Emotional Eating: What’s Really Going On?


‘Emotional eating’, ‘stress eating’, and ‘binge eating’. These words often create a sense of shame and guilt as soon as we recall last Friday night when we sat on the couch and ate a bag of chips for “no apparent reason“. But before you allow that guilt to sink any deeper, remember that ’emotional eating’ is something that all humans will do from time to time

What This Means

The body is not only complex and connected with all it’s parts but it is also extremely intelligent. When the brain senses danger, the body will immediately react in ways that ‘up the defense’ and ready the body for fight or flight. In the same way, when the brain senses feelings of sadness and discomfort, the body may react in ways to comfort and feel better. Can you guess the place we seek to find comfort? You guessed it: food.

How Mood Affects Food

After a long stressful day of work, you get home, sit on the couch, and zone out to TV and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Don’t worry, we have all been there. Bit did you know that this might just be the body’s way of trying to comfort you and offer a sense of grounding and calm? In fact, carbohydrates trigger a process in the body that ends up with the brain making new serotonin (the feel-good hormone). Ever wonder why you reach for the sweeter treat (cue: Ben & Jerry’s)? It’s because sugar is digested faster than fiber-rich carbs, so the temporary ‘comfort’ comes quicker.

How Food Affects Mood

For many years, the medical field did not fully acknowledge the connection between food and mood. Recent studies have found that diets high in refined sugar may impair brain function and worsen symptoms of mood disorders such as depression. So it is clear there is a link between what we put in our mouths and how we feel and the answer lies smack dab in our bellies. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite, moods, and pain. Nearly 95% of your serotonin is produced right in your gut which is lined with millions of neurons. This means that your digestive system not only breaks down the food you eat, it also guides your emotions.

How to Unlearn Your Loop

It is helpful to know that those late night binges and oh-so-sweet-sweet cravings aren’t just a matter of will power and control; it sometimes comes down to a matter of how you and your body have learned to cope. The good news? These coping patters have been learned, which means, they can be unlearned. It might help to think of your food and your mood as creating a loop. Mood affects food and food affects mood.

The First Step

If you want to start eating more based on your physical body and less on your emotional body, the first step is becoming aware of what’s going on. Get honest with yourself and think about these questions:

What cravings come up for you when you feel stressed?
What urges do you have when you feel bored and lonely?
How do you feel after you eat with mindfulness?
How do you feel after you overeat?
How do you feel after you eat a meal filled with distraction?

Becoming aware of these few things can start to shed light on your relationship with food. Check back in next time to learn what the next step is!


Looking to get your emotional eating under control? Check out our other blog post "Making The Right Changes" below: