Emotional Eating: Feeding Your Feelings

Eating to feed a feeling, and not a growling stomach, is emotional eating

By Heather Hatfield
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

When you're happy, your food of choice could be steak or pizza, when you're sad it could be ice cream or cookies, and when your bored it could be potato chips. Food does more than fill our stomachs -- it also satisfies feelings, and when you quench those feelings with comfort food when your stomach isn't growling, that's emotional eating.

"Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than hunger," says Jane Jakubczak, a registered dietitian at the University of Maryland. "Instead of the physical symptom of hunger initiating the eating, an emotion triggers the eating."

What are the telltale signs of emotional eating, what foods are the most likely culprits when it comes to emotional eating, and how can it can be overcome? Experts help WebMD find the answers.

How to Tell the Difference

There are several differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger, according to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center web site:

1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly; physical hunger occurs gradually.

2. When you are eating to fill a void that isn't related to an empty stomach, you crave a specific food, such as pizza or ice cream, and only that food will meet your need. When you eat because you are actually hungry, you're open to options.