions rather than thinking about your problem or condition that is hurting you. Eating more without thinking about what food and how much you eat is common in emotional eating. If this is done continuously, it is possible that emotional eating can affect your weight, health, and overall well-being.

Emotional eating can be formed from childhood

This emotional eating pattern can be formed indirectly from childhood. For example, your parents may offer you food when you are sad, lonely, or angry to calm you down and make you feel good. Besides, parents who often reward your favourite food when you succeed in achieving something also support emotional eating behaviour. Therefore, do not use food as a reward or punishment for your child.

Foods that are consumed during emotional eating are usually those that contain lots of calories and are high in carbohydrates, for example, ice cream, biscuits, chocolate, snacks, french fries, pizza, hamburgers, and others. Not to mention, if you frequently use food as an escape to release stress, you may be able to eat a large amount more than three times a day. This habit is what can lead to weight gain, even obesity and diabetes if it continues.

How to deal with ’emotional eating’?

Before you start eating, it is best to ask yourself if you are eating because you feel really hungry. Usually, if you feel really hungry, you will feel signs, such as a ‘growling’ stomach, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. If you do not feel really hungry, you may want to delay your mealtime later.

You can reduce your emotional eating habits by making meal notes. In these notes, you can write down what foods you ate, your mood when you ate, whether you were really hungry at that time, and at what time you ate. You can study your notes. If you find a time when you overeat when your feelings are emotional, then other times you can avoid it even more. You can release your emotions before eating, either by walking or doing your favourite activity, this way is healthier.

Suppose you are emotional and want to eat. In that case, you should immediately find other activities that can calm you down, such as listening to music, writing, reading, playing musical instruments, painting, sports, and others. This can make you less likely to view food as emotional gratification. That way, your emotional eating habits will decrease over time.

Further readings:
Adriaanse, M. A., de Ridder, D. T., & Evers, C. (2011). Emotional eating: Eating when emotional or emotional about eating?. Psychology and Health, 26(1), 23-39.

van Strien, T., van de Laar, F.A., van Leeuwe, J.F.J., Lucassen, P.L.B.J., van den Hoogen, H.J.M., Rutten, G.E.H.M., et al. (2007). The dieting dilemma in patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes: Does dietary restraint predict weight gain 4 years after diagnosis? Health Psychology, 26, 105–112.

10 Responses to “Emotional Eating: When Emotions Affect Your Appetite”

  1. asiska says:

    This’s a very relatable article, the reason why I can eat one box ice cream and skip dinner when I get a bad day. Looking for sugar

  2. fangfeih says:

    Interesting topic! To be honest, this blog just reminds me that I am experiencing emotional eating these days!!(and face getting round) Isolation makes me feel so lonely, and the pressure from assignments and research also makes me anxious. It’s very kind of you to give some advice about how to manage it. I might start to make a meal note today. (By the way, lovely broccoli reminder, I’ll save it on my phone.)

  3. mkahirupan says:

    Yes, we could choose our kind of comfort yet healthy foods instead of those unhealthy foods 😀

  4. mkahirupan says:

    Food is our basic need and daily we as women have mood swings, undoubtedly it’s hard to distinguish our hunger 😀

  5. mkahirupan says:

    Yes, best of luck for all of us! 😀

  6. mkahirupan says:

    Yeah no one can’t resist those high-calorie and high-carbohydrate food! However, at least we should try to deal with the emotions 🙂

  7. YINGCHEN says:

    Working and studying at home during the epidemic changed my eating habits, and sometimes I am craving for food to relieve anxiety during the study. I think that in the process of coping with emotional eating, if we really cannot help but want to eat, we could choose fruit or yogurt, which is good for health without adding too much burden to the body.

  8. Pema Sherpa says:

    This is so relatable. Sometimes I find difficulty in differentiating emotional hunger vs true hunger.

  9. Danielle Ariti says:

    I’m not going to lie, I defiantly have found myself emotional eating a time or two (or every time I’m stressed). But your tips to deal with the emotions by listening to music or reading are really cool, I will definitely be giving them a go!

  10. Yizixin LU says:

    High-calorie and high-carbohydrate foods can bring happiness! However, binge eating induced by negative emotions is really difficult to control. When I feel anxious, I cannot get rid of the urge to eat unhealthy food.