Stress and eating habits share a complex relationship. Stress depletes energy because the body uses up resources to handle the stressor. Consequently, the body seeks high-fat, high-sugar foods to replenish these depleted resources. With this energy boost, the body becomes more equipped to manage stress, and this results in a drop in cortisol levels. Yet, habitual reliance on these foods can evolve into comfort eating.


In this context, practicing yoga emerges as an alternative to disrupt this cycle and manage stress without resorting to comfort foods. Engaging in yoga reduces stress and cortisol levels, which lowers cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods. We also become more relaxed, which leads to calmer emotions and less emotional volatility, and this, in turn, reduces the tendency for comfort eating. Additionally, reduced stress results in improved sleep, better digestive health, increased energy for physical activity, and heightened mindfulness, all of which contribute to diminishing the urge for emotional eating.

How Stress Triggers Emotional Eating

When stressed, the body releases cortisol as part of its ‘fight or flight’ response. This hormone acts as a natural alarm system which prepares us to either confront or flee from a threat.


Then the body reduces stress through various responses. One way is by releasing hormones like endorphins and serotonin, which counterbalance the effects of cortisol. Another way is by adjusting brain pathways in areas that play a role in controlling stress. Additionally, there seems to be a dietary response mechanism where, under stress, we consume more high-fat, high-sugar foods which in turn lowers cortisol levels. This connection between diet and cortisol levels has been demonstrated through research. One recent study, for instance, looked into whether eating foods high in fats and sugars could help reduce stress. In this study, 54 participants aged 18 to 49 were split into a high-sugar group and a control group, and each faced a stressful situation. Researchers then checked their saliva for cortisol to gauge their stress response. They found that those who ate more sugar had a less intense cortisol response, meaning that their cortisol increased less and peaked at lower levels. These findings suggest that high-calorie foods, especially sugary ones, might help dampen the body’s stress response.


This inclination to eat high-sugar foods under stress helps explain why we seek out these foods when feeling pressured or anxious. Over time, this behavior may turn into a habit where we consistently reach for sugary or fatty foods whenever we are stressed. As a result, emotional eating can become a common way to handle stress.


Practicing Yoga to Lower Stress: Insights from Research


There are various activities that help lower cortisol levels and mitigate stress response. Engaging in aerobic exercise, spending time in nature, pursuing creative arts, and socializing with friends or family are all effective in reducing stress. Yet, among the many options, yoga stands out as particularly beneficial, as shown by multiple research studies. One study, for example, involved a 3-month yoga and meditation retreat with 38 participants. After the yoga retreat, the participants not only reported reduced feelings of anxiety but also showed an improved cortisol awakening response (CAR). As CAR signals a more balanced stress response upon waking, this finding suggests that yoga and meditation have a positive impact on the body’s stress response system.


Another study followed 55 first-year medical students who were experiencing high stress levels due to academic pressure. They were divided into a yoga and a control group. The morning cortisol levels of both groups were measured at the beginning of the study. Then the yoga group was instructed to practice asanas for 1 hour a day over 12 weeks while the control group did not receive any specific instructions.


After the study, researchers used statistical analysis to measure morning cortisol levels. While the control group showed a slight increase in cortisol levels (3.4%), the yoga group experienced a significant drop (4.8%). This reduction was statistically significant, which makes it unlikely to be due to chance.


Another study focused on a specific type of yoga, laughter yoga where people pretend to laugh and do yoga breathing. In this study, researchers divided 35 participants into three groups: one engaged in laughter yoga, another did relaxing breathing exercises, and the last group didn’t do any special activity.  Following the sessions, all three groups underwent a stress test aimed at intensifying their stress levels. Their saliva levels of cortisol and alpha amylase, indicators of stress were also measured repeatedly.


Interestingly, the results showed a distinct pattern in the laughter yoga group. Only this group had lower cortisol levels after the stress test, which indicates they experienced a lesser stress response.


This is a significant finding, as it suggests that laughter yoga might have the ability to mitigate stress, in contrast to relaxation breathing or no activity. This points towards the potential of laughter yoga as a simple yet effective tool for managing stress.


Harnessing Postures, Breathing, and Meditation for Stress Relief


Yoga effectively combats stress through its three foundational practices: physical postures, controlled breathing, and meditation. Postures alleviate tension through stretching and promote relaxation through calming techniques. Controlled breathing activates respiratory receptors that signal to the brain to initiate relaxation and reduce stress response. Meditation, on the other hand, strengthens the prefrontal cortex, which is central to regulating the stress reactions.


Physical Postures


The physical postures in yoga, known broadly as asanas, play a key role in the process. They help lower stress levels by combining stretching and relaxation. The stretching component targets tension and tightness in the muscles and joints which are often a direct manifestation of stress. Furthermore, relaxation communicates to the nervous system that there are no immediate threats or stressors present. This triggers a reduction in the production of cortisol which reduces overall stress levels.


Vrksasana or the Tree Pose is a good example of this balance. The stretching aspect comes into play as you balance on one leg and place the other foot on the inner thigh or calf. This stretches the muscles in the standing leg and hip. The relaxation phase occurs when you release the pose, stand on both feet, and breathe deeply. This moment of grounding and stability signals the nervous system to enter a relaxed state, which aids in stress reduction.


Setu Bandhasana or the Bridge Pose, follows a similar pattern. While lying on your back and lifting your hips, you stretch the front body. This helps release tension in areas like the chest and thighs. Then, as you lower your hips back to the floor, this movement transitions you into relaxation. This gentle return to a resting position helps shift the body into a calmer state and reduces stress levels.


Controlled Breathing


Complementing the asanas, pranayama, or deep, controlled breathing, further enhances this relaxation process. When we practice it, this altered breathing pattern is recognized by specialized respiratory receptors which are sensitive to the rate and depth of our breaths. Once these receptors detect the slow, deep breaths typical of a relaxed state, they send signals to the brain to start the relaxation response. This involves activating the parasympathetic nervous system which acts to decrease heart rate and blood pressure and relax the muscles, leading to a state of relaxation.

Several breathing techniques effectively engage this natural mechanism for stress reduction. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is one such method. It involves inhaling quietly through the nose for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, and exhaling forcefully through the mouth for eight seconds.

The effectiveness of this technique lies in the longer time spent on each phase compared to normal breathing. This extended duration helps stimulate the respiratory receptors more than usual.

Another method, alternate nostril breathing, involves alternating the flow of air through each nostril. You close one nostril while inhaling and then switch for the exhale.

With this method, the respiratory receptors are effectively activated due to their sensitivity to varied breathing patterns. These receptors are designed to detect changes in the rate and rhythm of breathing; so, when a pattern deviates from the norm, they become more alert and active.

A third technique worth mentioning is Bhramari Pranayama or Bee Breath. With this technique, you inhale through your nose and produce a humming sound like a bee while exhaling. Here, the effectiveness of activating the respiratory receptors comes from the vibrational humming sound. These receptors respond not only to the depth and rate of breathing but also to vibration. As the sensation of this vibration activates the receptors, this signals the brain to initiate relaxation response.




Meditation, another core aspect of yoga, targets stress management by enhancing the function of the prefrontal cortex. This, in turn, improves its control over the body’s stress response.


The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain responsible for high-level functions like rational thinking, decision-making, emotional regulation, and focus. Meditation, which mainly involves maintaining attention, enhances the brain’s focusing capabilities. Because all brain functions are interconnected, boosting focus improves other prefrontal cortex functions, including emotional regulation.


When the prefrontal cortex gets better at emotional regulation, it effectively moderates the amygdala’s responses, the brain’s primary center for emotional and stress reactions. When faced with situations that trigger an intense emotional response, a well-trained prefrontal cortex can send inhibitory signals to calm the amygdala down. This improved control leads to a more balanced and controlled emotional response to stress.


One practice that facilitates such brain training is mindfulness meditation. It achieves this by focusing on the present and observing immediate experiences without attachment to any of them. These experiences, such as your breath, bodily sensations, and thoughts, act as anchors to refocus attention on the present moment. This repeated refocusing improves the brain’s capacity for attention and concentration which in turn improves its ability to regulate emotions and respond to stress.


Focused attention meditation is another approach to enhancing brain function. This practice involves the focusing of attention on a single target, such as the breath, a sound, or a visual object. When attention drifts away, you consciously redirect focus back to the chosen object. This process strengthens the brain’s capacity for sustained attention, thereby improving its ability to manage stress responses. Moreover, singular concentration helps quiet the constant stream of thoughts and worries that often triggers stress and anxiety.


The Impact of Stress Reduction on Emotional Eating


When stress goes down and cortisol levels drop, our cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods – the body’s mechanism to reduce cortisol – also diminish. With reduced cravings, we are less likely to turn to these foods for comfort. But there is more. With stress under control and a prevailing sense of calm, we experience milder emotions. This stability reduces the likelihood of mood swings and emotional volatility which often lead to comfort eating.


Furthermore, as stress levels drop, the quality of our sleep improves, and we enjoy deeper, more restorative rest. This improvement balances the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which regulate our appetite. Keeping appetite in check, in turn, reduces the likelihood of overeating in response to emotional triggers.


Stress reduction also leads to better digestive health. Under stress, we may experience gastrointestinal discomfort, which can be mistakenly interpreted as hunger. As stress diminishes and this discomfort subsides, we are left with only genuine hunger signals. This clarity ensures that we eat when we are truly hungry and not in response to misinterpreted physical cues.


Additionally, decreased stress results in increased energy levels. When stress is managed effectively, the body conserves energy that would otherwise be spent on maintaining a heightened state of alertness. With increased energy as a result of this conservation, we are more inclined to engage in physical activity. Regular exercise or participating in active hobbies can then serve as a distraction from the habits of emotional eating.


