Last Updated on December 11, 2020

What Is Emotional Eating And How To Stop It

What Is Emotional Eating And How To Stop It

Do you sometimes eat to feel better or reduce stress? We don’t always eat to satisfy physical hunger. But sometimes, we eat for emotional needs instead. When we do, it’s often comforting but less healthy foods—and this is called emotional eating.

If you think you suffer from emotional eating, read this article to find out more about how to identify it and practical tips on how to stop.

What Is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is when you eat high-calorie low-nutrition foods whenever you feel stressed.[1] Emotional eating attempts to fulfill your emotional needs and make yourself feel better rather than your stomach. There is a wide range of emotional triggers to this, such as boredom, stress, anxiety, habit, depression.

Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional concerns, and it can actually make you feel worse. As not only does the original issue remain, but you may also feel guilty for eating more than you need.

How Can I Tell if I’m Emotional Eating?

While it may seem obvious to only eat when you are hungry, it can be quite hard to identify emotional eating because you may not even realize that you are already doing it.

But you are probably wondering: how can I tell if I do this, too?


One way to identify if you are emotional eating is to keep a diary of how you feel when you eat. This will help you identify your triggers, too. Consider and record how you are feeling every time you eat, what you ate, and how you felt after.

  • Do you eat more or less when you are feeling stressed?
  • Do you eat to feel better?
  • Do you find eating cheers you up or calms you down when you feel anxious?
  • Does food feel like a comforting friend?
  • Do you feel you are powerless over what and how much you eat?
  • Do you use food as a reward?

There is a huge social and enjoyment aspect of food and eating that is healthy. Getting pleasure out of food is different from using food as your primary emotional coping strategy when you feel low, stressed, angry, upset, tired, bored, or lonely.

Emotional eating often starts with negative thoughts, which is a learned behavior, that we usually pick up subconsciously. But it can also be linked to positive feelings, such as rewarding yourself or celebrating an event.

Is It Physical or Emotional Hunger?

At first, it can be really difficult to distinguish between physical and emotional cues for eating. However, some practical tips can help you work out the differences:

Physical hunger:

  • Gradually builds and can wait
  • Unlikely to crave specific foods
  • Stops when you are full
  • Is not associated with feelings of guilt once you have eaten

Emotional hunger:


  • Comes on suddenly and feels like it can’t wait
  • Likely to crave specific items of food
  • Isn’t satisfied after eating
  • Can trigger feelings of guilt, shame, and powerlessness

Risks Associated With Emotional Eating

When you eat for emotional reasons, not only are you unable to address the root causes of your emotional concerns, but it is also often associated with guilt and overeating. This sets up a negative cycle where we feel bad that we overate but then use food to soothe us again.

Overeating can lead to obesity, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, cancers, arthritis, and depression. Becoming obese can also lead to a loss of control, especially over our weight and eating. Overeating can also cause nausea, which gives a strong feeling of discomfort.[2] These risk further emotional eating.

Stress Can Impact What You Eat

Stress has both a physiological and psychological impact on appetite. Nutrition is now known to also affect stress via the two-way connection between our gut and brain (gut-brain-axis). Chronic stress is associated with a greater desire for energy and nutrient-dense food, such as high fat and high sugar.[3]

The stress hormone, cortisol, has been found in mice to have the opposite effect on the hormone leptin, which inhibits hunger. Mice with higher levels of cortisol continued to eat and gained weight. This suggests that not only might you eat due to stress, but cortisol amplifies this by making us feel physically hungry even when we aren’t.

This demonstrates that there is a physiological component to emotional eating as well as a psychological one. High-fat and high sugar foods stimulate reward pathways in the brain that are associated with pleasurable experiences. Withdrawal of these foods may result in increased cravings for them.

Stress is an important factor in the development of addiction and relapse. The addiction to the neurochemical rewards of these high-fat and sugary foods may be linked to stress.


Microorganisms in Your Gut Also Affects Your Mood

The trillions of micro-organisms that live in our gut (microbiota) play an important role in susceptibility to many diseases.[4]

Incredibly, our behaviors such as social activity, stress, and anxiety-related responses can be modulated by our microbiota. However, the methods by which this influence occurs remains poorly understood.

