Emotional Eating Article

Millions of Americans struggle with emotional eating. Instead of honoring our emotions, we often may find ourselves indulging in fast food, devouring an entire bag of M&M’s without even realizing it, or simply munching continuously throughout the day.

Why do we turn to food when uncomfortable emotions come up, like when we’re worried about that nerve-racking presentation we have scheduled next week? Why does self soothing with a rich and flavorful piece of chocolate cheesecake sound so pleasurable? The answer is simple: because it tastes good and feels good! At least for awhile…

Emotional eating is when one turns to food for emotional reasons rather than in response to physical hunger. One uses food to make oneself feel better or perhaps to distract oneself from uncomfortable feelings, such as shame, fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, etc. All of us emotionally eat from time to time. That’s normal. However, emotional eating becomes a problem that needs to be addressed when it becomes a recurrent pattern or a main source of self soothing. After one has emotionally eaten or binged on food, feelings of regret and shame often follow. This can lead to a cyclical effect in which emotional eating causes guilt and shame, which causes more coping and soothing with food, which causes even more guilt and shame, and so on.

A client of mine shared this powerful and insightful quote describing their experience with emotional eating:

“Sometimes you feel so totally worthless, or abandoned, or alone. So there’s food. There is always food. You can’t be a failure at eating. Food has so many good memories – it’s a living metaphor for love and nurturing. So you eat. You really eat. Even when you feel so out of control, you can eat. So you do. Food never abandons you.”

As you can see, food played an important role in my client’s life. Food was reliable. It was comforting. It was accepting. Food was always there for my client. So, you can imagine how scary and uncomfortable it may be to look beneath the surface and begin the hard work of redefining your relationship with food. I love doing this work with clients so they can become free from disordered eating habits.

Below are several questions to help assess for emotional eating:

  1. Do you find yourself eating regularly when not physically hungry?
  2. Do you make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full after eating?
  3. Would you say that food dominates your life?
  4. Do you sneak food or hide food?
  5. Do you worry you have lost control over how much you eat?
  6. Do you feel guilt or shame after eating?

If you answered “yes” to two or more of the questions, you may want to consider counseling. Please feel welcome to contact me at 913-859-9993 or epottertherapy@gmail.com if you have any questions or want to schedule an appointment. I look forward to hearing from you!

Emily Potter, MS, LMFT

Please note the quote from my client was used with written permission.
Source: SCOFF Questionnaire