Also, as stress is reduced and the mind becomes less preoccupied with stressors, room is created for increased presence and awareness in each moment. This heightened mindfulness helps us to become more attuned to our body’s signals, including those related to hunger and fullness. We are better able to distinguish between physical hunger and emotional cravings and less likely to eat in response to emotions.


Lastly when stress diminishes, it frees up mental and emotional resources previously engaged in managing stressors. With these resources now at our disposal, we are more inclined to explore activities such as physical exercise, creative endeavors, or social engagements. These activities enrich our lives and provide the fulfillment and satisfaction previously sought through emotional eating.

Wrapping Up


Exploring the link between stress and our eating patterns reveals a clear path forward through the practice of yoga. By engaging in yoga’s three elements – physical movements, breathing, and focused meditation – we activate a natural counterbalance to stress. As yoga reduces cortisol, which often causes cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods, the urge for such foods declines. Simultaneously, it leads to fewer emotional fluctuations which often compel us to seek solace in eating.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that negative thoughts influence emotions, which then shape behaviors. This approach proves particularly effective for emotional eating, where irrational thoughts trigger strong emotions, which, in turn, leads to eating to suppress these emotions. To challenge these thought patterns, CBT uses techniques like cognitive restructuring, situation exposure, and behavioral experiments. These techniques help identify, challenge, and change unhelpful thoughts, and thus lead to healthier emotional responses and alternative behaviors to emotional eating.


What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy


Cognitive behavioral therapy addresses thought patterns that overstate threats, challenges, or negative outcomes. These distorted views lead to heightened emotional responses and result in maladaptive behaviors, as individuals react excessively to exaggerated scenarios. Take, for example, a person who constantly thinks, “I must be perfect in everything I do.” This thought can lead to feelings of intense pressure, anxiety, and a persistent fear of failure. In their pursuit of perfection, people often overwork themselves, which can lead to burnout.


CBT works to identify and challenge such thoughts, which leads to emotions that are proportionate and reflective of reality. As a result, people react with behaviors that are rational and more constructive. In the case of the perfectionist, for example, CBT helps them understand that excelling in every task is unrealistic. They learn to accept and appreciate ‘good enough’ efforts, which reduces anxiety and fear of failure. This, in turn, enables a healthier approach to tasks, such as setting realistic goals and embracing the learning process, rather than fixating on flawless outcomes.


As CBT addresses dysfunctional thoughts and the emotions they trigger, it is applicable to a variety of health conditions. In anxiety disorders, for example, a tendency to overestimate danger leads to persistent worry and fear. Phobias involve an exaggerated perception of threat from specific objects or situations, which leads to intense fear or panic. In depression, persistent negative views of oneself and the world result in feelings of deep sadness and hopelessness. And in eating disorders, including emotional eating, distorted beliefs about body image and food may trigger feelings of guilt, shame, or inadequacy. CBT focuses on challenging such dysfunctional thoughts, mitigating the negative emotions they produce, and developing healthier coping mechanisms.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Emotional Eating


Emotional eating, where persons eat in response to feelings rather than hunger, is one area where cognitive behavioral therapy proves particularly effective. This type of eating often involves dysfunctional thoughts focused on body image and dietary perfectionism. For example, thoughts like “I must be thin to be accepted,” or “Eating any unhealthy food means I am weak” often lead to negative emotions, like intense body dissatisfaction, guilt after eating, or a sense of failure regarding dietary choices.


These strong emotions often drive people toward food as a form of self-soothing and escape from their distressing feelings. Eating becomes a coping mechanism, albeit an unhealthy and short lived because the underlying issues remain unsolved. Moreover, it is often followed by further self-criticism and guilt, particularly when people view their eating as a failure of self-control. This can create a vicious cycle: the more a person engages in self-criticism, the more they turn to food for comfort, leading to more negative feelings and reinforcing the pattern of emotional eating.


CBT helps those struggling with emotional eating by addressing such underlying thought patterns. Through therapy image-focused thoughts like “I must be thin to be accepted” are reframed to more accepting ones like “I am valuable as I am.” By shifting to a more positive and self-affirming internal narrative, people begin to experience their emotions in a context that is more forgiving and realistic, which makes these emotions less overpowering and more manageable.


As this emotional burden lightens, the urge to use food for emotional relief diminishes. People shift their focus from seeking comfort in eating to identifying the root causes of their distress. In the context of body image concerns, this often involves addressing root causes like unrealistic beauty standards. This understanding allows people to develop alternative coping strategies like embracing body positivity, setting health-focused rather than appearance-focused goals, or practicing affirmations that emphasize self-worth beyond physical appearance.


CBT Strategies for Emotional Eating


Cognitive Restructuring


The main focus of this technique is cognitive distortions. These thought constructs skew perception toward expecting negative outcomes or focusing on the negative aspects of situations. This, in turn, triggers exaggerated emotions and drives maladaptive behaviors, as people respond to their distorted emotional state rather than the actual situation.


Cognitive distortions can manifest in various forms, such as expecting the worst possible outcome (catastrophizing), assuming what others are thinking without sufficient evidence (mindreading), attributing personal responsibility for events outside one’s control (personalization), or labeling oneself in an overly negative and unproductive manner.


Cognitive restructuring, a fundamental technique in CBT, comes into play in addressing these distortions. It teaches people to recognize their irrational thoughts and their impact on their inner state and responses. Once these distortions are identified, cognitive restructuring guides people in developing strategies to challenge and change these thought patterns.




Labeling is a cognitive distortion where persons assign a fixed, global label to themselves based on a negative quality or mistake while ignoring their positive qualities and achievements. This skewed view can fuel feelings of shame for their perceived shortcomings or guilt for the mistake made, reflecting a sense of failure to meet their own standards.


These feelings can lead to various maladaptive behaviors. Shame can lead to social withdrawal while guilt might drive people to overcompensate or engage in self-punishing behaviors.


In the context of emotional eating, someone might label themselves as a “failure” for eating something unhealthy. This label implies that they have not just made a poor food choice but have fundamentally failed to meet their own standards for healthy eating. This sense of failure leads to guilt, as the person feels they have let themselves down. Guilt then can lead to self-punishing behaviors such as an overly restrictive diet to compensate for this perceived lapse.


Knowing how labeling works is the first step to addressing it. The next step is to question it and consider evidence that contradicts the label, such as instances healthier choices were made or other successes were achieved. This helps in viewing the situation more objectively and understanding that one action does not define an entire character or worth.


Next, the person learns to replace negative labels with more accurate and balanced self-assessments. For instance, instead of saying, “I am a failure for eating this,” the idea is to shift the thought to: “I didn’t make the best choice this time but next time I can choose better.” This change in thinking helps lessen feelings of guilt that come with negative self-labels.




Mindreading is another distortion where individuals predict that others are thinking negatively about them. This anticipation of negative judgment or criticism causes worry and stress about how they are perceived in social situations.


As a result of this anxiety, individuals may adopt maladaptive behaviors to avoid situations where they fear negative judgment. This can include shying away from social gatherings, not participating in group activities, or even withdrawing from personal relationships. The fear about being negatively judged becomes a barrier to engaging in normal, everyday social interactions.


In the case of emotional eating, consider a person who assumes their colleagues view their work negatively, leading to anxiety about facing further judgement. This anxiety might cause them to avoid team lunches or office gatherings to escape the perceived judgment. The resulting stress and feelings of isolation from avoiding these social interactions can drive them to find comfort in eating, often alone or in unhealthy ways.


Mindreading, like this, often operates subtly due to its basis in our automatic thoughts and assumptions about what others think. This makes it challenging to recognize when we are engaging in it. However, once identified, there are practical ways to confront and challenge these negative assumptions.


A helpful approach is asking: “Is there solid proof that others are thinking negatively?” This encourages looking at the facts instead of making assumptions.


Another effective strategy is perspective-taking. Asking “Would I judge someone else as harshly in this situation? can help realize that others are likely not as critical as assumed.


It also helps to prepare for different kinds of reactions, not just the negative ones. Imagining how others might react in different ways, including positive or just neutral, can ease the fear and anxiety of expecting the worst.




Catastrophizing is a distortion that involves imagining the worst possible outcome in a situation. Such fixation on the most negative aspects can lead to feelings of hopelessness and defeat, as it causes people to disregard more likely and less drastic outcomes.


These intense emotions can result in various maladaptive behaviors. Feelings of hopelessness and defeat can lead to a belief that effort is futile, prompting individuals to avoid challenging situations, give up on resolving issues, and even withdraw from various aspects of their life.


In emotional eating, catastrophizing can occur when a minor dietary setback is seen as a complete failure of the entire eating plan. For example, if a person eats a piece of cake, they might think: “I have ruined my diet completely, I will never be healthy.” This extreme thought can lead to feelings of hopelessness about their ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In response, they might engage in further unhealthy eating, driven by a belief that their goals are now unattainable, which further perpetuates the cycle of emotional eating.


Like mindreading, realizing that we are catastrophizing can be difficult because it often masquerades as a realistic concern. But once we understand that it works in the way described earlier, we can find ways to address it.


For example, it helps to think about the probability of the worst-case scenarios actually occurring in various situations. Take straying from a diet plan: this situation doesn’t necessarily mean a total disaster. Understanding this helps maintain a more realistic view of temporary setbacks.


Also, considering a range of outcomes, not just the worst, is useful. For instance, in a dietary context, asking “What are the likely consequences of eating this snack?” shifts focus from extreme, unlikely outcomes to more probable and less severe ones.




Personalization is when individuals attribute negative outcomes to themselves in situations beyond their control. This leads to feelings of undue responsibility and guilt even though the negative outcomes are not their fault. Excessive guilt might lead to unnecessary apologizing while undue responsibility can result in taking on more tasks than one can handle.


