Let’s be real for a minute and talk about a problem that many face on a day to day basis: emotional eating. It’s an issue I’ve personally dealt with on and off for almost as long as I can remember, and according to a national survey is a struggle for an estimated 2.8 million people. [1,2]
The Mayo Clinic says emotional eating is a coping mechanism to deal with negative emotions. Major life events and daily hassles can trigger these emotions. We experience many such triggers every day — relationship conflicts, stress at work, money worries, and rejection to name a few.
The foods we search out when emotionally eating tend to be high in carbs, sugar, and fat. They give us an immediate serotonin boost (the “happy hormone”), but the response is short-lived. Sugar is highly addictive and your body begins to crave that sugar high, creating a vicious spiral that is difficult to break.
Why is this a problem for so many? Most do so out of habit. Years of associating food with feelings — a mindset that isn’t going to get better overnight. To break the emotional eating cycle it will take practice, willpower, and determination plus a healthy dose of trial and error.
Let me share with you five steps that have helped me break this terrible cycle. Give them a try before throwing in the towel!
- Recognize Your Triggers
What sets off your emotional eating frenzy? Work? Relationships? Money? Make a list of everything causing you to eat and keep it in a visible place. When these triggers appear, you can make a conscious mental note that they’re setting you off towards the fridge.
Triggers are not completely avoidable, but you do have some control over how often they show up in your life. One of my favorite quotes is, “Starve the distractions, feed the focus.” Saying no to possible stressors can be freeing, opening up the door to positive changes.
- Consume Healthy Fuel
Nutrient-dense foods provide your body with the fuel it needs to run properly and can help curb cravings. Sugary foods and drinks cripple your weight loss efforts and often create a binge eating snowball effect. Guess which types of food we gravitate towards when we’re stressed?
Keeping your water intake up also helps keep cravings at bay. Hunger, dehydration and stress are a recipe for disaster when it comes to emotional eating.
- Find Healthier Ways to Cope
When I’m stressed, hitting the weights is my number one coping mechanism. I always feel better after leaving the gym. Your healthy coping mechanism may be yoga, reading a good book, listening to music, or hanging out with people you love.
Whatever puts you in your happy place, do that instead of reaching for a carton of ice cream next time you feel the urge to emotionally eat.
- Make Your Kitchen A No-Junk Zone
If junk food doesn’t exist in your fridge and pantry, you won’t eat it. Instead, keep your kitchen stocked with nutrient-dense foods, like:
- Lean proteins like chicken
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Whole grains
- Sweet potatoes
I also keep some of my favorite protein bars on hand for when I’m craving something sweet.
- Phone A Friend
Friends make any struggle easier to overcome, and they may even have similar problems. Confide in those close to you. Ask them to keep you accountable, share your goals, and reach out when you’re feeling tempted to emotionally eat.
Support is a huge factor in successfully overcoming any personal demon. Lack of support itself can be a serious trigger for many people.
Most importantly, recognizing that emotional eating is a real, difficult problem many face can make it easier to deal with. Knowing you are not alone can be helpful in overcoming this obstacle.
You Can Do It
It took time and patience, but I learned to minimize emotional eating through practice, goal setting and tenacity. You can overcome this challenge, and getting past self-doubt is often the first step to success. Wake up each day reminding yourself: Be strong and courageous, and keep Livin’ Fit.
For more helpful training tips, workout ideas, macro-friendly recipes and more, follow me on Instagram @aprilimholte
April M. Imholte, RN
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Certified Sports Nutritionist
Nationally Qualified Figure Competitor
 Hudson JI, Hiripi E, Pope HG Jr, Kessler RC. [Published correction appears inBiol Psychiatry. 2012;72(2):164.] Biol Psychiatry. 2007;61(3):348-358.
 Howden LM, Meyer JA. US Census Bureau Age and Sex Composition: 2010. US Census Bureau. May 2011