Posted on April 17, 2014 · Posted in News

Emotional hunger is a need usually based on feelings.   Food is used to fill an emotional void not a physical need. Unless the emotion is dealt with the hunger will not go away. Eating has short term satisfaction that is short lived and often replaced with guilt.

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you may be an emotional eater.

1. Do you eat more when you are stressed?

2. Do you eat to feel better?

3. Do you reward yourself with food?

4. Do you feel out of control around food?

Management of Emotional Eating

1. Identify both physical and emotional hunger signs.

Emotional Hunger Physical Hunger
Fast onset. Possible for this hunger to go away if emotion dealt with. Slow onset. Gradually creeps up on you and gets more intense over time.
Cravings based in head Cravings based in stomach
Craving for specific foods high in fat, sugar and/or salt. Little interest in healthy type foods. Would eat anything. More likely to choose healthier options and really enjoy them.
Fast mindless eating. Not so aware of tastes or amounts. More aware of tastes, sensations of eating and pleasure from foods.
Leads to feelings of guilt and/or regret Feelings of satisfaction. Unlikely to feel guilty

2. Identify the triggers

i) Stress. This causes high levels of cortisol which leads to cravings for salty, sweet or fatty foods.

ii) Suppressed emotions. Eating silences emotions temporarily, especially if they are painful or difficult to face.

iii) Boredom. Food fills a void. Occupies time and a momentary distraction.

iv) Childhood habits/learned behaviours. Memories of sweet treats as a reward, a distraction or a pick me up.

Step 3. Treatment

i) Keep a food and mood diary recording the triggers to eat, what you ate, where you were, and how you felt.

ii) Keep a list of alternatives to eating depending on the situation or mood;-

Depressed/Lonely: Call someone e.g. a friend, supportive family member, stroke a pet, look at photos of good times and memories

Anxious: think about things you enjoy doing/hobbies, dance, music, laugh, listen to a comedian or funny film

Tired: Have a bath/shower, try scented bubbles/candles, go for a walk, exercise

Bored: read a book, watch a good film, take a walk and admire nature, immerse self in hobbies

iii) Outlast a craving. Cravings are immediate. Take time out. Remove yourself from the eating situation. Distract your attention. Keep a list of enjoyable things that you could do; phone a friend, do a puzzle, listen to music, have a bath/shower, do some housework.

iv) Accept the feelings/emotions. Try to be more self-aware and to stay connected with your emotions. Feelings are never wrong they are an opportunity to help us to understand ourselves better.  

v) Choose healthy lifestyle habits. Exercise improves mood, aids relaxation, appetite control and steers towards healthier food choices.

vi) Social support networks. Positive and supportive friends and family can protect you from the stresses in life and help you maintain a positive outlook and laugh.

vii) Sleep. Sleep deprivation causes the hormones ghrelin, that increases appetite to rise, and leptin which sends   signals to the brain that you are full, to fall. The combined effect is to lead us to overeat resulting in weight gain.


Treat yourself as you would your best friend. Feel good, accept yourself for who you are, and be proud of your strengths.


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