In emotional eating, this might happen when someone attributes negative events or conflicts to their own actions. For example, if a family dinner becomes tense due to unrelated issues, they might feel responsible and guilty for the situation. This misplaced guilt can lead them to seek comfort in eating, as a way to alleviate the emotional burden they’ve wrongly assumed.


Addressing such personalization distortions begins with recognizing when self-blame is misplaced. Asking questions like: “Do I have control over this event?” or “Am I actually responsible for what happened?” helps separate true influence from circumstances beyond control.


Developing a more accurate view of responsibility is also key. Rather than immediately taking the blame, it helps to consider all contributing factors in a situation. In a tense family dinner scenario, for example, the tension might be due to someone else’s bad day, miscommunication, or even unrelated events like recent family challenges.


Lastly, seeking external perspectives can be a key part of dealing with personalization. A conversation with someone trusted might reveal overlooked aspects like a family member’s stress or a recent issue during home gatherings that contributed to the problem.


Talking to someone about personalization can lead to practical and actionable strategies for not shouldering undue blame. One such approach is journaling, which helps in looking back at situations and roles and makes it easier to figure out where personal responsibility starts and stops.


Situation Exposure


Situation exposure involves repeatedly facing social situations that cause emotional distress. Through this continuous exposure, people grow increasingly familiar and at ease with these scenarios, which reduces the distress they once caused.


The process starts with creating a hierarchy of situations that trigger distress, ranked according to the level of discomfort they cause. The least distressing situations are the first to confront as they offer a manageable starting point for gradually increasing coping capacity.


For example, in the context of emotional eating, this might include dining out, attending social events where food is present, and managing stress in the workplace. Each of these situations can be further subdivided into smaller scenarios, ordered by increasing levels of distress. With dining out, for instance, a person could start by having a coffee alone in a café, move on to enjoying a meal with a close friend, and then join a small group for a meal. For social events with food, the process might begin by going to a brief, low-key event. As the person becomes more comfortable, they can gradually attend longer or larger food-centric events. And for managing work-related stress, a person might start with short, stress-relief activities during breaks, like deep breathing or a quick walk. Gradually, they could focus on broader strategies like setting boundaries around work tasks and practicing assertive communication to manage workload effectively.


As part of a broader strategy, they can attend an emotional eating retreat to enhance these efforts. These retreats provide a more immersive experience which allows for deeper engagement in stress management practices. They also offer a structured setting that strengthens the coping skills for dealing with work-related stress.


In each scenario, gradual and repeated exposure leads to habituation. This means persons become accustomed to previously dauting situations they avoided or escaped from through emotional eating. The process is similar to noticing the sound of a fan when it first turns on but gradually tuning it out until it no longer demands attention.


Behavioral Experiments


Behavioral experiments help challenge and change negative beliefs by testing them in real-life situations. Such experiments include behavioral activation, reality testing, and role-playing, among others.


Behavioral activation, for example, involves engaging in deliberately planned activities that are positive or meaningful. The idea is to contrast actual experiences with prior negative expectations and show that these expectations may not hold true. For example, a person who turns to food because no activity brings them joy might schedule a daily walk in the local park or start a small gardening project. Through these activities, they may discover that their belief is unfounded as they experience enjoyment or satisfaction.


Reality testing is another technique that involves testing the validity of negative beliefs against real-world evidence. For instance, a person who believes they are overlooked at work and turns to food for comfort can keep a detailed log over a month. In this log, they record instances of acknowledgment from colleagues or supervisors, contributions in meetings that were well-received, and any positive feedback they get.


Each entry in the log would include the date, the specifics of each interaction, and the responses from others. The person would also compare their expectations before these interactions with the actual outcomes. After a month, reviewing this log can provide evidence to challenge their belief of being constantly overlooked. They might find that they were acknowledged more often than they initially thought or that their contributions had a positive impact. This, in turn, can help them reassess their view of their workplace role which lessen the urge to eat.


Lastly, role playing is a technique for developing social skills and confronting fears related to interpersonal interactions. With role playing, a person with anxiety about family gatherings that leads to emotional eating could engage in role-play with a therapist or a trusted peer. They would practice responding to common stressors like critical comments from relatives or remarks about their eating habits or choice of food. Both participants would take turns to experience different roles. As the ‘family member,’ they understand triggers like judgmental attitudes and uncomfortable conversations and how such scenarios impact their stress levels. When playing themselves, they focus on skills like assertively communicating and handling stressful situations without turning to emotional eating.


After each role-play, they reflect on the exercise, discuss their feelings and how effectively they communicated, and identify areas needing improvement. Feedback from the partner offers additional insights. This thorough approach provides them with practical skills and confidence for real-life social situations, reducing anxiety and improving interaction outcomes.


In each of these techniques, the goal is to confront and reshape the negative thought patterns that lead to emotional eating. Behavioral activation encourages the discovery of joy in activities beyond eating while reality testing challenges distorted beliefs that may result in turning to food for comfort. Role playing, on the other hand, helps manage situations that trigger negative emotions, which can lead to emotional eating. Together, these techniques offer alternative viewpoints that challenge cognitive distortions, provide different ways to handle emotions, and diminish the need to turn to food as the primary strategy.


Wrapping Up


The root cause of emotional eating lies in distorted thinking, like excessive self-criticism or overreacting to small dietary slip-ups. This harsh and unforgiving inner dialogue triggers strong negative emotions which, in turn, lead to dysfunctional behaviors that provide distraction from distressed feelings. By addressing distorted thoughts, CBT leads to healthier emotional responses and behaviors that are constructive and beneficial in the long term.


Journaling for emotional eating is an effective self-help strategy that combines the art of writing with psychological introspection. This blend makes it a structured yet flexible way to dissect and understand the link between thoughts, feelings, and food choices. By engaging with journaling, understanding its impact, and applying tailored strategies we can help unmask the emotional factors behind impulsive food choices. This can help turn automatic, emotion-driven eating into mindful behaviors and cultivate a habit of thoughtful reflection around food choices.

What Journaling for Emotional Eating Is

Journaling for emotional eating is a self-reflective practice that enables you to identify and manage triggers, be it dysfunctional thoughts or specific situations, that urge you to eat. Engaging in this writing process can help cultivate healthier emotional responses and eating patterns and ultimately leads to an improved relationship with food.

Impact of Journaling on Eating Behaviors: A Research Overview

Journaling has emerged as an effective tool for managing eating behaviors, with various studies showing its benefits for fostering more accurate self-perception, enhancing emotional understanding, and encouraging a more nurturing self-attitude.


The ability of therapeutic writing to improve self-perception is the focus of significant research in this field. This research illustrates how writing can help correct distorted self-views, which often trigger negative emotions leading to emotional eating.


One study, for example, assessed the impact of expressive writing on body image perceptions among women with varying levels of eating disorder symptoms. It involved 92 female undergraduate students who were randomly assigned to write about traumatic events, body image, or room description. Assessments were made before, immediately after, and one month following the intervention. These assessments involved selecting figures that best represented their current and ideal body and what they believed men preferred.


The key outcome of the study was that women with more severe eating disorder symptoms began to see their bodies more realistically after the writing sessions. Despite unchanged ideals or perceptions of others’ preferences, this shift toward a more accurate self-view is significant. By reducing distorted body views, therapeutic writing can help mitigate emotional eating triggered by negative feelings about one’s body.


In addition to its influence on self-perception, research has also explored how therapeutic writing can deepen emotional understanding, which in turn helps address unhealthy eating behaviors.


One study, for example, examined how therapeutic writing, alongside cognitive-behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, could help enhance emotional understanding and improve disordered eating. The study involved participants with binge eating disorder who attended a 10-week program with weekly sessions. Participants engaged in therapeutic writing about specific feelings, followed by group discussions. These exercises aimed to help them understand their overeating episodes in the context of their emotions.


The study’s results showed that therapeutic writing helped participants become more in tune with their thoughts and feelings. This enhanced self-awareness allowed them to see more clearly how their feelings influenced their relationship with food and their eating patterns.


The effectiveness of the program is also reflected in the positive feedback it received from participants. Researchers further conclude that, beyond helping those with BED, this approach is adaptable and suitable for various settings.


Lastly, research has explored which types of writing are most beneficial. Particularly, writing with a focus on self-care has shown promise in addressing unhealthy eating habits, as it encourages a more nurturing and understanding attitude towards oneself.


Among these studies, one examined how different writing activities could affect women’s attitudes towards weight management, body image, eating habits, and symptoms related to eating disorders. The researchers had 126 women from various backgrounds engage in one of three writing exercises: focusing on self-compassion about their body, focusing on self-esteem related to their body, or a control activity with general writing. The women in the self-compassion and self-esteem groups wrote about recent experiences that made them feel self-conscious about their body, exercise, and eating habits. In contrast, those in the control group wrote about any situation without this specific focus.


The key finding was that women who engaged in self-compassion writing experienced a reduction in unhealthy eating behaviors. This suggests that encouraging self-empathy through writing might be an effective way to influence eating habits and develop a more balanced relationship with food.

Benefits of Journaling for Emotional Eating

In addition to the empirical evidence provided by these studies, journaling for emotional eating offers multifaceted benefits. It provides a private space for exploring and expressing thoughts, brings structure and clarity to thinking, and helps shift towards a more objective and emotionally balanced expression of thoughts. These aspects of journaling redirect our focus to more mindful eating rooted in self-understanding and emotional clarity.


Safe Space for Reflection

Journaling creates a secure environment where you can share thoughts that are hard to voice to others, perhaps because you fear judgment or misunderstanding. When journaling, you can express these thoughts without concern for how they might be received by someone else.


Enhancing Thought Clarity

Additionally, journaling helps in clarifying your thoughts, something that is not always achievable when they are kept internally. When thoughts are confined to our minds, they can feel chaotic and overwhelming, and our internal dialogue can be disjointed.


