- Emotional eating behaviors develop when you use food to cope with emotions. Falling into this cycle can impact your relationship with eating and may affect your health.
- Understanding how emotions affect your eating patterns is a great first step. Our emotional eating quiz can help you identify triggers and make changes.
- A registered dietitian specializing in emotional eating can help you break out of an emotional eating cycle and improve your relationship with food.
There are several reasons why you choose to eat throughout the day. The primary reason is that you’re physiologically hungry and need to eat to replenish your body’s energy stores. However, there could be moments when you don’t feel hungry but find yourself eating based on your emotions. For example, grabbing a snack because you feel stressed.
Although some emotional eating is normal, frequently engaging in this cycle can strain your relationship with food and negatively impact your health. Understanding the motivation behind emotional eating can help you change these behaviors.
Keep reading to learn more about emotional eating, and take our seven-question quiz to understand better which emotions trigger you to eat.
Want more support? Nourish offers individualized nutrition counseling to Americans nationwide. Book your first virtual appointment with a registered dietitian specializing in emotional eating.
What Is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating refers to consuming food or beverages in response to your emotions versus your hunger cues. Sometimes, emotional eating can lead to overeating, leaving you feeling uncomfortably full. Below are examples of positive and negative emotions that could trigger emotional eating.
- Joy or celebrations. Imagine yourself celebrating a work promotion or feeling happy to see a friend after an extended break. These events are usually centered around food and drink, which may contribute to emotional eating.
- Traditions. Enjoying birthday cake on your birthday is expected, as is craving mashed potatoes and gravy for American Thanksgiving. It’s normal for your emotions to influence your food choices during these special events.
- Excitement for new things. When you travel, you’re probably excited and curious about trying new foods, especially if you’re only there for a short amount of time. The time restriction and excitement may affect your emotions and prompt you to eat more than usual.
- Stress and anxiety. Experiencing personal and professional stress can result in emotional eating. Stress eating is common and affects up to 27% of Americans.
- Boredom. Insufficient stimulation can make you feel bored, and eating can be a quick and easy activity to provide instant gratification. Unfortunately, the feelings often subside quickly, and the cycle can continue.
- Fear. Fear surrounding significant life changes can contribute to stress and anxiety, leading to emotional eating.
- Feeling out of control while eating. This can happen if you’ve spent years following strict diet rules and feel a constant tug-of-war between enjoying and restricting foods.
If you suspect your emotions influence your meals and appetite, contact a Nourish dietitian for your first virtual appointment. Popular insurance carriers cover visits, and 94% of users pay no money out of pocket.
Benefits of Taking an Emotional Eating Quiz
Take our quiz to learn how your emotions affect your eating habits. You can share your quiz responses with your registered dietitian during your appointment, but it is not required.
Remember, you may choose to eat for several reasons, and emotional eating is just one of them. Occasional emotional eating is normal, but if most of your meals are motivated by your feelings, it's time to seek help.
7 Questions To Discover Your Emotional Eating Triggers
Remember to be kind to yourself as you move through this quiz. Addressing emotional triggers can feel like heavy lifting for your mental health, so do your best to approach these questions with curiosity and self-compassion.
1. What things typically prompt me to eat, even when I'm not physically hungry?
Many scenarios can prompt you to eat. Write down the three most common things that encourage you to eat, even when you aren’t hungry. It might surprise you that many of them are emotions if you are an emotional eater.
Here’s a quick summary of emotions that could prompt you to eat:
2. How does food make me feel in the moment?
It's common for the first few bites to taste incredible and make you feel happy about eating. However, these feelings can wear off quickly if you are not hungry.
You can gain more insight by paying attention to how you feel when you first start eating compared to the last bite of your meal. Is it still flavorful, or has the appeal subsided? Developing this awareness can help you better understand how emotions influence your eating behaviors.
3. Am I able to resist cravings without feeling deprived?
Denying yourself cravings because of a food rule (a food belief that we should or shouldn’t eat certain foods) can make you feel deprived, unhappy, and unsatisfied. Feeling deprived could trigger an emotional eating cycle, which may result in overeating.
A registered dietitian can teach you how to navigate these feelings and enjoy foods without guilt or deprivation.
4. Do I use food to avoid facing my emotions?
Negative emotions are unpleasant, and you may have periods where you avoid dealing with them or try to distract yourself. Emotional eaters may use food as a distraction or a source of comfort during these times.
However, learning to navigate unpleasant emotions is a part of life, and you can develop strategies to cope with big feelings (without relying on food.)
5. Do I feel guilty or ashamed after eating?
Experiencing intense guilt or shame can occur after emotional eating, but know that you should never feel bad for nourishing yourself.
You can take the necessary steps to modify this response over time, including individual nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian or sometimes a therapist if it's more appropriate.
6. How do I usually respond to stress, boredom, and loneliness?
Everyone feels stressed, bored, or lonely sometimes, but how you react in these times can be telling about your relationship with food. Identify which specific emotion prompts you to eat, and think of ways to alleviate those feelings.
If you’re bored, consider attending a local class to learn something new. This may also help people who feel lonely and crave more socialization.
7. What am I doing to break the cycle of emotional eating?
Are you taking active steps to change your behaviors, or are you passive and observant? Taking this quiz may be the first step in breaking the cycle of emotional eating, which is an excellent move forward in your health journey.
You can also book an appointment with a specialized dietitian to brainstorm effective strategies for overcoming emotional eating. Some examples include:
- Going for a walk around the block.
- Visiting a local library for free activities.
- Calling a friend to check in.
- Finishing up chores around the house.
- Pamper yourself with a hot bath or pedicure.
Any of these strategies are appropriate, and you can discuss more creative ideas with your dietitian.
Interpreting Your Results
You may benefit from nutrition support if you notice a clear link between your emotions and eating.
If you mostly answered “no” throughout the quiz but feel compelled to learn more about your relationship with food, you are invited to book an appointment with a registered dietitian. There are always benefits to expanding your nutrition knowledge.
You can address emotional eating behaviors in whatever way feels best. For some, this could mean starting with a support group or involving one-on-one care with a dietitian specializing in emotional eating.
Understanding the motivators behind emotional eating can help you familiarize yourself with your triggers and help you make changes to address them.
Managing Emotional Eating with an RD
Working with a nutrition expert is easier than ever through Nourish. Every dietitian works online and can offer supportive guidance to improve your relationship with food, starting with emotional eating.
Book an appointment with a Nourish dietitian specializing in emotional eating.
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