DISCLAIMER: Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new routines, programs, or nutrition plans to ensure you receive the best medical advice and strategy for your specific individual needs.

Food cravings occur for a variety of reasons unrelated to hunger. They sometimes hit after a bad night’s sleep when you’re dozing in bed and hitting the snooze. Sometimes we eat because we are anxious, stressed, bored, or coping with difficult feelings. 


Everyone does it sometimes as a way of coping with strong emotions. You’re feeling tired, sad, lonely, or stressed out and race to the pantry to grab a chocolate or two. When it happens often, however, you risk developing unhealthy relationships with food like eating too much, skipping meals, and consuming too much sugar or fried foods.


Emotional eating is harmful to physical and mental health. It is not only linked to obesity and conditions like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes but you are emotionally dependent on food. Engaging in emotional eating can also worsen or trigger symptoms of depression and lead to a vicious cycle of binge eating, self-sabotage, self-pity, regret, and shame.


Breaking a vicious cycle can be a difficult process but it’s possible. Trying mindful eating, practicing yoga and meditation, lowering your stress levels, and sticking to nutrient-rich foods can help you overcome emotional hunger pangs and develop a healthier relationship with food.  

What Is Emotional Eating?

There are a number of reasons why you could be engaging in emotional eating. It can be a way to distract yourself from strong emotions such as anger, fear, guilt, or frustration that you don’t feel capable of handling.


People turn to food to fill an emotional void, relieve boredom or stress, and when they are overwhelmed. The motivations for emotional eating are different, like avoiding dealing with emotional trauma, work-related, family, and relationship issues, and long-standing insecurities and self-doubts. 

How Do We Develop Unhealthy Eating Habits?

Emotional eating is not uncommon and many of us use food to cope with difficult feelings from time to time. It’s a coping strategy that’s been around since the dawn of human history. Yet, it can become an issue when it causes an unhealthy cycle of binge eating.


You use food to deal with strong emotions and then feel shame, regret, self-doubt, and guilt. It can also put you at risk for unhealthy behaviors and eating habits like overeating, skipping meals, indulging in junk food and sweets, and a diet poor in nutrients like protein, healthy fats, and fiber. 

Regular Consumption of Fried Food and Sweets 

Fried foods such as French fries, hushpuppies, and chicken strips are high in trans and saturated fats. Trans fats, in particular, are linked to a number of health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases.


Eating a lot of greasy foods that are high in saturated fats raises bad cholesterol which can put you at risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Likewise, eating too much sugar can lead to being overweight and serious conditions like fatty liver disease, diabetes, inflammation, and high blood pressure. 

Irregular Meals

There are a number of ways skipping meals can affect your health.


First, it causes the body to burn fewer calories and slows down metabolism, leading to weight gain.


Second, eating irregular meals can lead to cravings for sweets or carbs. You indulge in food and feel regret. Then you are not eating for stretches of time, your body goes into starvation mode and you are more likely to reach for fast carbs like candy or white bread which give you a quick energy boost.


Lastly, skipping meals can cause your blood sugar to drop, making you feel dizzy, tired, shaky, and sweating. You may find it difficult to focus and think straight because your brain experiences a shortage of glucose, shuts down oxygen, and stops functioning as it should. 

Eating Unhealthy Snacks and Fast Food

Fast food and unhealthy snacks like chips and biscuits are often high in sugar, salt, trans fats, empty calories, and processed preservatives. While consuming junk food occasionally shouldn’t be an issue, having it frequently can put you at risk of being overweight, and having cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.


Also, fast food is usually low in fiber, minerals, and vitamins and is associated with malnutrition and digestive problems like feeling puffy and bloated and difficulty passing stools. 

An Unbalanced Diet in Terms of Proteins, Fats, and Carbohydrates

An unbalanced diet is one where fiber, carbohydrates, fats, and protein are consumed in amounts that are too large or too small. A balanced diet comprises all food groups and supplies adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals required for good health.


Any diet that lacks one or more of the components or causes an overload of a component is considered unbalanced and results in malnutrition. It can cause a number of health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, tooth decay, and even psychiatric disorders. 

Emotional Eating

Emotional or comfort eating is typically triggered by negative emotions like sadness, loneliness, stress, and fear. When emotions get high and you feel overwhelmed, you may be tempted to ignore them and reach for a glass of wine, candy, Netflix, or your Nintendo switch.


Yet, whatever helps you cope with hurt, guilt, anger, loneliness, or anxiety is not only a temporary fix but also a counterproductive one. Emotional eating, much like streaming, video games, and alcohol, is a way to avoid facing your feelings. Likewise, interfering in the affairs of other people or packing your calendar full are sneaker ways to avoid your feelings. 

Why Does Stress Cause Emotional Eating and Overeating?

Stress affects eating habits in different ways. Some people mindlessly munch in response to stressful situations while others ignore hunger cues or experience a loss of appetite. Those who engage in emotional eating are attempting to comfort or distract themselves from whatever they are feeling. This could be a symptom of stress eating disorder where people turn to food to avoid dealing with challenging situations or facing their own stuff. 

How to Stop Emotional Eating and Develop a Healthier Relationship with Food?

Coping with stress and busy life isn’t easy, so here are a few practical steps you can take to ensure you cut unhealthy eating habits.