Gaining Objectivity

The act of writing slows down the thought process. You can’t write as quickly as you can think, which means you have to consider each word as you put it on paper. This slower pace allows for deeper processing and reflection.


This reflective nature of journaling naturally leads to a shift toward a more objective and less emotionally charged expression of thoughts. The process of writing, with its slowness and deliberation, can lead to rephrasing thoughts in a way that strips away some of the emotional intensity.


Take, for instance, the internal narrative: “I am such a failure for eating dessert when I am trying to be healthy.” This thought, when kept internally, is laden with self-judgment and emotional weight. However, when you are journaling, you have the opportunity to step back and reflect which often leads to a more balanced and factual expression of the situation.


Instead of the harsh self-criticism of the original thought, journaling can transform it into a more neutral statement like, “I ate dessert even though I am trying to be healthy.” This rephrased thought lacks the severe self-judgment of the original and presents the situation more realistically. It opens up space for a more compassionate and rational assessment of your actions and can lead to a healthier approach to managing emotional eating.


Journaling Strategies to Curb Emotional Eating

Alongside its many benefits, journaling offers targeted strategies to tackle emotional eating, each with its own flavor. Gratitude journaling, for example, helps shift focus towards positive emotions and away from negative ones that drive us towards food. Mood tracking, on the other hand, enables us to confront emotions head-on instead of suppressing them through food. Together, these practices move us away from reactive eating to mindful, intentional choices.


Gratitude Journaling

With gratitude journaling you start with the little things: the morning coffee that tasted just right, a laugh shared with a friend, or the unexpected complement from a colleague. These moments often fly under the radar but in a gratitude journal, they are front and center.


Each entry in this journal captures these genuine everyday moments. Here, the focus is on the small, authentic experiences that brighten our days.


As these moments find their place in your gratitude journal, their collective impact begins to unfold. Consistently spotlighting such meaningful parts of our day guides us toward appreciating life’s present pleasures. Instead of turning to food as a response to negative emotions, we learn to seek contentment in the immediate joys around us.


Journaling for Self-Affirmation and Positivity

In the quiet moments when it is just us and our thoughts, affirmations and positive self-talk can help reinforce our inner strength, especially when stress or intense emotions might tempt us to eat.


Affirmations are like those little notes we might tuck away in a drawer: simple phrases that reinforce our belief in our capabilities. “I am resilient in the face of challenges’ and ‘I make healthy choices even when it’s tough” serve as anchors in moments of doubt or temptation.


Positive self-talk, meanwhile, is our own inner voice that counters negative thoughts which can lead to emotional eating. It replaces self-criticism with encouragement and belief in our own strength. When faced with the temptation to eat, it reminds us: “You can handle this,” “You are in control.”


With consistent use of such affirmations and positive self-talk, we can build a stronger, more resilient mindset which enables us to handle emotional challenges without resorting to food.


Emotion-Themed Journaling

Emotion-themed writing is about raw, unfiltered expression where emotions are poured onto the page just as they are.


In this practice, your sole focus is on emotions. Whether it is joy, frustration, anxiety, or excitement, you are laying these emotions out in words. It is like giving yourself a platform to listen and understand every emotion, no matter how subtle or overwhelming they can be.


This process of writing is particularly beneficial when dealing with emotions you might overlook or haven’t fully acknowledged. These are the emotions that, when left unaddressed, you tend to mute by turning to food. By giving them room to breathe and be heard through writing, you begin to process them in a healthier way. Over time, you learn to deal with feelings directly and constructively instead of suppressing them through food.


Moreover, as you reflect on your journal, you might find that certain emotions come up consistently. These emotions are clear indicators of underlying unmet needs. For example, if feelings of loneliness or inadequacy emerge frequently, this can point to unmet needs for connection and recognition. When these needs are not satisfied, it is common to turn to other sources for fulfillment. Food often becomes a substitute in such scenarios due to its easy accessibility and the immediate pleasure it can provide.


This pattern of substituting food for unmet needs brings to light an important aspect of journaling. It is not only about recognizing the emotions that surface but also about understanding and addressing the underlying needs they represent.


Recognizing a pattern of loneliness, for example, can lead to proactive steps to fulfill the need for social interaction and connection. This could involve engaging in activities like joining social clubs or interest groups, participating in community events, or even volunteering. By engaging in these activities, the need for social connection, which might have been previously masked by emotional eating, is directly and healthily fulfilled.


 Journaling for Question-Guided Reflection


Asking specific questions in your entries can bring greater clarity and insight into your relationship with food. For example, questions like “At what times did I eat today?” help you see patterns in your eating behavior. Are you a grazer, snacking throughout the day like there is a never-ending buffet? Or do you stick to traditional meal times, more like a sit-down holiday dinner?


You should also pay attention to your body’s signals. Ask yourself questions like: “How hungry was I before I reached for that snack or meal?” This goes beyond deciding whether you were a little peckish or famished. It is about recognizing the difference between eating out of true hunger and eating just because the clock says it is lunchtime. Similarly, it involves understanding whether you want a second helping because you are genuinely still hungry or just because the food tastes good. This kind of awareness helps you to align your eating habits more closely with your body’s actual needs.


Next up in your journaling journey is reflecting on your emotions. Ask yourself: “What were my emotions before, during, and after eating?” This helps figure out if you were eating because you were truly hungry or emotions were driving your choices. Were you reaching for food because you felt low and needed a pick-me-up or was it actual hunger? You could also consider: “Was I eating because I was bored, just looking for something to do or was I actually hungry?” This understanding is key to differentiating emotional eating from eating out of physical need.


Also, look into how your day’s events affect your eating. Consider asking: “Did specific events or interactions influence my choice of food or my appetite?” Maybe a busy, stressful day left you little time to even think of a proper meal. In those moments, you might notice you are more likely to grab whatever is quickest, not necessarily the healthiest. Or consider how things change on days when you haven’t had much social interaction. On those days that feel solitary, maybe a bit too quiet, you could find yourself snacking not out of hunger but for a sense of comfort. Recognizing these patterns helps you see the link between your food choices and the situations that are driving them.


Another helpful question could be: “What am I thinking about when I am eating?” For example, if thoughts like ‘I shouldn’t be eating this’ or ‘I’ll have to work out extra tomorrow’ come up, they are signs of guilt. This guilt, especially after eating something you label as ‘bad,’ can lead to eating more from frustration or feeling defeated. Or perhaps you are completely elsewhere during meals, your thoughts wandering to the next task on your list.


Acknowledging such patterns of distraction or negative judgment can be the first step in changing how you experience your meals. When you start to create a mealtime environment free from these mental intrusions, you open the door to a more mindful way of eating.


Also when you journal next, think about whether you switch up your eating when you’ve got company compared to when you are solo. You may notice that meals become more of an event with friends around, leading you to try out new cuisines or dishes you’d normally skip. And when it is just you, your meals are more about simplicity and convenience. Observing these differences can help you see how the company you keep shapes your approach to food and how social contexts influence your eating.


Along with these observations, think about the foods you crave during emotional times. For example, on days that test your patience, you might find yourself reaching for chocolate or ice cream. Or when the world seems a bit too much, salty snacks might suddenly seem irresistible. Recognizing these cravings allows you to identify which emotions are connected to particular foods. By doing so, you can work towards disconnecting specific feelings and food choices.


Lastly, consider the link between your body image and your meal choices. Do days filled with self-confidence lead to meals that look a bit like a victory lap? You might be tossing together a zesty chicken salad or grilling that salmon you’ve been meaning to try.


Conversely, on days clouded by self-doubt or body negativity, your food choices might reflect a similar shadow. Perhaps you lean towards quicker, less nourishing options like a microwave meal or you treat yourself to an oversized gourmet burger from that trendy new spot. Such choices often reveal a deeper story, one where indulgence masks negative self-image and a feeling of inadequacy.


Journaling for Goal Setting

Journaling for goal setting is about crafting goals that directly address your eating habits. For instance, you can write something like: “Opt for a healthy snack and enjoy it without distractions” or “Choose a quick walk when I am tempted to stress-eat.”


But here is the twist: it can actually be fun. Instead of mundane entries, you can spice up your journal with lively goals like: “Invite a salad to dinner,” or “Yoga Tuesdays — take that, tacos!” These goals add a dash of excitement to your routine, making it more likely to stick to your goals.


And even with goals that sound lively and fun, on some days you may be unable to stick to them. Then your journal might capture some less-than-perfect moments like: “Salad invited but pizza crashed the party” or “Yoga day turned into ‘just one more episode’ night.” And that is perfectly fine – your entries represent the balance between striving and living. This journaling journey is a mix of small wins and the occasional shrug-off, all part of the process.


Journaling for Addressing Specific Issues

You can also use your journal to brainstorm solutions for specific issues related to emotional eating. In your journal, dedicate space to list various strategies that address each identified issue.


For instance, if you notice that stress leads to snacking, a strategy could be, “Shift from snack to a few minutes of deep breathing or a short stroll”. This way, you are swapping the stress-snack routine with a chill-out moment.


If loneliness is a trigger, set strategies like: Plan a casual coffee catch-up with a friend nearby” or “Start a new chapter in my journal”. These help transform impulse into positive action and solo snack times into connection or reflection times.


For times that boredom can lead you to snacking, fill your journal with plans like: “Start a creative home project I’ve been excited about” or “Piece together that puzzle I’ve been curious about”. These practical activities offer a fun and satisfying way to occupy your time and keep you away from mindless eating.


And in case of habitual eating such as snacking while watching TV, think of new routines that disrupt this pattern. You can engage in a different activity during TV time, such as knitting or doodling, which keeps your hands busy. Or consider practicing light exercises like yoga stretches or a stationary bike during your favorite show. Making such changes transforms these moments into mini-sessions of activity and adds a healthy twist to your TV time.


