Weight Management

Perhaps you have been diagnosed with a weight related medical condition or maybe you want to create some healthier habits. No matter the reason, we are glad you have joined us. The Weight Management page has tips, recipes and information from Mayo Clinic experts to help you create a healthier lifestyle. And if weight loss in one of your goals, you can learn more about options available to support your journey, including lifestyle changes, medication, procedures or surgery.

Jan 6, 2020

Seven strategies to help emotional eaters regain control of eating habits

By Ellen Bissonette, RN, CBN, @ecb

Woman eating chips

Psychologist Karen Graszer, M.A., L.P., shares strategies for emotional eating

What we eat is not always related to hunger. Sometimes the strongest cravings may occur when feeling stressed, emotional, lonely, worried or even bored. And when feeling distressed, we might use food to manage unpleasant emotions or self-soothe. Whatever the trigger, emotional eating is often impulsive and unplanned. People who eat emotionally are typically drawn to higher calorie foods, such as sweets or fatty foods, for comfort.

Eating something pleasurable can momentarily lift your spirits when feeling burdened or stressed. Eating can provide a welcome distraction from unpleasant emotional states like anger, sadness, disappointment or fear. Unfortunately, the effect is usually temporary, and often comes with the price of feeling guilty or self-critical afterwards, which can lead to more emotional eating. If repeated, this way of coping can become a negative cycle of unhealthy eating that leads to regular overeating and sabotages weight loss efforts.

If you think you might be an emotional eater, the good news is that you can regain control of your eating habits by trying a few of these strategies:

  1. Learn to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. Ask yourself why you want to eat. Cravings are temporary. If you ate recently, you might not be physically hungry and can wait for the craving to pass.
  2. Keep a food diary. Use diary to note feelings and cues for eating to help you identify eating triggers and the possible connection between mood and food. Learn more about food diaries in this Mayo Clinic Minute.
  3. Find other activities that are pleasurable or provide comfort. Consider taking a walk, engaging in a hobby, talking with a friend, listening to music or watching a movie instead of eating.
  4. Remove problem foods from your immediate environment. We tend to eat what is convenient and what is in sight. Have healthy snacks available to satisfy strong urges to eat.
  5. Take care of yourself. Eating three meals a day prevents overwhelming hunger that can lead to impulsive eating. Regular exercise helps with managing stress and maintaining energy. Self-care practices such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing can also help manage stress.
  6. Don’t deprive yourself of occasional treats, or limit your calories too much. This can increase cravings or make “forbidden” foods more desirable.
  7. Set realistic expectations. Don’t expect perfection from yourself or try to change everything at once. Allow for gradual change in behavior over time, and treat yourself with compassion when you falter.

If you still find it difficult to control emotional eating after trying these strategies, consider counseling with a mental health professional. Therapy can help you understand factors that contribute to emotional eating, learn healthy coping skills, and identify if you have a mood, anxiety, or eating disorder, which can be connected to emotional eating. Getting the right treatment can make a big difference in your success.

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