How to Stop Emotional Eating: The Science Behind Why We Overeat

If you are looking to put an end to emotional eating, keep reading! Discover the science behind why we overeat and learn effective strategies to overcome this common struggle. Start your journey towards a happier, more balanced life today.

how to stop emotional eating

The better you understand emotional eating, the more likely you are to develop healthy coping mechanisms and learn how to manage your emotions in a more positive way. Which can lead to better overall well-being. It’s important to have an open dialogue about emotional eating to raise awareness and support those struggling with it which leads to helping more people understand how to stop emotional eating. 

The Science of Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is a common phenomenon where individuals consume food to manage their emotions instead of physical hunger. While it may provide temporary relief, emotional eating can negatively affect physical and mental health. So, what causes emotional eating?

Biological Factors

There are many biological factors that can play a role in emotional eating. For example, stress increases the cortisol hormone levels in our bodies, leading to increased appetite and food cravings. Another factor is that when we eat certain foods, the brain’s reward system releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation, leading to a sense of emotional relief and satisfaction. 

Psychological Factors

Emotions play a significant role in emotional eating, hence the term “emotional eating”. You may turn to food to feel better when you are feel sad, anxious, or stressed because it sets off those bells and whistles mentioned earlier, that make you feel better. 

Factors like negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and poor body image can also contribute to emotional eating habits. Have you ever found yourself saying things like “Well, I am already fat so what will another cupcake hurt?” That type of negative self talk and food reward cycle can encourage emotional eating. 

Social Factors

Social and cultural factors can also contribute to emotional eating. For example, you may associate certain foods with happy memories, celebrations, or comfort. This is common as many families celebrate special occasions with comfort type foods and eating those thing can make you feel nostalgic. 

Other social situations, such as peer pressure or eating in social gatherings, can also influence your eating behavior. Have you ever been trying to better your health and eat “healthy” but then you attend a social gathering, bring your own food, and are shamed so instead you indulge in the same foods everyone else is eating? This is a common occurrence and can be detrimental for people trying to make healthy lifestyle changes. 

how to stop emotional eating

How to Manage Emotional Eating

Being able to recognize the difference between emotional and physical hunger is really important. Try to recognize if you are stress eating or eating because your body needs fuel. When you feel the urge to eat ask yourself why you are truly heading for the snacks.

  • Identify emotions that trigger your emotional eating, If you can do this and find alternative ways to manage them. such as meditation, exercise, or talking to a friend, this is a great step in taking control of emotional eating behaviors. 
  • Pay attention to your food, eat slowly, and savor your food’s taste, smell, and texture. This is known as mindful eating and it can can help you slow down and break the emotional eating cycle which usually consists of binges. 
  • Work to understand the underlying causes of your emotional eating habits and implementing healthy coping mechanisms can help to break the cycle of emotional eating.

The Effects of Emotional Eating on Health

Emotional eating is well known for the impact it can have on your physical health, however, mental health is largely impacted by this behavior as well and it is important that both aspects of health are considered and worked on. 

Mental Health

Emotional eating can have a significant impact on our mental health so it is important to focus on how to stop emotional eating. When we use food to manage our emotions, we may experience guilt, shame, and self-blame, leading to poor self-esteem and negative body image. Emotional eating can create a vicious cycle of emotional eating and negative emotions, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Physical Health

Emotional eating can also have adverse effects on our physical health. When you turn to comfort foods, you will likely choose foods high in calories, fat, and sugar, leading to weight gain, obesity, and other health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Engaging in behavior like this can create a cycle of guilt, shame, and self-blame, negatively impacting your mental health and self-esteem in the long run. 

Emotional eating can also interfere with your natural hunger cues, leading to irregular eating patterns and digestive problems so learning how to stop emotional eating is important so that you can avoid long term damage to many of the systems in your body.

how to stop emotional eating

The Cycle of Emotional Eating

Emotional eating can create a vicious cycle that can be challenging to break and the better you understand the cycle the easier you can understand how to stop emotional eating.