Wrapping Up

Journaling offers a multitude of benefits, from creating a space for uncensored thoughts to bringing clarity and a factual tone to our internal narratives. Each strategy for curbing emotional eating brings a specific benefit. Gratitude journaling helps shift attention away from negative emotions, which, in turn, enhances thought clarity.  Reflective questioning allows for an objective examination of our eating habits, which helps develop a more factual internal narrative. Together, these journaling strategies address all the benefits and result in greater self-awareness and a more balanced relationship with food.





Emotional eating is a familiar struggle where feelings lead us to the kitchen, not hunger. In these moments, comfort is sought in food – a chocolate bar, perhaps, to fill a deeper emotional need. This chocolate bar is a temporary fix, a lesson we’ve all learned, but how can we break free from such quick fixes? The solution may require a shift in mindset, as commonly advised, or perhaps there is a simpler solution we’ve overlooked.


Interestingly, the key to tackling this form of eating might not just be in our minds but in our gut as well. Probiotics, those beneficial bacteria in our digestive system, are now being recognized for their potential role in influencing our mood, appetite, and stress response. This new insight hints that the solution to emotional eating could be in our everyday meals and not just in our mindset or willpower to resist the urge for comfort food.


Understanding Emotional Eating

When we are faced with tough situations, it is natural to experience intense emotions. In an effort to lessen them, we might turn to various coping strategies and not all of them are beneficial or healthy. Some people lose hours to social media while others may go on unplanned shopping sprees. And then there are those who find comfort in food, a behavior known as emotional eating.


To make it a point, imagine you have just moved to a new city. The evenings are long and the quiet of your apartment weighs heavily. On one such evening, after a day that has been more stressful than most, you find yourself reaching for comfort in the kitchen. You are not truly hungry but you unwrap a chocolate bar anyway. It is an attempt to fill the silence around you, to replace the absence of conversation and laughter with something tangible.


This scenario captures the essence of emotional eating. It occurs in new situations or in recurring ones that we’ve never quite learned to handle. When loneliness, sadness, anger, or frustration surface, and we are unsure how to process these feelings constructively, food becomes a go-to for temporary relief.


What Probiotics Are and How They Can Reduce Emotional Eating

Just like our bodies can slip into less-than-healthy habits when under stress, they also have the ability to regain balance. Probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria found in certain foods, are a key factor in this recovery process. From regulating appetite and stabilizing mood to managing stress, probiotics can play a part in breaking the cycle of emotional eating.


Hunger Control

Probiotics help regulate our sense of hunger and satiety, which helps manage appetite and in turn mitigates emotional eating. This effect was observed in a study where 105 obese men and women participated in a weight-loss program and were given either a probiotic supplement or a placebo.


Compared to the placebo group, women who took the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus lost more weight and improved their hunger control and eating behaviors. They felt more satisfied after meals and had less desire to eat, which helped reduce their impulsive eating. They also experienced fewer food cravings and felt more positive about their bodies. Men also saw benefits from the probiotics, including increased feelings of fullness and better mental control over eating. These findings suggest that probiotics may positively influence our body’s signals of hunger and fullness, which can play a supportive role in managing emotional eating.


Mood Stabilization

Beyond hunger control, probiotics help stabilize mood by increasing serotonin, the body’s natural “feel good” chemical. This boost in mood may reduce the need to turn to food for emotional comfort.


This mood-enhancing effect is achieved through the action of several bacterial strains, including Enterococcus spp., Escherichia spp., and Streptococcus spp. These bacteria can produce serotonin from tryptophan, an amino acid found in the gut. They use an enzyme to convert tryptophan into a serotonin precursor, which then becomes serotonin. This process increases the amount of this mood-influencing chemical in the gut.


However, the exact way in which bacteria-synthesized serotonin influences the brain is still not fully understood. Emerging research suggests that serotonin has several ways of impacting neural functions. One important way is through the vagus nerve, which links the gut and brain. While serotonin from the gut doesn’t directly reach the brain, it can modify the signals sent via the vagus nerve. These modified signals, when they reach the brain, can affect areas responsible for controlling mood. This could explain how changes in gut serotonin levels might impact our mental well-being.


Indeed, growing research is showing that probiotics, which influence gut serotonin, can enhance emotional well-being. One such study explored the effects of a multi-strain probiotic supplement on mood and anxiety as well as neurotransmitters like serotonin, C-reactive protein, dopamine, and cortisol.


In the study, 70 healthy men and women took a multi-strain probiotic or a placebo for six weeks. They completed mood and anxiety level questionnaires periodically, and their blood concentrations of neurotransmitters were monitored.


The results were promising for the probiotics group. After four and six weeks of supplementing, they reported significant improvements in mood and anxiety, and these benefits persisted after they stopped taking the probiotics. Interestingly, while no change in the levels of other neurotransmitters was observed, the serotonin concentrations in the blood increased.


The researchers conclude that probiotics aid serotonin production, which, in turn, can enhance cognitive function and mood. This improvement in mood and mental state is important in managing anxiety. Additionally, a more balanced mood can lessen the urge for emotional eating, as it helps people handle difficult situations better without turning to food for comfort.


Stress Reduction

Alongside enhancing mood, probiotics are known to temper stress levels, which helps diminish stress-related cravings and lessen emotional eating. The way probiotics achieve this is by regulating cortisol production, a key stress hormone.


To explore these stress-lowering effects, researchers carried out a study on Lactobacillus plantarum 299v to see its impact on young adults during exam periods, a time known for increased stress.


The study involved 41 students who were given either the probiotic or a placebo every day for two weeks before their exams. To measure the probiotic’s effectiveness, researchers analyzed the participants’ saliva for cortisol levels, using it as a stress indicator. The students provided saliva samples throughout the study, and their stress levels were measured through a perceived stress test. Additionally, researchers monitored the increase in beneficial lactobacilli in the participants’ saliva.


The outcomes revealed that the probiotics group had a higher level of lactobacilli, an indicator that they had effectively colonized the mouth. What is more, there was a notable decrease in cortisol levels in the group taking the probiotic compared to those on the placebo, suggesting that the probiotic was effective in reducing stress.


These findings highlight the beneficial role of probiotics in managing stress indicators like cortisol. This could be especially useful for people in stressful situations that can lead to stress-induced behaviors like emotional eating.


Harnessing Probiotic Foods to Combat Emotional Eating

Incorporating probiotic-rich foods into your diet is a practical way to harness their benefits for emotional eating. Foods like yogurt and miso, rich in beneficial bacteria, offer more than just gut health support. They contribute to the trio of probiotics’ advantages: enhancing mood, regulating appetite, and reducing stress, adding a lighter, more balanced feel to daily life.



Made by fermenting milk with live bacterial cultures, yogurt is an excellent source of probiotics. Not all yogurts are created equal, however. For optimal results, look for labels that mention “live and active cultures” that contribute to gut health. Plain, unsweetened yogurt is the healthiest choice, as it is free from added sugars that can detract from its benefits.



Like yogurt, kefir is created by adding bacterial cultures to milk. But what sets it apart is the addition of special yeast which enhances its probiotic profile. This broader range of probiotics may offer more significant benefits than other dairy-based sources. Again, for the full health advantages, choose the plain varieties to avoid the added sugars present in flavored options.



Another fermented favorite, sauerkraut is a traditional cabbage dish rich in live probiotics. The fermentation process that sauerkraut undergoes transforms the natural sugars in cabbage into lactic acid which encourages the growth of good bacteria.


Similar to yogurt and kefir, not all sauerkraut on the market will be rich in probiotics. You should choose those that have been naturally fermented and sold fresh, as these types are more likely to contain live and active cultures.



Tempeh stands out in the world of fermented foods for its distinctive method of fermentation. The process begins with soaking, dehulling, and cooking whole soybeans, followed by adding a specific mold, Rhizopus oligosporus. Unlike other fermentation processes, this mold creates a compact cake, which results in a higher concentration of probiotics.


When selecting tempeh, opt for organic and non-GMO versions to maximize the purity and potency of the probiotics it contains.


Kimchi, a staple in Korean cuisine, gets its probiotic benefits from a unique fermentation process. Cabbage mixed with spices like garlic and chili peppers undergoes fermentation, which results in a rich variety of probiotic bacteria.


For kimchi that is rich in live probiotics, seek out traditionally fermented varieties and avoid those with added preservatives, as these can hinder the probiotic content.



Miso, a Japanese seasoning, is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and fungus known as koji. In this process, koji introduces special enzymes that break down soybeans and foster the growth of probiotics. The type of miso – white, yellow, red, or mixed – varies based on how long it is fermented and the proportion of soybeans to koji. These factors affect the taste, texture, and the particular probiotic strains found in each type of miso.


To maintain the probiotic content in miso, you should add it to dishes towards the end of cooking. This is because high heat can reduce the presence of beneficial bacteria. Additionally, unpasteurized miso is a better choice, as pasteurization can lessen its probiotic benefits.



Pickles fermented in the traditional way offer a good source of probiotics. This process involves submerging cucumbers in a solution of salt and water, which leads to the growth of beneficial lactic acid bacteria.


However, not all pickles available in stores are products of fermentation. To find pickles rich in probiotics, look for those labeled as naturally fermented and avoid pickles containing vinegar, as these do not offer probiotic benefits.


Traditional Buttermilk

Traditional buttermilk, a probiotic-rich liquid, is a byproduct of churning butter from cultured cream. During this process, natural bacteria in the cream produce lactic acid, which supports the growth and activity of probiotics. In contrast, the cultured buttermilk found in supermarkets undergoes a different production method. Initially, the milk is pasteurized, a process that heats it and eliminates many of its naturally occurring beneficial bacteria. After pasteurization, bacterial cultures are added to the milk but they do not provide the same diversity of probiotics found in traditional buttermilk. This is because of the prior removal of the original bacteria during pasteurization.


