What is emotional eating?

Published: Friday, April 9, 2021
Bariatric Behavioral Health Specialist

Weight-loss patients often face unique mental health challenges as they begin their journeys to better health. A common behavior among patients struggling with their weight is the act of emotional eating – defined as using food to fill emotional needs.

You may struggle with emotional eating if one or more of the following applies to you:

Behavioral Patterns

Overeating can be a strictly behavioral or conditioned behavior that we acquire over time without any mental health problems. This often results from learning poor eating habits in childhood that carry over into adulthood.

Time Management Skills

We live in a fast-paced society, and if you forget to plan your meals ahead of time, you’re more likely to eat out, eat fast food and eat too quickly.

Head Hunger

Learning to differentiate between physical hunger and mental hunger or boredom can be challenging. One way to combat this is to assess your situation when you feel the urge to eat and ask yourself if you are physically hungry, thirsty, bored or emotional. Identifying why you think you are hungry can help you determine what you really need at the time. Be mindful and make sure to be completely present when consuming food with no distractions.

Unhealthy Stress Response

Food can serve as comfort when under extreme stress. Cortisol is the main stress hormone. The neurological reward system that releases “feel good” neurotransmitters when eating. Some alternative ways to cope with stress include exercise, socializing, meditation and practicing mindfulness. Certain foods have also been proven to help lower cortisol levels. Healthy eating starts with learning how certain foods can fuel your body, so you can better handle stressors.

Next Steps:

If you feel you may be suffering from emotional eating, please reach out to The Bariatric Weight Loss Center at NGMC. Our team is equipped with a dedicated nutritionist and behavioral health specialist who can help you develop the tools you need to develop a healthier relationship with food.