Eat More Natural Foods

If you get hungry between meals, you want to have a variety of nutrient-rich snacks at the ready. Foods like nuts, low-fat dips, veggies and fruits, and wholegrain crackers are all good choices. You can also have hummus, unsalted seeds, low-fat cheese and yogurt, protein smoothies, or hard-boiled eggs. 

Lower Your Stress Levels

When you are stressed out, your adrenal glands release cortisol to supply your body with glucose and prepare it for a fight-or-flight response. Rather than being stored, glucose is ready for immediate use. Levels remain high in your bloodstream and your cells and tissues don’t get an adequate supply of sugar. The result is often cravings for fatty and sugary foods which give your body a quick energy boost.


Lowering your stress levels is key to overcoming emotional eating. Some types of stress such as an accidental injury or a traumatic event cannot be managed. Others, like work overload, taking care of aging parents, or other day-to-day stressors need some proactive planning to be able to manage them well.


Other strategies to reduce stress include setting manageable and realistic goals, managing your time, saying “no” when you are mentally exhausted, and practicing self-care. Self-care can take different forms depending on whatever you like doing, whether getting a massage, taking a long bath, or going for a walk outside.

Eat Mindfully and with a Focus

Many of us are doing something else while eating, finishing a meal, and not remembering how much or what we ate. Eating with little awareness or on autopilot is the opposite of mindful eating, which is the practice of paying attention to your emotions and cognitive state while having a meal.


Mindfulness is also about removing distractions like work, mobile phones, and TV to focus solely on food. While having a meal, pay attention to the flavors, textures, and tastes to become aware of what you are eating.


Consider all components that went into your meal, the persons who planted them, and those stocking the shelves. Think of the water, soil, and sun that supported its creation, the recipes passed down through generations. All this will help you to concentrate on your meals, enjoy whatever you’re eating, and deepen your connection to your body and food. 

Find a Hobby That Will Help You Vent Your Energy

One way to avoid boredom eating is to find something that is fun and you truly enjoy doing. If you like gardening, dancing, drawing, or board games, try that.


If dining out or spending time with friends or family is your idea of having a good time, consider a night out or watching a movie together. There are ample opportunities to break through boredom, make your life more enjoyable, and gain control of emotional eating. 


Meditation and mindfulness can be powerful tools for building a healthy connection with food and your body. People who engage in emotional eating often feel regret, shame, and guilt after an episode of binge eating. These negative emotions are not only judgmental but if left unnoticed, they can produce even more negative emotions and judgment.


Meditation and mindfulness, however, facilitate a nonjudgmental observation of our emotions, including negative feelings like fear or frustration, instead of attempting to avoid or soothe them with food. 

Do Yoga

Practicing yoga involves breathing, focused movement, meditation, and relaxation. Yoga emphasizes mindfulness, accepting the reality of the present moment, and nonjudgmental awareness of your emotions, sensations, and thoughts. It gives you the skills and tools to stay in tune with your emotions, instead of turning to food to feel better.


If you use food as an escape parachute, practicing yoga can help change this habit of dissociating from reality to numb negative emotions. The essence of yoga is to become more connected with yourself, your body, and your feelings. 

Practicing yoga at home or trying a class can be a powerful tool to calm your mind and reconnect with your body. Joining a yoga retreat can make the process a lot easier. In this age of technology, media, and information overload, many of us find ourselves living a highly digital life and being glued to the screen day after day. The many competing priorities that demand our attention also make it difficult to create space for ourselves and our needs.


While you can bring your phone with you on a yoga retreat, you may find yourself hardly using it. Immersing yourself in nature and experiencing connection and tranquility makes it easier to unplug from technology and stay in the moment. And the new experiences, smells, and sights will bring you a new perspective and inspire positive change.


If you are based in the U.S. and struggling to fit self-care into your daily routine, THOR’s yoga retreats can help make a refreshing change. Guided by experienced coaches, the programs include yoga sessions, hands-on workshops, and well-being experiences to help you identify and curb emotional eating and adopt healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices. 

Wrapping Up

Emotional eating occurs when you use food for comfort and stress relief or for numbing strong negative emotions like anxiety, frustration, sadness, loneliness, and guilt. It has nothing to do with hunger and satiety and often becomes a habit that’s hard to break. You used to reach for candy or another sweet snack anytime you felt lonely, anxious, or upset. The next time you feel overwhelmed or stressed out, it becomes more difficult to resist the temptation to eat junk food.


In addition to unhealthy food intake, emotional eating is associated with overeating, having irregular meals, and weight gain. Emotional or stress eating often results in malnutrition because you are not eating a balanced diet. It is linked with fast food intake, candies, chocolate, and ice cream, energy-dense sweets like pastries, biscuits, and cakes, high-fat foods high in sugar, salty snacks, and sweetened beverages. These unhealthy foods and dietary patterns often cause overweight and obesity and associated health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.


Eating emotionally is not only an unhealthy habit but can become a vicious cycle. You indulge in food in response to negative emotions, which makes you feel a sense of shame and guilt. You feel the urge to grab a candy or two to reduce the emotional distress.


As with every unhealthy habit, emotional eating can be hard to overcome. If you are committed to stopping, however, there are ample solutions you can try. From mindful eating and incorporating more healthy foods into your diet to meditation, yoga, and finding healthy ways to cope with stress, there are ways to curb emotional eating and take back control of your body and mind. 

DISCLAIMER: Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new routines, programs, or nutrition plans to ensure you receive the best medical advice and strategy for your specific individual needs.