That said, to enjoy the full probiotic benefits, consider traditional buttermilk which is usually available in specialty stores or local dairies.



Another staple in Japanese cuisine, natto is produced by fermenting soybeans with a beneficial bacteria called Bacillus subtilis. This fermentation not only gives natto its unique sticky texture and strong flavor but also results in a high concentration of probiotics.


To get the most benefit from natto’s probiotic properties, choose varieties free from artificial flavors and preservatives which can sometimes interfere with the beneficial bacteria.


Some Cheeses

Certain cheeses like Gouda, Mozzarella, Cheddar, and Swiss are excellent sources of probiotics. They are created through a process that uses live bacterial cultures to ferment lactose into lactic acid. This conversion is key because it lowers the pH of milk and creates an acidic environment where beneficial bacteria thrive while undesirable bacteria are inhibited.


For cheeses that offer probiotic benefits, look for those specifically labeled as containing “live and active cultures”. They are typically found in specialty cheese shops and health food stores.


Consuming such probiotic-rich foods, from yogurt to miso, helps improve gut health. Better gut health can lead to improved mood and appetite control and lower stress, making it less likely to turn to food in response to emotions.


Wrapping Up

In dealing with emotional eating, it becomes clear that the answers might lie closer than we think – right in our own kitchens. Embracing foods rich in probiotics might be a simple yet effective way to change our response to emotional cues. By adding these foods to our diet, we gain the triple advantage of a balanced emotional state, smoother control of hunger, and a more relaxed response to stress, all of which can help reduce the urge to use food as a source of comfort.


When faced with emotional challenges or social pressures, some people turn to negative coping mechanisms like excessive drinking, smoking, or procrastination. Among these responses, some turn to food for comfort, a behavior commonly known as emotional eating. Group therapy, where people discuss their issues in a collective setting, offers a valuable method to address such behaviors. A subset of group therapy is support groups which provide emotional eaters a safe space to share, learn from each other, and heal. Understanding how these groups function and the many benefits they provide offers valuable insights into the world of healing and personal growth.

The Triggers of Emotional Eating

Emotional eating involves consuming food in response to triggers instead of genuine hunger. These triggers can be diverse, ranging from emotional ones like anger, sadness, and stress, to social triggers like crowd behavior and societal expectations, and even external stimuli. Here are three illustrative examples, one for each category to better understand these influences.

The Influence of External Stimuli

The influence of our surroundings, particularly sights and sounds, can trigger a desire to eat even when we are not truly hungry. For instance, picture a weekend morning where you’ve decided to walk your dog in the local park. As you stroll, the sound of laughter and chatter draws you towards a scenic spot overlooking a pond. Families are spread out on blankets with picnic baskets open, revealing an assortment of sandwiches, fruit, and pastries. The sun reflects off glasses of chilled lemonade and nearby, someone is enjoying a juicy slice of watermelon. Suddenly, you find your mouth watering and you are considering stopping by a nearby deli for your own picnic setup.

This scenario underscores a powerful reality: external stimuli, from sights to sounds, can sway our eating decisions and nudge us to indulge even when we are not genuinely hungry.

Crowd Behavior

Crowd behavior, especially in larger group settings, can sway our food choices and consumption habits. In such environments, there is often a collective mentality that pushes us to adapt to the behavior of the majority.

A clear example of this is the experience of dining on a cruise ship. These floating resorts are well-known for their large buffet spreads and round-the-clock dining options. Amidst such lavish offerings, passengers frequently line up, plates in hand, ready to try various dishes. There is an almost contagious excitement – passengers piling their plates high to taste everything from seafood to elaborate desserts. In this atmosphere, many are tempted to eat more than they planned. After all, it’s part of the cruise experience, isn’t it?

Furthermore, there is an unspoken belief, especially in vacation settings, that traditional dietary rules don’t apply. “I’m on vacation” becomes a mantra which justifies every extra scoop of ice cream and every additional helping at dinner.

What this example shows is that social and group norms, whether subtle or overt, can influence our eating habits. Understanding these influences allows us to balance social enjoyment with heeding our body’s true needs.

The Role of Personal Conflicts and Stress

Facing personal conflicts and stress can lead us to seek comfort in food. This emotional eating might give temporary relief, but often, the underlying issues remain unresolved.

To illustrate, imagine you are in a challenging role at work. Recently, you had a heated disagreement with a close colleague, and the aftermath has been palpably tense. The cold glances, the hushed conversations when you enter the room, and the weight of unresolved tension make every day a test of resilience. To cope, you find yourself increasingly retreating to the office breakroom or the nearby cafe. While you tell yourself it is just to decompress, these breaks often involve salty snacks, pastries, and lattes loaded with sugar. Paradoxically, these indulgent moments offer no resolution; in fact, the weight of the conflict feels even heavier each time you return to your desk.

In such situations, turning to food for a brief distraction only deepens the initial stress. Addressing the underlying issues rather than leaning on fleeting fixes proves to be a more effective strategy.

The Therapeutic Value of Group Therapy: Research Insights

While the various triggers of emotional eating explain why people might turn to food for comfort, the greater challenge is finding strategies that effectively address this behavior. One effective solution, particularly for those seeking shared understanding and support, is group therapy.

Group therapy is a therapeutic approach in which participants come together under a therapist’s guidance to manage shared challenges. By working together, they address unhelpful behaviors and develop healthier coping strategies.

This collaborative dynamic has caught the attention of researchers and as a result, many now study its impact on challenges like emotional eating.

One standout study looked into the efficacy of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) — a form of group-based talking therapy where participants learn coping skills with the help of a therapist. This study involved overweight persons who resort to eating based on their emotions. Participants engaged in 20 group therapy sessions tailored for emotional eating. The majority committed to the entire duration of the study, with just one dropping. The findings were promising: post-therapy, 80% kept their weight stable or reduced it further. While weight loss was modest, the consistency of outcomes suggests that DBT can help address emotional eating and potentially prevent related health issues.

Another study investigated the effects of group psychoeducation treatment on persons diagnosed with binge eating disorder (BED). Over a span of 12 weeks, 45 participants attended group sessions that combined insights from mental health professionals and a dietician. They engaged in practical activities such as role-playing typical daily scenarios and sharing their food diaries at the beginning of each session. The outcomes post-treatment were encouraging. Participants experienced reduced binge eating, improved body weight, and enhanced body image, feeling less self-conscious overall. Such outcomes highlight the effectiveness of group psychoeducation treatment in addressing binge eating challenges.

Other studies have taken a different approach to examine the benefits of Brief-Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Brief-ACT) for emotional eating. This therapeutic method focuses on challenging perfectionism and rigid thinking which are often at the heart of disordered eating.

One such study involved five women who identified as emotional eaters. Over three weeks, they attended four group therapy sessions lasting around 90 minutes each. Activities included sharing emotional eating stories, writing body-to-mind and mind-to-body letters, and the willingness–tug-of-war metaphor.

Such activities help challenge rigid behaviors and perceptions. Sharing personal experiences highlights patterns of fixed thinking, writing mind-to-body letters encourages reflection on rigid self-perceptions, and the willingness–tug-of-war metaphor illustrates the internal conflict between acceptance and resistance.

The study found that after undergoing therapy, most of the women showed better results on tests measuring emotional eating tendencies. Also initially, emotions like feeling discouraged, excited, or jittery triggered emotional eating. After therapy, while some still ate emotionally due to loneliness and boredom, their overall emotional eating decreased and they developed a healthier attitude towards food.

Lastly, there has been some research on the role of support groups in managing disregulated eating. In one study, 18 adults attending a monthly support group and provided feedback on their experiences. While the researchers identified areas for improvement, such as better management of discussions, participants’ overall feedback was positive. Attendees described the support group as a comforting place to discuss feelings and experiences, which lessened feelings of isolation. This shared experience and mutual understanding also improved their motivation and commitment to recovery.

Support Groups: The Power of Collective Healing

Research has showcased the power of group therapies in addressing emotional eating. Support groups, one of the less structured forms of group therapy that researchers have studied, bring to the table unique advantages for those struggling with emotional eating. These groups reduce isolation through shared experiences, foster genuine empathy, and inspire with success stories

Addressing Isolation through Sharing

Shared experience in support groups can help address the isolation common in emotional eating. When grappling with an unhealthy relationship with food, it is easy to feel that the battle is solidary and the experience singular. But in these groups, hearing others face parallel challenges shows that one’s own experiences, albeit personal, are not unique. Finding that others have similar tales to tell reduces the burden of feeling isolated, as members realize they are not alone in their struggles.

Experiencing Empathy from Shared Struggles

Emotional support is also more effective among persons who have faced similar challenges. Within support groups, everyone shares the same struggles and understands them from a deeply personal standpoint. This common ground makes it much easier for members to genuinely empathize and offer heartfelt support.

To illustrate these dynamics, consider the following scenario: You’ve gathered the courage to attend a support group meeting, feeling a mix of anticipation and anxiety. At first, you are hesitant to open up but as you settle in and listen to the stories of group members, which sound all too familiar, you gather the strength to share.

“I had a really tough day at work,” you begin, “and I found myself overeating that evening, trying to drown out the stress and frustration.”

A woman across the circle nods understandingly and says, “Work pressures pushed me to the same point many times. Know that you’re not alone in this.” Another member offers a comforting smile, “I totally understand that. Just last week, I had this major presentation and the moment I got home, I raided the fridge, even though I wasn’t hungry. Stress just makes me turn to food.”

In this space, the shared experiences of members make empathy natural. The group’s reactions and words aren’t mere platitudes but come from lived experiences. When everyone has walked similar paths of struggle, empathy flows without effort and provides genuine and deep support.

