Emotional eating, sometimes known as stress eating, can be defined as using food to cope with life circumstances or feelings, typically difficult ones. Sometimes the terms emotional eating and binge eating are used interchangeably, and although binges are often emotionally driven, not all emotional eating constitutes binge eating.
Key stressors which can trigger emotional eating include:
Hard data on the prevalence of emotional eating is difficult, if not impossible to find. Anecdotally, in my Vancouver-based counselling practice, emotional eating is common, although there is a range when it comes to frequency and severity.
Most people are wise to the fact that the consumption of food, and certain foods in particular produce chemical ‘feel-good’ changes in the brain. Certain foods, particularly those high in fat and sugar, may counteract stress by inhibiting activity in the parts of the brain that create and process stress as well as related emotions, according to Harvard Health.
In other words, emotional eating can be inherently rewarding while also offering rewards in areas that extend beyond our physiology. Other such rewards can include:
Rewards, however, can quickly be overshadowed by consequences, when eating becomes the “go to” coping strategy, such as:
Sometimes emotional eating can feel particularly overwhelming if its become very habitual, pervasive or we don’t have a handle on the extent of the problem. There are strategies, however, that can help!
If you have questions about help for emotional eating, I am happy to hear from you! Don’t hesitate to be in touch.
A personal account of my experience using YouAte, a mindful eating app.
A strategic approach to emotional eating.
Sensible discussion of the practice of person-centred intuitive eating. Realistic, not idealistic take on eating mindfully.
by Thich Nhat Hanh (2011). How to eat mindfully and intentionally. Because the primary author is a Buddhist monk, this book may have more appeal to those with Buddhist leanings.
by Geneen Roth (2003). Practical tips and strategies, mostly contained in the first part of the book.