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Managing Emotional Eating


Rosemary Nardone, CHHP, RM

Certified Nutritional Health Counselor 

Living in our fast-paced, high-stress society,  being bombarded  with food from every direction triggers emotional responses and giving into indiscriminate eating that is counterproductive to our healthy weight goals.

 “Food” has become the recreational drug of the 21st Century – 75% of our population is obese, and 75% of this comes from emotional eating.

 The common denominator for weight gain is not dealing with our feelings.  Mindless eating sabotages even the healthiest diet and is the reason why diets fail.  Opening he door to feeding every feeling, be it sadness, loneliness, anxiety, even happiness, generates a pattern of behavior that is hard to control. 

While it is unrealistic to think we can banish chocolate cake, pizza and ice cream, it is possible to stop the downward spiral which evolves by giving into everything we feel with food.  Sometimes a piece of chocolate cake can really turn a bad day around.  However, it is possible to cut back on this behavior and ultimately avoid piling on the pounds.  Before we do this, let’s understand why our emotions are making us indulge in the first place.

 Most binges are connected with negative feelings – anger, anxiety, depression.  When this happens, we divert our attention away from whatever real feeling caused our angst – then use food as a “drug” which is fast and easy to obtain to take the edge off.

 Unfortunately, this is a temporary fix because when we’re finished eating, the problem still remains.  Furthermore, the “binge” makes us feel worse in the long run.  Then we eat more to deal with this distress and it becomes a vicious cycle. 

It wouldn’t be so bad if we soothed ourselves with vegetables and fresh fruit, but we grab cookies, candies, French fries.  The reason for this is biological.  Our brains are hard-wired to pass the salad bar and go straight for refined sugar and fatty carbohydrates.  When we eat carbs like cinnamon buns or ice cream, our bodies release the brain chemical Dopamine.  This stimulates the pleasure center in our brain making us want to repeat this experience over again, which in turn elevates other brain chemicals linked to pleasure and euphoria.

 Also is the fact of “food by association” evoking pleasant memories from childhood like ice cream cones, hot dogs which are easily available when we are stressed thus starting the scales going forward.

 The truth is we don’t have to let biology or childhood memories stand between a healthy slim body or anything else.  We CAN put a stop to emotional eating anytime.  The key is breaking our automatic connection between food and mood, learning to identify the reasons why we are eating, and retraining ourselves to get pleasure from other things like friendship, exercise, hobby or whatever fills our emotions positively.

Here are some proven strategies that work to offset this health issue and help you get back on track. 


AWARENESS – rate your hunger – recognize the difference between physical and emotional hunger.


LIGHTEN YOUR TREATS – stay away from heavy comfort foods – choose lighter healthier versions – keep junk food out of the house.


BUDDY SYSTEM – work with a friend, get on the internet, bang a pillow, but just take action away from your kitchen.


TIME – hit the pause button – give yourself permission to eat every single bite of everything you want, as much as you want with the CONDITION that you have to wait 30 minutes, then you can have it


REPROGRAM YOURSELF – if you are used to eating when upset, rewire your brain to feel comforted by other behavior.  Write down everything that makes you feel better and reach out to that instead of food.


CONSEQUENCES – consider how you feel after giving into a binge.  Go into your closet, check what you can’t fit into.  Face whatever is bothering you, then release it.


KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE – most binges and splurges last only 5 seconds because most of us eat too fast.  Maybe a skim milk cappachino would be a better investment.


LAST BUT NOT LEAST – DON’T BE HARD ON YOURSELF – this perpetuates eating disorders, lowers self esteem.  One slip will not make you gain l0 pounds, but feeling bad after every slip is causing people to become obese.  Get back on track, forgive yourself and move on.

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Rosemary Nardone


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