Drawing Inspiration from Success Stories

Another significant aspect of support groups is their potential for empowerment. When members talk about their victories, no matter how small, it gives others a glimpse of what is possible and lifts their spirit. Even when members discuss their ongoing journeys, with all their challenges, the strength and determination they display can be deeply motivating.

In a group session, for example, a member might voice his ongoing struggle, remarking, “I’ve been on this journey for a year. Some days I make progress, others are harder, but I remain committed.” Hearing this, a newer member might think, “His continued effort, even in the face of challenges, gives me hope for my own journey.” Such sharing of both victories and perseverance strengthens and inspires all members of the group.

Learning Practical Coping Strategies

Empowerment can also manifest in specific, more practical ways like learning effective coping strategies. These strategies offer actionable techniques to deal with emotional triggers and reduce episodes of emotional eating.

For example, the group facilitator may introduce a technique called “sensory grounding.” This technique, often used in trauma therapy, involves focusing on the five senses when feeling the urge to eat due to emotions. The technique involves identifying five things that can be seen, four that can be touched, three that can be heard, two that can be smelled, and one that can be tasted. This grounding in the present can alleviate strong emotions that trigger the desire to eat. It also gives clarity to determine whether the urge is genuine hunger or an emotional response.

Another technique that can benefit group members is the “replacement activity jar”. It involves creating a jar filled with slips of paper, each containing a short, engaging activity. Activities might range from “read for 10 minutes” to “do 15 jumping jacks” or “listen to a motivational podcast.” When members feel the compulsion to eat due to emotions, they can pull out a slip and engage in that activity, redirecting both their mind and body away from the desire to eat.

Mastering such coping strategies helps members learn practical ways to manage triggers and develop a healthier perspective on their eating habits.

Accessing Educational Resources

Support groups offer a range of educational resources such as guest speakers, informative books, workshops, newsletters, and curated online resources.

One of the most anticipated aspects for many members is the opportunity to hear from guest speakers. These speakers often include nutritionists, therapists, and individuals who have overcome emotional eating.

Nutritionists, for example, can share how different foods affect emotions or provide dietary suggestions to control emotional eating. Therapists can shed light on cognitive and emotional triggers and introduce therapeutic techniques to address them. Perhaps most compelling are the testimonies from those who’ve overcome emotional eating, sharing their challenges, solutions, and successes.

Informative books, often recommended by group members or professionals, are also essential for many. These texts can range from self-help books that offer step-by-step guides to more in-depth scientific materials.

Additionally, support groups often feature workshops that provide a dynamic, hands-on learning experience. They might involve role-playing exercises, group discussions, or even cooking demonstrations to show healthier food preparations. Such sessions foster community learning where members can learn from experts and peers in a safe environment.

Another valuable resource for members is newsletters. Far from being mere information bulletins, they include the latest research on emotional eating, success stories, upcoming events, and even reviews of relevant books or podcasts. These newsletters act as a continuous source of motivation and learning.

Finally, online resources like webinars, podcasts, and interactive courses give members the flexibility to access expert insights and educational modules whenever they need them. This digital dimension ensures continuous support and engagement for group members.

Support Groups: Stages and Evolution of Dynamics

The power and benefits of support groups are clear, but how do they evolve and progress over time? Like any journey of healing, support groups move through distinct phases, each shaped by the members’ needs and the group’s collective objectives.

Specifically, these groups often transition through three stages: building trust and setting goals, addressing core emotional challenges, and preparing members for life beyond the group sessions. This approach ensures that members receive the necessary guidance and skills to face their struggles.

During the initial stage, the facilitator’s role is to cultivate an atmosphere of trust and comfort. This typically starts with member introductions. Participants are encouraged to share about themselves but they have the freedom to decide how much they want to reveal. The group leader should also encourage members to discuss aspects of their lives beyond the primary issues that led them to the group. The goal is to create a positive base for future interactions.

An essential next step is to jointly define the group’s purpose. While the facilitator may have a foundational objective, it is the group’s collective responsibility to fine-tune the direction and ensure everyone’s needs and expectations align.

Goal-setting emerges as another critical component in this phase. There are typically three kinds of goals that group members outline. First, there are individual goals that are unique to each member’s personal challenges and needs. An example could be learning a new way to avoid binging after stressful events. Then come common group goals that most, if not all, members aim to achieve. For instance, members might want to bolster their social support networks or reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Lastly, group-centered goals target the group’s overall health and dynamics. An example of such a goal might be encouraging more active participation from members who typically remain silent.

In the middle phase of the group intervention, both the participants and facilitator explore the main objectives of the treatment. Initial conversations center on the reasons members chose to join the group, what they expect from it, the benefits they hope to derive, and their main concerns.

In subsequent sessions members learn to recognize negative emotions and thoughts and their impacts. The emphasis is on recognizing these beliefs as the first step in addressing them. Some of these beliefs might sound like: “I can’t control my eating habits” or similar sentiments that erode self-worth.

While the facilitator steers conversations about harmful beliefs and their consequences, members are encouraged to take the lead and identify these underlying thoughts on their own.

In later sessions, the group leader discusses common triggers that relate to unmet needs, including respect, attention, love, control, and acceptance. Since group members have varied triggers and responses, the leader uses probing questions to help them identify these triggers. The goal is to help members recognize events that cause strong emotions and give them tools to manage these triggers.

The concluding sessions focus on helping members deal with challenges outside the group environment. For a successful recovery, they need to handle their issues on their own post-intervention. During these sessions, members learn alternative ways to cope such as journalling, practicing yoga, engaging in hobbies, getting massages, participating in online support groups, and visualizing safe spaces. Other strategies include making positive affirmations, spending time in nature, and making a gratitude list.

The final week centers on wrapping up all activities and taking a post-intervention survey. The group leader discusses with members their views on the group’s progress, key takeaways, feelings about its conclusion, and whether they met their goals.

In the final stage, the facilitator manages the sensitive process of concluding the sessions. Open discussions about the group’s end are held and feedback on how members feel about it is gathered. If needed, further resources can be recommended, including educational and employment services, additional therapy, or other supportive communities, both offline and online.

Wrapping Up

In reflecting on the experiences of those dealing with emotional eating, it is evident how beneficial interventions like group therapy and support groups can be. These platforms don’t just provide an outlet for sharing and healing but highlight the value of collective strength and understanding in our path to emotional growth. By tapping into these resources, we can better confront our challenges and connect more deeply with our emotional selves.

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In today’s fast-paced world, it is easy to miss the subtle signals our bodies send us about hunger. Societal norms, distractions, and ingrained habits often cloud our judgment and make it difficult to tell real hunger from impulse or habit. Fortunately, there are strategies in place that can help us identify and react to hunger cues. Using these strategies not only ensures we respond to our body’s immediate needs but also introduces the many benefits of mindful eating. By practicing mindful eating, we can enjoy improved nutrient absorption, effective weight control, healthy blood pressure levels, and better overall health.

The Science Behind Hunger

How does hunger work? When our body’s energy runs low, a hormone produced by your stomach called ghrelin, sends out signals that indicate a need for food. As we consume and digest, the pancreas releases insulin which works to suppress ghrelin and reduce the sensation of hunger. Once the body feels satisfied, leptin steps in and signals to the brain that enough food has been consumed.


The intestines are actively engaged in the process as well. As food is digested, the intestines release hormones like peptide YY and cholecystokinin. These hormones contribute to feelings of fullness and signal to the brain that the body has received enough nutrients for the time being. Additionally, the stomach’s stretch receptors detect its level of fullness and send signals to the brain that it is time to stop eating.


The brain, particularly the hypothalamus, plays an important role in processing and integrating these various signals. It balances the messages from ghrelin with those from other hormones and regulates our overall sensation of hunger or fullness. Over time, as the body absorbs the nutrients from a meal, the satiety signals decrease, and ghrelin levels begin to rise again to signal the body’s need for another meal.

Why We Misinterpret Hunger Cues

While the body uses hormones to regulate hunger and satiety, many factors blur the lines of true hunger. These range from external cues and emotions to the omnipresence of convenience foods and increased portion sizes.

Sights and Smells

External cues, such as sights and smells, can trigger a desire to eat even when the body does not necessarily need food. Imagine strolling through a bustling city square after a long day at work. As you walk by, the scent of grilling wafts your way and almost immediately, your eyes are drawn to an advertisement displaying a juicy burger. The colors are so vivid and the image almost tangible that you can nearly taste that burger. Even though you had a hearty lunch just a few hours ago, that advertisement makes you think about stopping by a fast-food joint. This is how external stimuli, like food aromas or vibrant advertisements, can create an artificial sense of hunger.

Eating by Emotion

Emotions can also dictate our eating patterns. Think about a situation where you’ve just had an incredibly successful day at the office. Your team finished a project ahead of schedule, and the client sang praises about the outcome. Riding that wave of accomplishment and euphoria, you decide to treat yourself. You head to a nearby café and order a slice of rich chocolate cake, even though you just had lunch. The choice to indulge doesn’t stem from hunger but rather from the desire to celebrate and amplify that positive feeling. Emotion-driven choices like these, while not inherently wrong, underscore the need to differentiate between physical hunger and emotional eating.


Distractions further muddy our awareness of hunger cues. Living in an age where screens are ever-present, we often find ourselves eating while binge-watching a show, scrolling through social media, or even working. These distractions make it easy to overlook the body’s subtle signals of fullness. We continue to snack absentmindedly not because of hunger but because we are focused on something else entirely.

Habitual Hunger

Ingrained habits and routines can push us to eat even when it is not necessary. How many of us have a fixed time for that afternoon snack, regardless of whether we are truly hungry? Or perhaps we’ve gotten used to the idea of dessert after dinner, not out of hunger but merely because it has become a ritual.

