Gaining Control of Emotional Eating for Your Well-being

Gaining Control of Emotional Eating for Your Well-being

Food and eating have become such a common source of unhappiness.  

It’s astonishing to hear that the weight-loss industry in the United States hauls in $40 billion annually with diet pills, diet books, meal plans and surgical procedures.  The number of people who are dieting at any given time is 100 million, with an average of 4-5 diets each year.  

Yet, obesity continues to accelerate and the United States is facing a health epidemic related to excessive consumption.  Why has this occurred in a country with an abundance of food and endless choices?

Eating foods with a range of nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats provide the materials needed to keep our bodies functioning well. Snacks, desserts, and other foods high in fat and sugar can be eaten occasionally if it is in balance with a healthy diet. Even having an occasional "binge" every once in awhile is fine but excessive overeating on types of foods high in fat and sugar is the leading cause of heart disease, diabetes, and other health risks. We may know all this, but many do not know how to distinguish between actual physical hunger and emotional hunger.

Emotional eating is when you’re full and you continue to eat.

Maybe you have forgotten or never learned how to be aware and fully present as you eat. You might eat mindlessly - without thinking of why you are eating.

You need to create awareness by being mindful of what and when you are eating.

Teach yourself to ask 2 questions before you eat:

  1. “Am I hungry?
  2. "What emotion am I feeding?”

Listen to the response and act accordingly.

Food as Source for Pleasure:

Emotional overeating is usually a result from food being a primary source for pleasure. You might notice that desserts and snacks help you temporarily feel better and soothe yourself. Why? Sugars and fats release opioids in your brain which are the active ingredients in cocaine, heroin and many other narcotics. The calming, soothing effects you feel are real.

  • Find other ways to soothe with a healthy dose of something else; a good book, a walk in the park, a warm bath, prayer.  Think about other sources besides food that you find soothing and make a "Go To" list for yourself.

If you are a parent of an adolescent or young adult and have noticed signs of repeated binge episodes then contact your doctor and/or a mental health professional for guidance as it might indicate a more serious eating disorder.


Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention,
being fully aware of what is happening inside of yourself — body, mind, spirit.
Mindfulness combined with your Catholic faith creates a self-awareness of the here and now
without being critical or judgmental of yourself.


Physiologic Hunger Can Lead to Emotional Hunger:

Letting yourself get too hungry, worn-down or tired sets you up for emotional eating. We may feel a decrease in energy and the inability to concentrate when we haven’t eaten in a long time and then eat too much as a result. We can also experience fatigue after suffering a loss or from stress. Sometimes it’s simply not getting enough sleep. When we're exhausted or stressed, we tend to crave food that provide an instantaneous emotional boost — and those foods are ones that are high in sugar or fat.

  • Eat Sensibly. You don't need to follow food plans or diets, but go by wise guidelines. Don’t skip eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, have snacks between meals and keep an eye on your portion sizes. Avoid hunger by eating more fiber, lean protein, fruit and vegetables. Eat less of foods with high fat and sugar.
  • Eat only when your body tells you it is hungry. You might eat when you are actually thirsty — that’s because the symptoms of dehydration have similarity to those of hunger. Water is best for staying hydrated. When you feel hungry between meals, drink some water instead of instantly heading to the vending machine. If you still feel hungry - fill up on fruit, vegetables and nuts.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Read a comforting book or listen to relaxing music before bedtime. Use an essential oil such as Lavender on the bottom of your feet at bedtime to help get a natural and restful sleep.
  • If you are emotionally fatigued - from a loss (i.e. loved one, health, job) or going through a stressful time at work or in your personal life then consider seeing a Catholic therapist or a priest/spiritual director.


If you are hungry — eat, pause, enjoy, savor, slow down.
By pausing — you can sense when you are full.  Then, stop.
If you want to save room for dessert – stop eating your main meal when you are still hungry.
Let it settle about 5-10 minutes. Then have a sensible portion of dessert.


Avoiding Difficult Feelings:

Avoiding “negative” feelings makes you susceptible to emotional eating. Pay attention to your feelings and then do something to shift that feeling.

Bored – call a friend to chat.

Angry – write a note of apology to someone you've hurt.

Feeling unheard - write out your feelings in a journal.

Upset or Sad – Take out your “Go To” list to soothe yourself.

Lonely – Find ways to meet other people who share common interests. Join a local community group or a bible study/prayer group at your parish or take dance lessons, art classes, etc...

If these tips don't help because of overwhelming feelings of negativity, shame, depression and/or self-hatred then contact a Catholic therapist to help you find emotional healing so you can make healthy changes.

Mindfulness Can Help You Overcome Emotional Eating:

Mindfulness is not prayer, and it is not meditation. It is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening inside of yourself — body, mind, spirit. Mindfulness combined with your Catholic faith creates a self-awareness of the here and now without being critical or judgmental of yourself.

If you are hungry — eat, pause, enjoy, savor, slow down. By pausing — you can sense when you are full. Then, stop. If you want to save room for dessert – stop eating your main meal when you are still hungry. Let it settle about 5-10 minutes. Then have a sensible portion of dessert.

Living and eating with mindfulness means that you are not comparing yourself to anyone else and helps you to obtain the goal of health and wellness for a happier life. It is experiencing the pleasure of eating well that is based on internal cues of physical hunger and one's appetite being satisfied rather than on external food plans or diets. To simply enjoy the movement of physical activities rather than prescribing to a specific exercise routine and having self-acceptance and respect for the diversity of healthy, beautiful bodies rather than the pursuit of an idealized weight at all costs.

Lasting change takes time, and is built on many small changes. Start simply. Slow down and be aware.



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Elizabeth Galanti, LMHC is a Licensed Counselor in the Buffalo area of upstate New York.  She provides therapy for individuals and couples who are experiencing emotional, mental and/or spiritual distress.  She specializes in relationship difficulties, anger management, stress management, addictions, grief, depression, anxiety, life transitions, self-esteem, post-divorce issues and career counseling.  View her Profile for more information about her counseling services.

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