Emotional Eating

11 February 2019

Jessica Bowie
Director of Valhalla Strength Townsville
MPsych (Clinical)

A brief look at a broad topic.


There are three theoretical ideas regarding why people might emotionally eat:

  • Bingeing as a way of escaping self-awareness. Focus for the individual is on the immediate stimulus (food) and away from thoughts that may be unpleasant (e.g. work stress, family and relationship problems). This narrowing of attention creates disinhibition (lack of restraint) and therefore you are more likely to binge.
  • Overeating may create distress and therefore is an attempt to misattribute stress or negative feelings to the eating instead of the original source of distress (e.g. family or work).
  • There is a sense of pleasure in eating enjoyable foods. They may increase positive emotions.

For the most it appears as though the lack of adaptive/helpful coping strategies at the time of distress may be at play as well as lack of other enjoyable activities. So, what can you do?

Some Strategies to start managing your emotions instead of eating them:


Mindfulness; considered the ability to act with awareness and be non-judgemental of inner experiences has been shown to have an association with better regulation of overeating so it is worth a shot.

Practical Tips to Avoid Emotional Eating:

  • Keep a food journal and record how you were feeling at time of eating. If you notice that boredom is occurring a lot maybe it is time to find a new hobby (e.g. craft, sports, walks with your dog).
  • If you mindlessly eat when watching TV, try pouring your serves into a bowl rather than eating straight out of the box/packet; switch up the soft drink for water, consciously choose more healthy snacks before bingeing your next show.
  • Slow down, don’t eat so quickly and don’t eat when distracted. Try setting aside a dinner time that is not in front of a screen or putting aside time for lunch rather than a working lunch at your desk.
  • Get prepared, make it easier for yourself to choose a healthier option and harder to choose an unhealthy one.
  • Practice mindfulness eating. This is great for eating your favourite chocolate (here is a quick video to give you an idea https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_IrfyjP88w ).
  • Ride the urge waves to emotionally eat. Wait 10 minutes before you turn to the foods, maybe even practice some coping strategies. After 10 minutes has passes, wait another 10 minutes.
  • Interrupt the cycle. If you always go for takeaway after work, try driving a different way home, head to the gym instead, call a friend. Anything to interrupt your usual cycle.
  • Increase your nutritional awareness and get educated (workshops at Valhalla with our dietitian coming soon).


Take away message: practice helpful coping strategies more often to avoid this pattern of overeating. Find what works for you. Try things more than once, your emotional eating is a habit that took time to establish, so allow time to change it.


Coronado-Montoya, S., Levis, A. W., Kwakkenbos, L., Steele, R. J., Turner, E. H., & Thombs, B. D. (2016). Reporting of positive results in randomized controlled trials of mindfulness-based mental health interventions. PLOS ONE, 11(4), e0153220. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153220

Evers, C., Marijn Stok, F., & De Ridder, D. T. (2009). Feeding your feelings: Emotion regulation strategies and emotional eating. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(6), 792–804. doi:10.1177/0146167210371383

Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., Nackers, L. M., & Corsica, J. A. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating Behaviors, 15(2), 197-204. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005

Kerin, J. L., Webb, H. J., & Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J. (2017). Resisting the temptation of food: Regulating overeating and associations with emotion regulation, mindfulness, and eating pathology. Australian Journal of Psychology, 70(2), 167-178. doi:10.1111/ajpy.12169