Emotional eating occurs when food becomes someone’s response to an emotional cue, which can be frustration, anger, sadness, exhaustion and more. This type of eating can often result in overeating and can have a direct impact on self-esteem while promoting weight gain. As a cyclical pattern, it is important to recognize this habit for what it is in order to find help and overcome it. 

As an Award-Winning Bariatric Medicine Physician, Dr. Jan McBarron has seen first-hand how excessive emotional eating can lead to guilt and shame, trapping individuals in a negative pattern that can be difficult to break free from. To discuss emotional eating and how it impacts you physically and psychologically, Dr. Jan McBarron provides a brief overview of the dangers of emotional eating.  

What is Emotional Eating?

Dr. Jan McBarron defines emotional eating as the practice of using food as a coping mechanism and a means to suppress negative feelings. Individuals often turn to food for comfort, as it can serve as a distraction and a way to avoid stressful situations. Emotional eating can be harmful because it re-enforces an unhealthy relationship with food. 

Physical Well-Being 

Emotional eating can be both physically and psychologically harmful. Dr. Jan McBarron explains that emotional eaters tend to consume high caloric foods that contain sugar and simple carbohydrates, which can not only lead to significant health problems but also weight gain. Weight gain can heighten feelings of worthlessness and weakness, lowering an individual’s self-esteem. If you are feeling stressed, you are far more likely to soothe your emotional pain with comfort food as opposed to healthy alternatives. In addition, these types of foods are very addictive and can lead to further indulgence. Diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, and depression are all examples of what can happen if emotional eating is not addressed.

Psychological Impact

Psychologically, emotional eating causes a whole host of cyclical problems, including guilt and shame. After the emotional danger that triggered the eating has passed, it is usually followed by feelings of remorse after realizing too much food has been eaten. This guilt has the potential to incite additional emotional outbursts which in turn leads to more emotional eating. 

What You Can Do to Break the Habit

Breaking out of emotional eating is not easy, but as Dr. Jan McBarron explains, it is possible. The first step is recognizing hunger when it arises. One mechanism for resolving emotional eating is to question whether you are hungry when you feel yourself reaching for food. If you are honest with yourself when you realize you are not hungry, then your brain is more likely to make a positive connection with food over time. 

In addition, emotional eating is a coping mechanism that needs to be replaced. Instead of emotional eating, try another task you find fulfilling to replace this trigger response to stress. It could be a walk, breathing exercises, working on a jig saw puzzle, playing cards, drawing, journaling, taking a bath—whatever works for you. Remember if you eat when you are Frustrated, Angry or Tired; look at what the first three letters spell.