Emotional Eating: Causes and Resources

A short guide to understanding some causes and solutions for emotional eating, which refers to the habit of consuming food in response to emotional states, such as stress, boredom, sadness, or happiness, rather than hunger.

It is a common behaviour that many people struggle with, but it can have negative effects on both physical and mental health. It has recently been cited that as many as 75 % of the population may exhibit behaviours associated with emotional eating. [1]

In this article, we will discuss what emotional eating is, why we do it, and provide practical strategies for overcoming it.

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is a habit of using food as a way of coping with negative emotions. It is not necessarily about satisfying hunger, but rather about using food to comfort, distract, or soothe oneself. People who engage in emotional eating often eat large amounts of food, especially junk food or sweet treats, in a short period of time and continue to eat even after they are full.

Why do we Emotional Eat?

Emotional eating is often a response to stress, anxiety, depression, or other negative emotions. When we experience these emotions, our bodies release hormones that can trigger cravings for sugary, fatty, or high-carbohydrate foods. These foods can provide a temporary boost of energy and mood, but they can also lead to feelings of guilt and shame, which can make emotional eating a vicious cycle.

In addition, some people may engage in emotional eating as a form of self-medication, using food to numb or suppress unpleasant feelings. Others may use food as a source of comfort, as it can provide a sense of familiarity and security.

How to Stop Emotional Eating

Breaking the habit of emotional eating requires a combination of self-awareness and practical strategies. Here are some tips to help you overcome emotional eating:

Identify your triggers: Keep a food journal and note what you eat, when you eat, and how you feel before, during, and after eating. This can help you identify the emotions or situations that trigger your emotional eating.

Practice mindfulness: Pay attention to your physical hunger cues, such as growling stomach, and rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10. Eating only when you are physically hungry and stopping when you are comfortably full can help you break the cycle of emotional eating.

Mindfully Eat: Be aware of the food as it is being prepared and consider some gratitude and curiosity for the food available. When eating, notice the colours and any shapes and as food is placed into the mouth, put the fork down! Notice the tastes consciously, the textures, and chew before slowly and mindfully swallowing. Repeat!

Find alternative coping strategies: Instead of using food to cope with stress or negative emotions, find other ways to relieve stress, such as exercise, meditation, deep breathing, or talking to a trusted friend.

Avoid tempting situations: Avoid stocking your pantry or refrigerator with unhealthy foods that trigger your emotional eating. If you know you are vulnerable to emotional eating when you are bored or stressed, plan ahead and have healthy snacks on hand.

Seek support: Talking to a trusted friend or a mental health professional can provide you with the support and guidance you need to overcome emotional eating. We at Anglia Counselling Ltd provide such support for those local to our Suffolk/Cambridgeshire border offices, near Newmarket, or globally Online. For those with a greater  level of concern, see the resources below.


Emotional eating is a common problem that can have negative effects on physical and mental health. However, with awareness and practical strategies, it is possible to overcome this habit. Remember to be patient with yourself, as it may take time to develop new habits and break old patterns.



Emotional overeating: The facts and where to find support (Download)

Beat Eating Disorders


National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

[1] As you might expect, emotional eating is also incredibly common. “Research shows that about 75% of all of our eating is emotionally driven,” Dr. Albers notes. “We eat not because we’re hungry, but because we’re bored, stressed or anxious.”12 Nov 2021

About the author
Managing Director / Counsellor at Anglia Counselling Ltd | 07747042899 | [email protected] | Business Website

Bob Brotchie is a counsellor, mindset consultant and creator of "Conscious Living by Design"™. He writes for Anglia Counselling, is featured on various other websites and introduces us to many guest writers all covering topics related to mental health and wellbeing.

Bob provides bespoke counselling services to individuals and couples in the privacy and comfort of a truly welcoming environment at his Anglia Counselling company office, located near Newmarket in Suffolk, England. Bob also provides professional online counselling, for local, national, and international clients. The therapeutic models offered are bespoke to the client’s needs, especially those in receipt of 'childhood emotional neglect' (CEN), whilst integrating a mindful approach to psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) principles. For clients experiencing trauma and/or phobia, Bob offers EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).