Updated: Oct 8
Written by and medically reviewed by Serena Benali, Registered Dietitian. Published June 6, 2021. Updated July 17, 2023.
Are you an emotional eater or are you emotional about eating? While this may seem like a subtle distinction, understanding the difference is essential for healing your relationship with food.
In this blog post, we delve into the often-overlooked but crucial distinction between being an emotional eater and being emotionally connected to the act of eating. By gaining clarity on this aspect, you can take proactive steps towards transforming your food relationship and achieving a healthier balance. Join us as we explore the path to healing and finding emotional freedom in your relationship with food.
What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating refers to the act of eating in response to your emotions, whether they are positive or negative.
It is often a subtle subconscious behaviour, as we often turn to food without consciously realizing that we are avoiding certain emotions. With emotional eating, we’ve made our way to food before we’ve even had the chance to notice, let alone realize, that there is something driving us to eat.
Emotional eating may manifest as seeking comfort or distraction from emotions like boredom, sadness, or anxiety. It can also be a way to prolong and enhance positive emotions such as happiness or excitement. Additionally, using food as a reward, such as celebrating accomplishments or milestones, is another common aspect of emotional eating.
You may turn to food to seek comfort or to cope with emotions of boredom, sadness or anxiousness. It can also be a way to prolong and enhance positive emotions such as happiness or excitement.
We all engage in emotional eating at times, and that's perfectly normal.
Emotional eating is not inherently negative. It may have served as a reliable coping mechanism when other tools were lacking, helping you navigate overwhelming situations.
However, when food becomes our primary and uncontrollable coping mechanism and leads to an unhealthy relationship with food, it is essential to explore the dynamics of this relationship and understand the underlying factors at play.
Looking for resources to support your journey in overcoming emotional eating? Check out our blog on the best emotional eating books. These handpicked recommendations will provide valuable insights, strategies, and support to help you develop a healthier relationship with food and overcome challenging eating patterns.
Understanding being emotional after eating
Being emotional about eating means your emotions are related to the food you eat. In other words, emotions are not what is driving you to food but the outcome of your eating experience. It means that your emotions come from how you perceive your food choices. This could look like guilt, regret or even anger after eating a certain food. For example, if you've been following a strict diet and indulge in a forbidden food, you might experience a sense of remorse or disappointment. These emotional response can lead to a cycle of emotional eating, where food is used to soothe or numb these emotions, perpetuating the cycle.
Signs of emotional eating?
Eating when not physically hungry or continuing to eat when already full
Using food as a way to soothe unpleasant emotions like stress, sadness, or anxiety
Using food as a means to distract or avoid challenging situations or difficult emotions
Using food as a reward to celebrate achievements or seek pleasure
These signs indicate a reliance on food to address emotional needs, and they highlight the need for developing healthier coping mechanisms and a balanced relationship with food.
Signs of being emotional about eating
Feeling emotional about what you ate
Lingering regret or remorse over what you ate
Beliefs about food being good or bad
Rigid food rules like a shouldn’t eat this or must eat like this
These signs indicate being emotional about eating, and they highlight the need for developing healthier relationship with food.
How to overcome emotional eating
Identify the reason behind why you eat when you're not hungry: such as emotions, distraction, or habit.
Recognize the specific emotions that act as triggers for emotional eating.
Create a list of alternative strategies to soothe those specific emotions, besides turning to food.
Develop a list of non-food-related ways to reward yourself for accomplishments or self-care.
Practice non-attachment with your emotions
Non-attachment is the practice of creating a healthy distance from our emotions, allowing us to experience them without being consumed by them. Here's a simple guide to cultivating non-attachment:
Foster awareness: Recognize when there is an emotion or situation that drives you towards food as a coping mechanism.
Allow the emotion: Acknowledge the presence of the emotion without attaching judgment or labels to it. Simply observe and label it, such as "This is stress" or "This is overwhelm."
Detach from the emotion: Shift your perspective from "I am this emotion" to "This is an emotion I am experiencing." Notice how this change in perception creates a sense of separation and space.
Explore the sensation: Observe how the sensation associated with the emotion changes when you practice non-attachment. If it persists or intensifies, examine your thoughts for trigger thoughts that amplify the emotion.
Replace with coping thoughts: Identify and replace trigger thoughts with coping thoughts that de-escalate and soothe the emotion. For example, replace thoughts like "I can't handle this" with thoughts like "I am capable of navigating this challenge."
By practicing non-attachment, you can develop a healthier relationship with your emotions and reduce the reliance on food as a coping mechanism.
How to overcome being emotional about eating
Examine your food rules: Take a closer look at any rigid rules or restrictions you have around food. Are beliefs about what is "off-limits" influencing your relationship with food?
Assess moralities tied to food: Reflect on whether you have moral judgments attached to certain foods. Are there labels like "clean" or "dirty" that affect how you view your choices? Consider the impact these moralities have on your well-being.
Evaluate diet culture influence: Explore how societal norms and diet culture impact your food choices and beliefs about how you "should" eat. Recognize the external influences that may be shaping your mindset.
Reflect on beliefs and mindset: Consider how these beliefs and patterns have served you or held you back. Consciously decide to break free from limiting beliefs. Start by examining your thoughts and replacing them healthy eating affirmations.
The key to overcoming emotional eating and being emotional about eating is to cultivate presence and awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. By breaking free from restrictive mindsets and embracing a more balanced approach, you can establish a healthier and more fulfilling relationship with food.
To help you reach a freer, healthier relationship with food download our FREE guide: Healthy relationship with food Starter Guide.
Key takeaways: Emotional eating or emotional about eating?
Emotional eating involves using food as a coping mechanism for managing emotions, while being emotional about eating refers to the emotions tied to our food choices and beliefs. Understanding this distinction is crucial in addressing and healing our relationship with food.
To overcome emotional eating and being emotional about eating, it's important to cultivate self-awareness, practice non-attachment with emotions, and challenge limiting beliefs. By developing healthier coping mechanisms, reframing our mindset, and embracing a more balanced approach to food, we can foster emotional well-being and establish a positive relationship with eating. Remember, it's about finding harmony between our emotions and food, allowing ourselves to experience and navigate emotions without relying on food as the sole source of comfort or control.
Need emotional eating support?
Our team of experienced dietitians is here to help you on your journey to a healthier relationship with food. Book a personalized session today and discover effective strategies to navigate emotions, develop mindful eating habits, and foster a positive mindset. Take the first step towards emotional well-being and food freedom.