Emotional Eating, Part 1: What Is Emotional Eating?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 - 1:27pm

By Kathleen Goodwin, RD

During a memorable Oprah episode featuring Bob Greene (Oprah’s personal trainer and weight loss guru), Oprah told the audience about how she met Bob in a spa in Telluride, Colorado, and hired him to be her health coach. At this point in her life her weight had reached an all-time high. She was exasperated about having lost and re-gained hundreds of pounds by trying every quick-fix diet of the moment. According to Oprah, ultimately it was Bob Greene’s words that turned her weight and her life around for good. You see, on the day they met Bob raised a crucial question: “When was the last time you were happy?” No one had ever asked Oprah about her emotional life, nor had they connected it to her weight issues. It was a new area for her explore. Many studies suggest 75% of overeating is the result of emotional eating. She was far from alone.

Defining "Emotional Eating"

In a nutshell, emotional eating is eating for another reason than because you’re hungry. If you overeat often, chances are that food has become your drug of choice, as well as your body’s programmed response to factors such as stress, loneliness, boredom, or sadness. Rather than dealing with a negative event or emotion in a solution-oriented manner, you may have learned to numb your problems with food. This can become such a habit that eating becomes an automatic response which we are barely aware of. Learning to eat mindfully is essential to changing this response. The good news is that a recent research study demonstrated that 85 percent of emotion-based eating was reduced in participants when they learned how to respond to negative emotions with a positive attitude and solutions. If they can do it, so can you!

What kind of eater are you?

The fast pace of today’s society has diminished the art and pleasure of mindful eating. Consider which of the following scenarios apply to you:

  • Do you grab lunch from the drive through and eat in the car on the way to a business meeting?


  • Do you set aside 30 minutes for lunch, pack foods that are enjoyable and relatively healthy, turn off your cell phone, and find a place where you can enjoy the day as well as savor each bite while paying close attention to when your body feels satisfied?

If you chose scenario number two, you’re lucky—and quite the exception.

Overcoming bad emotional habits

Truly caring for ourselves tends to get put on the backburner for sources of immediate gratification like money, fame, possessions, or a double quarter pounder with cheese. The good news is that overcoming emotional eating is central to attaining better health, a normal weight, and improved energy. The bad news is that it takes some hard work—but the payoffs are huge.

For information on overeating and the emotional triggers causing this see the following article from TheDietChannel: Emotional Eating, Part 2: How to Identify Your Overeating Triggers.

For information on overeating and binging see the following article from TheDietChannel: Emotional Eating, Part 3: Common Food Binging Cycles.

For information on changing your eating habit and patterns see the following article from TheDietChannel: Emotional Eating, Part 4: How to Change Your Eating Patterns Permanently.