How To Treat Emotional Eating


We go through a range of emotions during our day and our lifetime. These emotions can lead us to make decisions based on how we are feeling at the time. Sometimes these decisions can benefit us but most times, the decisions we make while under the influence of emotions can be worse rather than better. Eating is one such decision that is made while going through an emotion. Some of us eat because of unpleasant emotions and some others eat to increase an already pleasant emotion. Some of these emotional states are: anxious, depressed, guilty, overwhelmed, empty, bored, confused, frustrated and love-struck. (Abramson, 2011)

So where does emotional eating come from?

emotional eating

Emotional eating can be a combination of one or more factors experienced in our lifetime. Experiences from our childhood, for instance, the taste preference we acquire before birth or shortly after, food that has been eaten as comfort or reward by our parents and food used as a control for children. Emotional eating is most likely to happen in the afternoon or evening and more likely when we are alone. (Abramson, 2006)

While some of us tend to make food decisions based on emotion, there are those of us who are influenced by external signs or cues. Those of us at optimum weight eat when we are physically hungry, but those of us who are overweight eat in response to external cues (Abramson, 2006). Types of external cues include:

Visual cues – TV, restaurants, vending machines, office snacks, free samples, magazines, seeing other people eat and social events with food

Olfactory (smell) cues – Food court, food items at work or another person’s house (cookies, popcorn)

 Traditions/rituals – Special occasions, holidays (Christmas, New Year’s etc.), carnival/fairs, sport events and movies. (Abramson, 2006; Beck, 2008)

External eating is certainly not the only cause of obesity but it is a factor for unnecessary eating.

Treatment of external and emotional eating:

Cognitive behavioural therapy: This is a form of psychotherapy. It was originally designed to treat depression but is now used for a number of stressors as it works to solve current problems and to change unhelpful thinking and behaviour. It helps to identify and change thought patterns and behaviours (in this case, unhealthy eating patterns).

Psychotherapy: Undergoing psychotherapy can help in improving our image of our bodies and ourselves. It would be helpful to identify what the food/eating could be representing. Therapy can also help in identification and expression of feelings (emotional eating), as well as, dealing with negative emotions rather than avoiding them.

Source: (Hill and Froedtert)



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  • Priti Srinivasan
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