MOOD & FOOD Weight Loss Cycle

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How To Get Control of Emotional Eating

Find out how emotional eating can sabotage your weight-loss efforts, and get tips to get control of your eating habits.

It doesn’t just happen to a few of us; the strongest food cravings hit when you’re at your weakest point emotionally. Many of our patients turn to food for comfort — consciously &/or unconsciously — when encountering a difficult problem, feeling stressed or even feeling bored.

Emotional eating can & will interfere with your weight-loss efforts if it is ignored.  It often leads to eating too much — especially too much of high-calorie, sweet and fatty foods.

Here’s the good news – if you’re prone to emotional eating,

( most of us are😊).  You can take steps to regain control of these emotional eating habits and get back on track with your weight-loss goals.

Here’s How The Mood & Food Weight Loss Cycle Works

Emotional eating is eating to stifle or avoid negative emotions, such as anger, stress, fear, grief, boredom, and loneliness.  It’s not always the major life events but sometimes it’s simply the hassles of daily grind that can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating and stall your weight-loss attempts. These triggers might include:

  • Worrying – many of our patients have been overwhelmed by COVID.
  • Tensions in Relationships with family, friends, or co-workers
  • Fatigue – not getting enough sleep, sitting long periods at a computer.
  • Financial demands
  • Health challenges – even changes in medications or dosages, sometimes vaccinations can stall weight loss
  • Work stressors, especially job/ career changes

Although some people eat less in the face of strong emotions, if you’re in emotional distress you might turn to impulsive or binge eating, quickly consuming whatever’s convenient without enjoyment.

In fact, your emotions can become so tied to your eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you’re angry or stressed without thinking about what you’re doing.

Food also serves as a distraction. If you’re worried about an upcoming event or stewing over a conflict, for instance, you may focus on eating comfort food instead of dealing with the painful situation.

Whatever emotions drive you to overeat, the result is often the same. The effect is temporary, the emotions come back, and you’ll likely then bear the added load of guilt about setting back your weight-loss goal. This can also lead to an unhealthy cycle — your emotions trigger you to overeat, you beat yourself up for getting off your weight-loss track, you feel bad and you overeat again.  A downward spiral that is hard to get out of.  If you’re doing this please contact us.

How do you get back on track?

When negative emotions threaten to trigger emotional eating, you can take steps to control cravings. To help stop emotional eating, try these tips:

  1. Keep a journal.Do not just write down what you eat, & how much you eat, but track what time it is, write down how you’re feeling when you eat ( angry, sad, bored)  and how hungry you are. Also write down where you are, (work, home or out) & who you are with (alone, specific people).    Over time, you might see patterns that reveal the connection between mood and food.  If you are stressed write what you are stressed about, do not ignore these feelings.  Sometimes getting them ‘’off your chest’’ can make a big difference.
  2. Counteract your stress.Stress is everywhere and in many forms.  AND stress contributes to nearly everyone’s emotional eating.  Try a stress management technique, such as deep breathing, meditation or simple stretches or talking a walk outside.
  3. Check in with your hunger level.Is your hunger physical or emotional? Rate your hunger from 0 (not) to 10 (starving).  If you ate just a few hours ago and don’t have a rumbling stomach, you’re probably not hungry. Give the craving time to pass.  If you’re a 10 then maybe you’re going too long between meals or need to eat the optional snack?
  4. Use IHC for support.Stay engaged with us.  You’re more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a good support network.  Also ask for help from your family and friends.  Send us your journal & ask for assistance.  That’s what we want you to do.
  5. Combat Boredom.Instead of snacking when you’re not hungry, distract yourself and substitute a healthier behavior. Take a walk, watch a movie, play with your cat, listen to music, read, surf the internet or call a friend.
  6. Take away temptation.Don’t keep hard-to-resist comfort foods in your home. And if you feel angry or blue, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you have your emotions in check.
  7. Variety is the spice of life.When trying to lose weight, you might eat the same foods repeatedly. This may just serve to increase your food cravings, especially in response to emotions. Eat satisfying amounts of healthier foods & get plenty of variety to help curb cravings.
  8. Learn from setbacks.If / WHEN you have an emotional eating event, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Have it be a learning experience, notice the triggers and patterns and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that’ll lead to better health.   If you need help with please ask us.

Sometimes it’s best to seek professional help

We have help hundreds & hundreds of patients with emotional eating but sometimes they need a little more help.  If you’ve given these self-help options above a really good try but you still can’t control emotional eating, consider therapy with a mental health professional.  We have a couple connections in the Charlottesville areas if you need a referral.  Therapy can help you understand why you eat emotionally and learn coping skills. Therapy can also help you discover whether you have an eating disorder, which can be connected to emotional eating.


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3510 Remson Suite 101-A
Charlottesville, VA 22901
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