How to Tell If You’re an Emotional Eater And What to Do About It

Feeling out of control around food all day, every day, can be really scary.

You’re eating lots of food, you’re eating fast, and the frightening part is, you don’t know how to stop. You’re gaining weight uncontrollably, your self-esteem is plunging, and all you can think about all day is even more food.

I get you, and I feel you. I really do.

Why? Because I was stuck in this painful place for a long time, and it wasn’t until 15 years later that I finally broke free from my habit of eating my emotions and started to see food as a source of nourishment, not a coping mechanism.

The good news is, you don’t have to take as long as I did to stop using and abusing food to deal with the stresses of life, and the single most powerful weapon that you can use to help yourself heal more quickly is this: Awareness.

You can start building this awareness by recognizing and paying attention to the things that you do and the emotions that you feel throughout each emotional eating episode.

Not sure if you’re struggling with emotional eating or just the occasional bout of overeating?

Here’s how to tell:

1. Your hunger pangs happens suddenly. One minute you’re not hungry, the next minute you’re starving as if you haven’t eaten for days, and this feeling strikes with no warning.

2. You crave for a specific food. You don’t want just any food–you MUST have the four-cheese pizza with extra pepperoni, washed down with an ice-cream float. Nothing else will do.

3. When you’re eating, you feel like it’s happening automatically and that it’s out of your control. You can’t say “no” to the food in front of you, you’re eating on autopilot, and it’s as if your arms, hands and mouth have a life of their own.

4. Your cravings feel urgent. You must eat the food you’re craving for NOW, and nothing will feel right until you have it.

5. Your hunger or cravings develop soon after (or in anticipation of) an upsetting experience. You reach for food when you’re going through painful emotions and just want to stop feeling them.

6. Your hunger begins in your mind, not your body. You NEED to feel that pizza and ice-cream float in your mouth because they taste comforting and familiar.

7. You don’t stop eating when you’re full. The more you eat, the less pain you feel, so you keep going, even if you’re physically full.

8. You feel guilty, and tend to punish yourself after you’re finished eating. You’re wrecked with feelings of guilt and shame after each emotional eating episode, and will often punish yourself by severely restricting your food intake or over-exercising, or both.

9. You eat because you feel like if you don’t, you’ll be ‘missing out’. Because you’re in the habit of restricting your food intake and cutting out ‘bad’ foods from your life, you feel like if you don’t take the opportunity to eat your comfort food while it’s in front of you, you’ll never get to eat it, ever again. The problem is, this happens at almost every meal.

Does this sound like you?

Here’s what you can do about it:

Be compassionate to yourself. The solution isn’t the latest diet or eating as little as you can. It’s learning how to not hate yourself so you can take baby steps forward to nurture the behavior and habits that will help you put a stop to emotional eating and lose the extra weight that’s weighing you down.

Find out what situations, people, thoughts or even places are triggering your emotional eating episodes. Zeroing in these triggers are the key to building your awareness, which you then use to prevent your emotional eating episodes from happening altogether, or at least move through them with less stress and more forgiveness…for yourself.

Stop restricting your food intake. Banning the foods you love from your life is a sure-fire way to lead you to eating too much of it eventually, because you end up feeling so deprived. The next time you’re tempted to do this remember: Restricting leads to bingeing.

Get familiar with what physical hunger feels like. If you’ve been an emotional eater for years, this one will be tricky, but well worth it. The best way to start is deceptively simple: Slow down. Give yourself 15-30 minutes to eat your meals in a peaceful, distraction-free space where you can focus on your food, how it tastes and how your body responds to every bite, and what it feels like when that feeling of hunger slowly subsides.

Have a food-free diversion plan ready. This step is crucial for preventing your emotional eating episodes from taking their hold on you. Knowing what you’re going to do before your triggers are activated will allow you to deal with your painful emotions by engaging in an activity that has nothing to do with food and benefits you, instead of breaking you down.

Are you struggling with emotional eating day after day, and want to regain control over your food and life? Get started with Michele’s free, ‘Break Free From Emotional Eating’ checklist.

Photo credit: pixabay

This article originally appeared on


If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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