Things you need to know about Emotional Eating!

5 min read

“Down on sleep, down on the budget, down on time and high on cortisols, coming home to an empty apartment via a quick trip to the 7/11 store (to sack up on cheap Ramen Noodles of course); can you guess what I would have had for Dinner that night? Or as a matter of fact for every single night that entire summer of 2013??”

“Yeah; you don’t have to be a genius to realize that I had resorted to eating, No, I got addicted to eating Instant Ramen Noodles.”

Flickr user Elsie Hui
It was not because I was starving (I was working in a food court, surrounded by healthiest and filthiest of foods!). It was not because of lack of money (trust me a bag of rice and beans was more economical and sustainable than the monthly supply of 12 X 3 oz pack of Ramen Noodles!). Something else was in workings… I am not certain what; only thing I am certain of is that time around I was under tremendous amount of stress, and that eating a bowl of Ramen just made me so so Happy 🙂

Sounds familiar? If you too have a stress eating story, do share it with us (in the comment section).

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is overeating in order to relieve negative emotions OR giving into food cravings in response to feelings instead of hunger. This feeling could be sadness, stress, anger, grief, happiness. Of all these, we are most familiar with stress eating. And you must be aware of the newest addition of a term in the oxford dictionary, “Hangry”, right?

Is it same as Binge Eating?

Not really, binge eating is an entirely different issue. Yes, both emotional eating and binging have to do with emotions and mental health, and both involves eating a moderate-heavy amount of foods. But the emotions associated with both are different. Emotional eating is mostly the response to a stressful situation. A stress eating bout usually leaves you with a calm, abated and comforted feeling. Whereas binging stems from a feeling of forbiddance (from food) and leaves one with a feeling of shame (after overeating). Of course, there are more differences between the two which are better explained here.

We have already kind of touched upon all the emotions that may trigger emotional eating, but aren’t you interested in knowing how?

Science has answers to this “How”

Now Cortisol, the hormone that our adrenal glands start pumping out in response to the stress; that cortisol is the “Main Culprit” here! In stressful situations, the guilty party here is in charge of getting our body ready for either to fight or to flee! And to do either, what will the body need? Think… Yes, some fuel! Energy! Food! Which is why our hunger kicks in. So the culprit cortisol is what makes us super hungry when we are stressed!

Well leaving the theatrics aside, cortisol really does makes you more hungry and not just hungry! No.. No, No. You aren’t just hungry now. You are hungry for some good old comfort food which is loaded with purest of carbohydrates and fats! See that on the left,👈 Ambrosia, is my weakness!

Yes, there is a scientific reason for why do we always go for high carb, high fat, high calorie and nutritionally “empty” foods when stressed!

Foods high in sugar and fat once eaten seems to set off a chain of reactions that inhibits certain activities in parts of the brain that process emotions like stress. So these foods really do assuage the feeling of “stress”. I guess which is why they are aptly called “comfort foods”.

Now all that is fine and good. Feeling good and seeking some comfort after a stressful event, there is nothing wrong with that. We all deserve to de-stress. But really, is food the only way of de-stressing? Now you would argue that it is the easiest and closest to one’s heart! “Oh, the smell of 2 minutes Maggie noodles, the touch of melting chocolate gelato on one’s tongue and the crunchy sound of potato chips… How can you ask me to give up on that? And why should I?”

Yes, you are right. You do not have to give up on any of these foods. Healthy or junk, you don’t have to give up on eating anything. You can eat everything in moderation. But that is a topic for another post!

Problem is. When you are digging into a pint of ice cream or gulping down a bowl of Ramen Noodles, you are essentially piling up on MSG, sugar, unhealthy fats and depriving yourself of a nice meal that would have provided you with much needed wholesome nourishment. And let’s not forget how emotional eating can affect and undermine all your weight loss efforts.

5 tips to cope with emotional eating.


1. Therapy

Yes, let us start with the one option you are least inclined to try. Us, the people are hardwired to try home remedies/self-help remedies before we even admit that we have an issue let alone ask for help! But if your emotional eating issue is getting out of hand, if it is undermining your weight loss efforts and threatening your emotional well-being; It’s time to get help! CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is one of the most researched and used therapy to deal with the stress. Learn about different types of therapies that can help, here.

2. Dealing with stress (self-help):

If stress is what causing for you to overeat, then it makes sense to nip the stress in the bud first, right?

Meditation, exercise, getting enough sleep, staying connected are just a few ways of dealing with the stress. Refer to our previous article on Depression to learn about some ways to deal with the depression and stress alike.

3. Food-Mood Diary:

Keep a log of days that you are stressed and what foods you eat on those days. Also, log in how much are you eating. This will help you see a connection and form a pattern of moods and foods eaten. This technique is called keeping a food-mood diary.

4. Snacking:

Snacking helps make sure that you are not too hungry or extremely starving when you do actually hit that point when you are stressed and want to munch on something! Yes snacking will not help you stop stress eating completely but it will help reduce the frequency and the amount eaten. Just make sure not to snack on high carb, high fats junk 😛

Note: Fruits, nuts, veggie bites, yogurt, popcorn are some healthier snack options.

5. Resort to Teas…

Certain Teas like Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Linden, American Passionflower and their herbal blends with valerian, ashwagandha, peppermint, ginseng are known to help with stress. An array of calming and soothing teas are available out there. So if you are a tea lover, I would suggest pick a blend and see if it suits your taste and your soothes your nerves.

Oh, and laughter also helps reduce stress. Laughing a little might leave you feeling a little less empty and a little less hungry 🙂 Read more about benefits of laughter here.

Consult with me for a diet related question or consult a behavioral therapist near you, both on DawaiBox.

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Soniya Nikam, MS, RD.

Soniya Nikam, MS, RD.

She is a Registered Dietitian who does not believe in dieting; She has a Master's Degree in Nutrition but she is not your "I know it all Nutrition Guru!"; She loves food but loves talking about food even more. Her articles are a direct reflection of her personal quest where nutrition science meets real life! Oh, and she is owned by a 3 m.o. naughty kitten :)

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