Are You An Emotional Eater? How To Know; Where To Get Help

"Food is very personal and can be someone's drug of choice."
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Food can be the drug of choice for some people -- and it's a complex matter.

"For example, you've had a bad day at work and eat to medicate that feeling," said Dieticians at Work dietician Ashley Gibbon. "You always feel like you need to eat something to feel better," she explained to HuffPost SA.

Such people are classified as emotional eaters. They turn to food not necessarily because they are hungry, but because of varying emotions, which may include feeling stressed, angry, lonely or bored.

Furthermore, "an emotional eater will be very specific about what they want. It will happen very suddenly too, and they will do anything to fulfill that urge", according to Mindful Eating dietician Philippa Harris.

However, negative feelings will soon follow the emotional eating episode. "You feel the initial sensation of feeling better, but then you feel guilty, or feel you shouldn't have eaten that in the first place," said Gibbon.

Along with the guilt you may experience feelings of anger, self-loathing and powerlessness, Harris pointed out. You may also feel anxiety and depression over the emotional eating episode, added Gibbon, which further complicates the matter.

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What you can do

Harris noted that unless the problem of emotional eating is acknowledged, it cannot be solved.

Food is very personal, and can be someone's drug of choice.

If you suspect you are an emotional eater, here are three primary things the dieticians suggest you can do:

  • Identify the root cause of the stress. "Ask yourself what is causing it, and see if it's something within your power to fix, or seek professional help," Gibbon suggested. "Taking a walk, phoning a friend or a partner, or reading a magazine are also simple but effective ways to try to deal with stress before turning to food."
  • Keep a food diary. Note when you eat, what you eat and why you eat. Are you physically hungry, stressed or fulfilling a craving at the time of eating? "That 4-5pm hour after work is particularly dangerous for emotional eaters," Harris warned, adding that more emotional eaters overindulge during that time, depending on the state of their emotions. Keeping a food diary may help you physically track and identify your eating triggers.
  • See a dietician or nutritionist. They are trained to help you identify food problems you may have and help you have a better relationship with food. "Food is so much more than what you put on your plate. It involves emotions, the environment around you and impulses in your brain," added Harris.

Harris and Gibbon both noted the complexity of a person's relationship with food. "Food is very personal, and can be someone's drug of choice, based on a number of reasons," Gibbon admitted.

However, if left untreated, a food habit out of control can lead to a host of lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Moreover, it can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

And this is why a healthy relationship with food is crucial, and why if it's unhealthy, help is recommended.

"If hunger is not the problem, then food is not the solution," Harris concluded.