Do you feel like eating your favorite food from your favorite restaurant when you are stressed? Does reaching out to your comfort food help in relieving stress? The answer would be yes for most of us!

Finding comfort in food is very common and this practice is known as emotional eating. Emotional eating (sometimes referred to as stress eating) is eating food to make yourself feel better - to fulfill emotional needs rather than addressing your hunger needs. And obviously, the choices of food are surely not going to be fruits and salads, but junk, high-calorie, sweet, salty, and fatty foods.

Emotional hunger is known to interfere with your daily eating habits and is different from physical hunger. It can lead to overeating in most people and prove harmful to your overall health. Identifying what factors lead to emotional eating is the first step to avoid resorting to this practice.

Differences Between Emotional Hunger and Physical Hunger

Emotional hunger is often mistaken for physical hunger. However, they are distinctly different and if you look for the right clues, you will be able to identify them accordingly.

  • Emotional hunger comes on suddenly, whereas physical hunger is natural, and comes on more gradually.

  • Emotional hunger leads to mindless eating or overeating. In the case of physical hunger, you’re well aware of your portion sizes. 

  • Emotional hunger is a result of a craving that you can’t get out of your head. Physical hunger is initiated in the stomach.

  • Emotional hunger often results in regret, guilt, or shame. There are no feelings of regret when you satisfy your physical hunger.

Emotional Eating Triggers

Emotional eating is triggered by all kinds of emotions- people eat when they are either too happy or extremely angry, sad, bored, or depressed. 

Besides strong emotions, other triggers that can lead to emotional eating include:

  • Boredom or feelings of emptiness

  • Childhood habits

  • Social influences and gatherings

  • Certain doses of antidepressants, steroids, and drugs

  • High levels of stress, which in turn increases or alters the levels of cortisol (the primary hormone released in your body in response to stress)

  • Excessive release of ghrelin (the ‘hunger hormone' that is produced by the cells of the gastrointestinal tract, especially the stomach), when you are dieting or due to some diseases

How to Avoid Emotional Eating?

1. Learn to recognize physical hunger. A craving for chips or cookies soon after a meal is more likely due to emotional hunger, not real, physical hunger.

2. Identify the various food triggers. Keeping a journal can help identify patterns in emotional eating, including keeping a track of the emotions and feelings when eating; what and how much was eaten; and feelings after eating. 

3. Look elsewhere for comfort. Instead of grabbing a candy bar, take a walk, call a friend, listen to music, or read a book. Every time you are reaching out for food due to emotional stressors, pause for a second and see if you can divert your attention to something else.

4. Manage stress in a healthy way. The goal is to lower your stress with healthy habits like exercising regularly, taking adequate rest, spending time with friends and family. 

5. Practice mindful eating. Mindfulness is a way of paying focused attention to the current experience or purpose, without judgment. 

Applied to eating, this technique can help in increasing awareness of the sensations, feelings, and thoughts connected with food and eating, like, eating more slowly and not rushing through your meals, chewing thoroughly, not watching television while eating, etc.

6. Toss out unhealthy and junk foods. Avoid stocking your cupboard or refrigerator with high-calorie comfort foods. Consider healthier food options such as a bowl of tomato soup or a cup of tea. 

7. Eat a balanced diet and healthy snacks. Between your meals, opt for low-fat, low- calorie snacks such as fresh fruits, nuts, and unbuttered popcorn. Keeping yourself full can reduce the release of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and thus, reduces the intake of unnecessary, high-calorie, or junk foods.


Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.