HEALTH: Bring your emotional eating out of the closet

Do you have a ‘sweet tooth’ that you indulge?

Are you an overeater?

Do you drown your sorrows with a bucket of ice cream?

Let’s talk about emotional eating. It is something so many people do yet it is not talked about much. Invariably, whenever I bring up the subject in a conversation, someone always says, “That’s me!”

Emotional eating is a general term that applies to a range of behaviours. On one end of the spectrum, there are those with severe, life-threatening eating disorders such as anorexia or morbid obesity.

For most of us, though, who are not at these extremes, emotional eating is usually more insidious and invisible. It can mean reaching for comfort food when we are stressed or anxious; self-soothing with food when we feel hurt, lonely or sad; or swallowing down our anger or guilt by stuffing ourselves with too much food.

Emotional eating interferes with our ability to be our best and healthy self. How common is the following example? We are committed to sticking to a new healthy eating plan, and/or an exercise schedule, with a goal of losing weight and feeling good. We are into our new regime, starting to see results and feeling great. And then, we find ourselves emotionally triggered by something that happens or just wanting to give up. We start feeling uncomfortable — maybe anxious, angry, hurt, guilty, lonely or bored, etc. If we are accustomed to using food as a comfort, that is what we will reach for — and it won’t be for vegetables.

We will grab for those comfort foods; i.e., sweets such as ice cream, chocolate, cake, cookies, muffins; or salty treats such as potato chips and other junk foods.

How will we feel after? Guilty, remorseful, bad about self, weak, a failure — which is exactly opposite of how we are striving to feel with our new healthy regime.

We are actually giving mixed messages to our body, our mind and our spirit. It is not the emotions that are harmful but the messages we give ourselves. Our minds are powerful, and our thoughts and beliefs that we hold are continuously forming our experience of our daily life. The negative thoughts about self that surface from emotional eating usually sound something like this: “I blew it. I’m weak. I‘m a failure. I’ll never make it.”

If we keep up this pattern of emotionally coping by using food, along with these inherent negative messages, we will never allow ourselves to have the success we desire. Our negative self-statements cancel out our exuberant ones, like “Yes, I can do this.”

We all have to eat and food is everywhere. Eating sweets or chips between meals is so often condoned by others. Well-meaning people want us to eat a second helping. We meet a friend daily for coffee and a muffin. We keep treats on hand (or even hide them) for when we “need” them, not to mention that the nearest grocery store is never very far away. (Also, there is sugar in almost everything these days and sugar is very addictive). Food addiction is not like other substance addictions in that we cannot keep food out of our home or environment. We must face it at least three times a day.

If you are wondering if you are an emotional eater, ask yourself these questions:

• How would I feel if I stopped eating (fill in the blank)?

• How would it be if I stopped eating before I am full?

You can do an experiment to see if you can stop the behaviour. If you cannot stop, then you are likely eating for emotional reasons.

Like any other addiction, the first step is to admit this to yourself. If you cannot reign in these health- and success-sabotaging habits on your own, then find a person or people that can help you. Start by finding a place where you can open up and talk about your experience.

There is a way out of the pattern of emotional eating. This way out includes facing and feeling our emotions that we are afraid of — emotions that we would rather ignore and eat a sweet instead. Our fear of feeling is always much worse than the feeling itself. In truth, when we allow ourselves to feel our emotions, to move through them rather that stuff them, they dissipate and we feel freer and unburdened.

Whatever your health and fitness goals, know that you can achieve them. With the willingness to address your emotions instead of trying to swallow or stuff them down, you gain back the power to free yourself up to be your best and healthy self.


– Susan Kinross is a registered professional counsellor in Port Moody, 604-813-2180 or Port Moody Naturopathic Health and Wellness at 604-949-0077,



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