The Portion Illusion

The evolution of portion sizes plays a role as well. Over the years, serving sizes in restaurants and packaged foods have ballooned, creating a new normal for what is considered a ‘single serving’. This can lead us to consume more than what our body truly demands. That is because we mistake the portion on our plate for the amount we actually need.

The Convenience Trap

One of the most prevalent factors affecting our eating habits is the omnipresence of convenience foods. Snacks are always at close hand and tempting us. When a bag of chips or a chocolate bar are so accessible, it is easy for a fleeting craving to be mistaken for genuine hunger. This ease of access, along with the appeal of these snacks, can make it hard to tell genuine hunger from a passing whim.

Stress Eating

Stress is a major reason our perception of hunger can get skewed. Amid deadlines and mounting pressures, we might eat not because we are hungry but to momentarily distract from the stress.

Social Feasting

Social gatherings further complicate our relationship with food. Celebrations, family dinners, and casual meetups often feature large assortments of dishes and turn eating into more of a communal activity than a means of nourishment. Lost in the laughter, engaging conversations, and joy of these occasions, it is not always easy to know when we’ve had enough.

Recognizing Hunger Cues

Acknowledging these modern-day challenges is the first step in aligning our eating habits with our body’s true needs. Recognizing hunger cues is the next crucial step. By knowing the difference between real hunger and other feelings, we can choose better when and what to eat.


True hunger manifests itself in various ways, both physically and emotionally. Physically, you might experience a rumbling stomach, a sensation many of us are familiar with. It is that unmistakable growl, signaling that the body needs nourishment. Additionally, low energy levels or feeling fatigued can hint at hunger.


Emotionally, hunger has its ways of making its presence felt. It is not uncommon to find ourselves becoming irritable or short-tempered when we haven’t eaten for a while. This mood shifts are our body’s way of emphasizing its need for food. Also, when we are genuinely hungry, our thoughts might dwell on food, whether thinking about the next meal or recalling a favorite dish. When thoughts about meals become frequent and persistent, it is likely a sign that it is time to refuel.

Mindful Exercises to Identify Hunger Cues

While our bodies communicate hunger through both physical and emotional signals, there are ways to hone your ability to recognize these cues. Mindful exercises, in particular, can help in this process.  Some of these exercises are hunger sensation meditation, body scanning, and journalling, all designed to increase your awareness of how your body feels.


With hunger sensation meditation, you start by finding a quiet space where you can sit comfortably without disturbances. Close your eyes, turn your focus to your stomach, and imagine it is an empty container. As you breathe and meditate on this image, picture the container slowly filling up. Pay attention to feelings of emptiness, lightness, or even the first signs of fullness. Through repeated sessions, this meditation can help you better understand different levels of hunger and distinguish between true hunger and short-lived cravings.


Body scanning takes this awareness a step further. In this exercise, you start at the top of your head and move your attention slowly down to your toes. As you mentally check each part of your body, take note of any sensations, discomforts, or tensions. This process might reveal any feelings or physical discomforts that could be mistaken for hunger. With regular practice, you can better distinguish between genuine hunger and other unrelated sensations or emotions.


Using a hunger and fullness diary is yet another way to understand your body’s signals. Each time you feel the urge to eat, rate your hunger level on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means very hungry and 10 means overly full. After meals, note how full you are. Over time, you will be able to observe patterns and fluctuations in your hunger and fullness levels and more genuinely interpret cues.

Reacting to Hunger Cues Mindfully

Mindful eating involves more than just identifying hunger, as it also emphasizes responding to those cues wisely. Four primary techniques can guide this response: pausing before eating, conducting a hydration check, using the “apple test”, and practicing mindful breathing.


Taking a moment to pause before a meal offers a moment of reflection. This brief interval can be the difference between reaching for a snack out of boredom and realizing you aren’t truly hungry. It allows you to make conscious choices rather than eat out of mere habit or emotion.


The hydration check comes next as our bodies can sometimes mistake thirst for hunger. When you feel hungry, drink a glass of water and wait a few minutes. If you still feel hungry, then you are likely experiencing true hunger and if not, it was thirst all along.


The “apple test” offers a more instinctive approach. If you are unsure about your hunger, ask yourself if you’d eat an apple. If the idea doesn’t appeal to you, then it is probably not real hunger. This technique helps distinguish between specific food cravings and real hunger.


Lastly, you can practice mindful breathing when you believe you are hungry. Find a quiet space, take several deep breaths, and pay attention to each breath, letting other thoughts fade. This practice can calm your mind and help you decide if you truly need to eat.

Benefits of Mindful Eating

Practicing mindful eating to align our eating habits with our body’s needs brings a host of health benefits. These include nutrient absorption, better gut health, weight management, potential remedies for behavioral eating disorders, and support for those with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Improved Nutrient Absorption

Eating mindfully encourages us to chew more thoroughly, and this improves nutrient absorption. When food remains in large chunks, the enzymes have limited access and can only reach the outermost surfaces. When food is broken down into smaller particles, each particle’s surface is directly accessible to the digestive enzymes. This means enzymes can act more effectively, leading to more nutrients being released and absorbed by the body.


Additionally, eating slowly enables our stomach to signal fullness promptly, thus preventing overeating. This measured approach allows our digestive system to efficiently process ingested food, which ensures thorough digestion and effective nutrient absorption. Such improved absorption benefits all our organs and systems, as they receive the essential nutrients necessary for optimal functioning.

Weight Control

Mindful eating doesn’t just influence how well our bodies process food but also plays a role in weight management. Being present during meals, understanding our hunger, and recognizing when we are full can help us avoid consuming more calories than we need.


To further test this, a study was undertaken in which participants embarked on a 6-week program. This program emphasized mindfulness meditation, mindful eating, and group conversations to heighten awareness of bodily sensations, emotional responses, and the reasons behind overeating tendencies. By the end of the study, participants reported significant improvements in their control over food cravings and overeating behavior. They also experienced weight reduction, decreased feelings of depression and stress, and improved indicators of heart health.


In a more technologically advanced approach, another study utilized smartphones to teach overweight women about mindful eating. Over a span of 28 days, participants, with the help of their phones, were exposed to practices targeting craving-related eating behaviors. Among the 64 women who completed the program in the expected timeframe, there was a significant reduction in their craving-driven eating behaviors. Furthermore, those who managed to reduce their food cravings also experienced noticeable weight loss.

Countering Disordered Eating

In addition to its impact on weight management, mindful eating can help address more complex eating challenges, notably binge eating disorder (BED). Binge eating disorder is characterized by episodes of consuming significant amounts of food in a brief period, accompanied by a profound sense of loss of control. This loss of control is not an isolated symptom but often coexists with emotional challenges such as depression and anxiety.


Aware of mindfulness’s potential, researchers conducted a study to assess the effects of meditation-based interventions on BED. In this 6-week program, 18 obese women practiced both standard and eating-specific mindfulness meditation exercises. The results were encouraging: binge-eating episodes dropped from an average of 4.02 times a week to 1.57 times and the severity of binges lessened. Moreover, participants felt a heightened sense of control over their eating habits and decreased feelings of depression and anxiety. Notably, the more they practiced eating-focused meditations, the better their outcomes, highlighting the promising role of mindful eating in addressing BED.


Another study involving university students in health-related disciplines found that those who practiced mindful eating were less prone to binge eating behaviors. Within this study, it was evident that students who identified as binge eaters had notably lower scores on the Mindful Eating Questionnaire, indicating a lesser engagement with mindful eating compared to their counterparts.

Diabetes Control

Mindful eating has proven beneficial for persons with type 2 diabetes, as it helps them choose foods that ease symptoms and stabilize blood sugar levels.


A study that compared the impact of mindful eating and traditional diabetes self-management methods confirms these benefits for diabetics. Notably, those practicing mindful eating saw notable changes in their eating habits. They reduced their intake of trans fats and sugars while increasing their consumption of dietary fiber. This is especially relevant as a diet high in trans fats and sugars can worsen diabetes symptoms while dietary fiber can help stabilize blood sugar levels. Additionally, those in the mindful eating group saw a slightly larger decrease in their long-term blood sugar control measure, HbA1c, compared to the traditional method group.

Blood Pressure Management

Along with its many benefits, mindful eating shows promise in combating high blood pressure. Known as hypertension, high blood pressure is widespread and can lead to serious complications like heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems if not managed well. Practicing mindful eating not only addresses these risks but also supports our heart and overall health in an effective way.


Indeed, a recent study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions highlights this link between mindful eating and heart health. Researchers rolled out a program that used mindfulness techniques to advocate a healthier lifestyle. The program centered on emotion management, self-awareness, meditation, and sharpening attention.


From 2017 to 2020, the study engaged over 200 adults from Rhode Island, all diagnosed with high blood pressure. One group was provided with enhanced care and aids like blood pressure management information, a home blood pressure monitor, and easy access to medical consultations. In contrast, the other group participated in an 8-week mindfulness program aimed to support healthy eating, stress management, and physical activity.


Six months after the program ended, the results highlighted its effectiveness. Participants in the mindfulness group were more inclined to choose heart-healthy foods in their diets. Furthermore, they saw a more significant drop in their main blood pressure reading (by 5.9 units) compared to the enhanced care group, which had a decrease of only 1.4 units.

Wrapping Up

Many of us misread our body’s hunger signals due to factors like the allure of readily available fast food, habitual oversized portions, and the social pressure of feasts and gatherings. Yet, with mindful techniques, we can identify and react to these misleading hunger cues that often lead us astray. These techniques help us recognize our body’s true hunger so that we eat based on physiological need rather than mere impulse or habit. Besides honing our hunger responses, practicing mindful eating can lead to better digestion, decreased risk of chronic ailments, and a balanced approach to weight, all of which contribute to improved overall health.

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.