You may be an emotional eater and you don’t know it

Are you an emotional eater and you don’t know it? I was. Well, to be perfectly clear I was an emotional eater and I didn’t know it. I am still an emotional eater, but now I’m aware of it and managing it.

I thought that emotional eaters turned to food when they were upset, angry, stressed or sad. That’s true; that is what emotional eaters do. Food is used to cope with these strong, uncomfortable emotions. It’s not an effective way to manage emotions, but for many people, it’s the only way they know how to get even temporary relief.


When I’m sad, angry, stressed or anxious the last thing I want to do it eat. My stomach gets tied up in knots and I’d probably vomit or choke if I tried to eat. Painful emotions take away my appetite. I would never look for relief in a carton of ice cream, a bag of chips, or even freshly baked cookies.

No wonder I didn’t think I was an emotional eater. I actually thought I was an emotional anti-eater. I didn’t want to eat when I was feeling emotional, but there were emotions that always left me up for eating. The problem was one of them was my most-of-the-time emotion and the other emotion I tried to avoid at all costs.

Happiness is an emotion too, and I’m naturally a happy and optimistic person. When I’m feeling happy and in the vicinity of my kinds of happy foods, I find it hard not to indulge. The happier I am, the more likely it is I’ll say, “yes” to whatever goody happens to be available.

My "I wonder what I can find that's good to eat around here?" face.

My “I wonder what I can find that’s good to eat around here?” face.

My emotional eating was as much of a problem for my weight struggles as it is to people who eat to ease painful emotions. While they use food to stuff down their pain, I used it to boost my pleasure.

If I'm happy this cheesecake is only going to make me even happier.

If I’m happy this cheesecake is only going to make me even happier.

After I indulged in emotional eating I never felt guilty, maybe some regret. My naturally optimistic disposition, however, would quickly overcome any feelings of regret. I’d discount the episode and not concern myself with what would happen with the extra calories.

It turned out there’s a second emotion I handle with food. Boredom is an emotion too and I hate being bored. When bored I wanted to do something to make the boredom go away.

Oh, I know what to do – eat something. Unlike eating out of happiness when I went for highly palatable foods, I’d eat whatever I could find to try to push boredom away.

This emotion requires urgent attention that's instantly relieved by eating.

This emotion requires urgent attention that’s instantly relieved by eating.

This was a pattern that caused weight gain and prevented successful weight loss. It took me a long time to figure out the cause of my problem. I finally realized I really was an emotional eater. That was when I was able to find a way to handle my emotions without food.

My solutions are interchangeable and work with either emotion. They do allow me to eat in response to either emotion if I determine that’s what I really want to do, but I don’t just mindlessly start eating. I have a simple 3-step plan to manage emotional eating if I decide I really want to eat.

My 3-step emotional eating plan

  1. I pay attention to what I eat.
  2. I practice portion control.
  3. How it will affect what I will be eating later on in the day?

When I decide I want to handle my emotions in a way that doesn’t involve eating, I generally rely on my iPhone. If I’m bored or happy, I find entertainment in the 7,554 photos including 1,338 videos on my phone.

It helps to have a sense of humor about yourself. Here is an oldie but a goodie that never fails to make me laugh.



Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. She is a Weight Watchers success story. She's a weight loss expert with 25 years of experience guiding women and men to their weight-related goals. Her articles on weight management have been published in health, family and women's magazines. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news, FOX network morning program Good Day Maine and 207 on WCSH.