How to reduce emotional eating

Here’s everything I’ve learned about how to reduce emotional eating. 

An emotional eater generally loves food and can feel full, unlike over eaters who may never feel full.   If an emotional eater is overweight, portion size isn’t usually the reason they’re overweight.

They use food as their reward, punishment and stress coping mechanism in their lives and as we’re either happy, sad, energised, tired or stressed all day every day. It’s the regularity of emotional eating time after time, that can cause weight gain.  However, an emotional eater may not be overweight, but may still suffer mentally when they give in and eat something as a result of a trigger.

reduce emotional eatingSTRESS

Stress of any kind is usually the biggest trigger for them to eat unhealthily. Having a heavy workload, stressful job, unhappy home, family problems etc. This can then be used as an excuse to eat unhealthy food regularly, especially in the evening. 


They might eat high fat & high sugar foods to reward themselves when happy or achieved something positive. They might for example celebrate the end of the working week with take-aways and alcohol all weekend. They might even have a bar of chocolate after the gym.


Emotional eating is done when people are sad or bored, usually alone, sometimes in secret.  They will eat unhealthy foods to lift their mood when sad or when feeling lonely.  The stereotypical eating ice-cream after a break up of a relationship. Eating fast food after getting negative feedback in work or not fitting into an old pair of jeans.  When none of your clothes fit so you just say “f*ck it” and get a take away and don’t bother going out socialising.  It can be a vicious cycle.  In extreme cases they might subconsciously punish themselves by eating, when they receive negative comments, see photos, receive bad news or make a mistake. 

reduce emotional eatingEXCUSES & SELF LOATHING

Emotional eaters are experts at making excuses and mostly do it subconsciously. “I didn’t have time to cook something healthy”, “There wasn’t anything in my fridge, so I just had a take away” “I’d a crazy week in work so needed a glass of wine, or a bottle with my dinner all week”.  “None of my clothes fit anyway, so I might as well eat this”.  If you’re an emotional eater you’ll know them all very well and usually stick to a couple of your favourite comfortable excuses, that you’ve justified in your mind.  Self-loathing and negative thought processes only compound the matter, usually resulting even more unhealthy eating, as they then become sad.

Emotional Eating can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, body dysmorphia or other conditions.  Checkout www.Bodywhys.ie  for more information on these.

An emotional eater that’s overweight knows they are, but usually refuses to weigh themselves, normally underestimates their weight and almost always hates getting their photo taken. Personally, I do eat emotionally to lift my mood when I’m sad or stressed.

Chronic emotional eaters seem to put others first a lot of the time, take on too much in their job, have difficulty delegating or take on the problems of others. This puts their own health and happiness at risk and they need to learn to look after themselves and be a little more selfish to get and more importantly stay, in shape.

You can still work late when you’re slim…., you can still be an agony aunt for your friends when you’re fit….. You’ll still meet that deadline if you go to the gym…. A 1-hour workout is just 4% of your day. They are generally excellent at their profession and excel at whatever they do, why can’t they do this with their health?


  • Set small realistic goals
  • Don’t have treats in the house.
  • Never buy multipacks of treats.
  • Plan workouts and meals the day before.
  • Avoid eating on the go at all costs.
  • Learn to balance your blood sugar levels and include complex carbs into your diet.
  • Keep yourself busy at the times you’re prone to eating unhealthily (usually night time)
  • Plan treat/cheat nights weekly – but not an all out massive binge. Look forward to it, use it as date night or to catch up with fun friends/family.
  • Learn to recognise when you’re emotionally eating, learn what was the trigger?
  • Can you avoid, change or reduce exposure to whatever the trigger was?
  • Find something else to reward yourself when feeling happy. Gym, walk, cycle, go for coffee, meet a fun friend, read a book, draw, get your nails done, do some gardening, listen to uplifting music, get a hobby.
  • Cut out stressful people in your life or at least limit your exposure to them. Are they belittling you?  Are they abusive to you?  Are they offloading on you?  Are you taking on their problems?  Are they even taking your advice?  Chances are, you’re not helping them anyway?  Is that good for you long term?
  • Delete or block toxic “friends” on social media.
  • Cut down on your social media.
  • No social media in the bedroom or an hour before bed.
  • Get back in touch with an old real friend, you used to have fun with?
  • If single, why not look into online dating?
  • Get a make over?
  • If its making you unhappy or unhealthy, consider speaking to a counsellor about it, checkout www.bathavenuecounselling.ie

reduce emotional eatingOver the years I found this type of client finds it harder to lose weight, as you’re either happy, sad, relaxed or stressed every hour of every day. Being determined and motivated enough are key to succeeding and Ill discuss this in detail further on. They need a very good support system from friends, family members and a good trainer or gym to succeed and more importantly, keep the weight off.

Training with a friend or in a group will help to keep emotional eaters focused and a supportive housemate or partner is essential. Following a structured meal plan works well but a reward meal in their diet each week is essential to keeping them on track in my experience.  My Body Slim Course or Weight Watchers type of food plans work well with emotional eaters as they can still eat sweet/sugary things occasionally. Portion size generally isn’t the problem with emotional eaters. I also recommend that they reward themselves with new clothes, new piece of equipment for their hobby or get their nails done etc. instead of food.

Finding something that’s motivating enough and then being determined are essential to get in shape. However, a large turmoil/event in their lives like a breakup, losing a job, moving to a higher role in work, having kids, health problems or financial problems etc. can knock them back and the person needs to be mentally strong to get and stay in shape.

However, life has its up and downs and so will our exercise and diet regimes, don’t be hard on yourself if a major event or turmoil has happened in your life and you’ve gained weight or lost fitness.  Chances are you know what worked for you in the past and know what to do to get there.

author: Andy Kenny