Emotional Eating and a Whole Foods Diet

Emotional eating is the practice of consuming large quantities of food — usually “comfort” or junk foods — in response to feelings instead of hunger. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.

Many of us learn that food can bring comfort, at least in the short-term. As a result, we often turn to food to heal emotional problems. Eating becomes a habit preventing us from learning skills that can effectively resolve our emotional distress.

Depression, boredom, loneliness, chronic anger, anxiety, frustration, stress, problems with interpersonal relationships and poor self-esteem can result in overeating and unwanted weight gain.

By identifying what triggers our emotional eating, we can substitute more appropriate techniques to manage our emotional problems.

How to Identify Eating Triggers:

Situations and emotions that trigger us to eat fall into five main categories.

  • Social. Eating when around other people. For example, excessive eating can result from being encouraged by others to eat; eating to fit in; arguing; or feelings of inadequacy around other people.
  • Emotional. Eating in response to boredom, stress, fatigue, tension, depression, anger, anxiety, or loneliness as a way to “fill the void.”
  • Situational. Eating because the opportunity is there. For example, at a restaurant, seeing an advertisement for a particular food, passing by a bakery. Eating may also be associated with certain activities such as watching TV, going to the movies or a sporting event, etc.
  • Thoughts. Eating as a result of negative self-worth or making excuses for eating. For example, scolding oneself for looks or a lack of will power.
  • Physiological. Eating in response to physical cues. For example, increased hunger due to skipping meals or eating to cure headaches or other pain.

I focus on mostly the emotional triggers in my practice, but the other 4 are certainly connected to the emotional. I also incorporate creating other alternative habits into my recommendations.

You may be asking yourself at this point, well how can holistic nutrition and healthy eating help with emotional eating?

My answer from personal experience is this: When you feed your body (this includes the brain) nutrient dense whole foods, with no preservatives, artificial colours and flavours, refined sugars or flours, it reacts differently to emotions that in the past would have you running to your choice of comfort foods. And let’s be honest here, who chooses comfort foods that are in that whole foods category? (Please also see my blogs on intentional junk food addiction and the top 10 things the food industry doesn’t  want you to know).

You will find over time as you replace your SAD (Standard American Diet) diet with a whole foods one that those same foods don’t work any longer. Your body and mind no longer crave them. No longer do you get that same temporary feeling of comfort from them. Your body begins to crave the foods that support it both physically and mentally.  You may find over time that you reflectively choose that same old food but you don’t feel comforted after, you don’t beat yourself up either. You just realize that it doesn’t work as well or at all any longer. You start seeking other means of handling emotions and the history that created that emotional connection to poor quality foods. You start to want to nourish your body and mind and take care of yourself on all levels. You begin to crave that feeling of happiness, energy, strength and well being you get from feeding your body great foods!

You may also find yourself needing to work with other professionals to truly understand and learn methods to permanently change those emotional eating triggers and I’ve got great professionals in my network that I can refer you to.


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