Health Advocate Blog

Managing emotional eating

Emotional eating is defined as consuming food, even when you are not hungry, to suppress or alleviate negative emotions ranging from stress and anger to boredom and loneliness. This is an unhealthy response which may have negative consequences on your health and weight. If you find yourself turning to food when negative emotions arise, the good news is that there are steps you can take to regain control of your eating habits.

Recognizing the Signs of Emotional Eating

The first step to regaining control of your eating habits is to recognize the difference between emotional and physical hunger. Use the chart below to help you determine if you are actually hungry or if your emotions are causing your hunger.


Emotional Hunger Physical Hunger
Develops quickly and suddenly Develops gradually between meals and snacks


Intense craving that feels as if you need to eat instantly


Feelings of hunger that can wait
You crave specific “comfort” foods


You are open to all food options


You do not feel satisfied after eating


You feel full after eating


After eating you feel guilty and powerless


After eating you feel just fine


You will feel hungry in your head


You will feel hungry in your stomach and it may growl


You end up eating mindlessly, on autopilot


You are in control of what you eat


Emotional hunger is coupled with an


Real hunger is due to physical need



Breaking the Habit

Emotional eating can be a tough habit to break, but with a strategy, you can do it! Create your strategy by following the steps below.

  1. Identify your personal triggers. Determine what is causing you to eat. Common triggers include stress, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, anger, and depression.
  2. Develop alternatives. When faced with triggers, what else can you do instead of eating? Ideas include: read, listen to music, go for a walk, start a new hobby, drink a glass of water with lemon, wait ten minutes to see if the urge will pass, and write positive notes to yourself. Finding a healthier outlet for your emotions is important.
  3. Change your routine. Making a behavior change involves forming new, healthier habits and routines. For example, if you find yourself on the couch with your spoon in the ice cream container, try something new to break the habit, such as serving yourself ice cream in a bowl and eating it at the table.
  4. Set yourself up for success. Support your strategy with healthy eating habits, learn to recognize real hunger, set specific times that you will eat during the day, and have healthy snacks on hand should you feel the need to eat. Keeping a food journal can be a beneficial tool to help monitor your eating habits and help you stay accountable to your goals.
  5. Seek further help. If the above activities are not enough to curb emotional eating, there may be underlying issues that need to be addressed. Seeking counseling or therapy may help you get to the root of the problem.

For Health Advocate Members

If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to the wellness coaching component of our Wellness Program, connect with a coach to learn more about managing emotional eating.