Emotional eating typically starts with a trigger, such as stress, anxiety, or boredom. You may turn to food to cope with these emotions, seeking temporary relief and comfort.


Once you start eating, it’s easy to lose control and overeat and engaging in binge eating can become a habit.

Guilt and Shame

After overeating, you may have feelings of guilt, regret, or resentment and be ashamed or embarrassed. Leading to negative self-talk and poor self-esteem. These negative emotions can perpetuate the cycle of emotional eating, leading to more overeating.

Repeating Cycle

The cycle of emotional eating can be challenging to break, leading to a repeat of the cycle. You may feel stuck, helpless, and unable to control our eating habits.

Strategies to Stop Emotional Eating

Emotional eating can be challenging to break, but there are strategies you can use to stop this cycle.

Recognizing Triggers

The first step in stopping emotional eating is to recognize your triggers. To do this, you can keep a food journal and note your eating patterns, including when, what, and why you eat. This can help you identify patterns and triggers that lead to emotional eating.

Identifying Emotional Triggers

Once you are able to recognize your eating triggers, you can identify the underlying emotions that trigger them. For example, if you are you eating because you’re stressed, anxious, or bored then identifying these emotional triggers can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms and behaviors to replace the eating. 

Addressing the Root Cause

Addressing the root cause of emotional eating can help you break the cycle. For example, if stress is your trigger, find healthy ways to manage stress. If you can manage your stress with some type of exercise that would be great, that way you are beginning a new healthy habit while breaking an unhealthy one. If boredom triggers you, find new hobbies or activities that keep you engaged and fulfilled.

Developing Coping Mechanisms

Emotional eating can be challenging to break down but developing healthy coping mechanisms can help you manage your emotions without turning to food. While there are many healthy coping mechanisms that you can engage in, it is not uncommon for people to engage in negative coping mechanisms as they go on their journey of learning how to stop emotional eating. 

Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Healthy coping mechanisms are positive ways to manage your emotions. Some examples include exercise, meditation, deep breathing, journaling, or talking to a friend. These coping mechanisms can help you manage stress, anxiety, or boredom without turning to food.

Avoid Negative Coping Mechanisms

Negative coping mechanisms, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, or binge-watching TV, can harm your health and well-being. These coping mechanisms may provide temporary relief from things like sadness or loneliness but can create more problems in the long run. It’s essential to avoid negative coping mechanisms and focus on healthy ways to manage your emotional eating. It is key to not replace one poor health habit with another. 

Practice Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is a practice that involves paying attention to the present moment while eating. It can help you develop a healthy relationship with food, improve digestion, and promote overall well-being. There are a variety of techniques and benefits involved in mindful eating.

Mindful Eating Techniques

  • Start with gratitude. Before eating, take a moment to express gratitude for the food.
  • Slow down, take your time to eat and savor each bite. 
  • Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.
  • Avoid distractions like watching TV, using your phone, or working while eating. This can help you focus on your food and your body’s signals.
  • Chew your food thoroughly. This can help with digestion and promote a feeling of fullness.
emotional eating

Seek Professional Help

Seeking professional help for emotional eating can be an important part of better understanding how to stop emotional eating and is an essential step towards recovery. Professional help includes registered dietitians, mental health professionals, health coaches, and medical doctors. When choosing the right professional, consider their credentials, experience, approach, and availability. Read reviews or ask for recommendations. 

Remember, seeking professional like therapy or guidance from a dietician or doctor. Seeking help is a sign of strength and can lead to a healthier relationship with food and improve overall well-being.

Do note that emotional eating may be considered an eating disorder for some people and may require someone who specializes in disordered eating treatment for increased likelihood of recovery.

how to stop emotional eating

Lacey Baier

Hey y’all, I’m Lacey Baier and I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a healthy lifestyle influencer and the creator of this clean-eating blog and YouTube channel, A Sweet Pea Chef. My recipes have been published on Food Network, Good Morning America, FoxNews, Tastemade, Fitness Magazine, and much more. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four kiddos. Let’s get started!

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