The gut-brain axis describes the two-directional signaling between the gut microbiota and the brain.[5] Studies have shown the composition of the microbiota and the production of different neuroactive metabolites formed by them can have direct effects on the brain.

In a large population study, the presence of different microorganisms was correlated with quality of life and the incidence of depression.[6]

Can I Stop Emotional Eating?

The good news is that once you have thought about and identified your triggers for emotional eating, it then becomes possible to challenge these behaviors.

There are several practical steps that you can take to help change your eating habits:


  • When you get a craving or feel hungry, check in and see what your emotional state is.
  • If you feel hungry, pause and decide if it can wait or not. See how you are feeling and why you have the craving.
  • Try to avoid having forbidden foods as they are so much more tempting.
  • Eat mindfully, focusing on each mouthful without the distractions of a screen.[7] Pay attention to each bite. Enjoy the flavors and textures of what you eat.
  • Savor every mouthful, and don’t eat in a rush. It also takes time for hormone reflexes to let you know that you are physically full.
  • Accept that we all have negative feelings. But avoiding them can mean they rebound, time and time again.
  • Avoid the need to finish the plate of food just because it’s there. Listen to your body, and stop when you are full.

If you feel bored, try reading a book, doing sudoku or a puzzle, or find a hobby you enjoy. If you feel lonely, try connecting with friends or volunteering, even if it’s only digitally or on the phone.

If you are feeling upset, try listening to music, enjoying a smell that evokes happy feelings, or reaching out to friends or pets. If you feel exhausted, resist the temptation to load up on sugar and try a warm bath early at night or get a hot drink instead.

Support Your Emotional Health With a Healthy Lifestyle

We all have stresses or moments of anxiety and boredom in our lives. To avoid emotional eating, it helps to have other ways of supporting your emotional needs instead of just using food.

Additionally, these will help with resilience so that it’s easier to navigate more challenging times that you face and will face in your life.

Here are some tips to support your emotional health with a healthy lifestyle:

  • Aim to get a good night’s sleep of approximately 8 hours.
  • Exercising regularly not only improves your physical health but also your mental health and reduces stress.
  • Make some time in the day for yourself, and permit yourself to relax, even if you only start with 5 minutes each day and build up from there.
  • Value your friends and family, as a close bond can help with coping with challenges.

Final Thoughts

Emotional eating is harmful not only to our mental well-being but also our physical health. It’s not something that people want, but it happens nonetheless. Emotional eating is not easy to control if you have no idea about it, or if you don’t know that you already do it. You can start with the tips in this article to help yourself stop emotional eating and learn to manage your stress better.


More Tips For Emotional Eaters

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via


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Dr. Harriet Holme

Registered Nutritionist, and doctor

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Published on July 14, 2021

13 Best Foods to Eat at Night (Advice From a Health Coach)

13 Best Foods to Eat at Night (Advice From a Health Coach)

We’ve all had late-night cravings. Those times when you would lie in bed but your mind is on the fridge. You try to fight it, but you find out that you can’t. Food—you want food—to chew and to drink and to swallow. It usually goes this way: after much hesitation, you would get off your bed and walk over to the kitchen where you would stand for seconds and maybe even minutes contemplating a lot of things.

You have heard about it—read about it, too—the famous “eating late at night isn’t good for you.” You know well about how eating late at night can cause you stress and make you gain weight. But you just want to eat—and eat you must.

But what must you eat? What are your best and most healthy options? Here are the 13 best foods to eat at night.

1. Turkey

If you aren’t a vegetarian, then you most probably love turkey. It is not only very tasty and delicious, but it is quite nutritious, too. Turkey contains a lot of protein. As little as 28 grams of turkey already contains eight grams of protein.[1]

It also contains some amount of vitamins and a nutritive compound called selenium. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that plays an important role in ensuring the thyroid gland functions properly.

Turkey passes as one of the best foods to eat at night because the protein tryptophan, which it contains in a considerable amount, is believed to promote tiredness and thus, sleepiness.[2]

2. Fish

Another great choice for non-vegetarians is fish, especially fatty fishes like salmon, tuna, and mackerel. These are considered healthy choices because they contain a considerable amount of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body regulate its calcium levels and is good for your kidneys, parathyroid glands, skin, etc.


Fatty fishes also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of healthy fatty acids that can serve as anti-inflammatory agents and are good for the brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are shown to be able to increase the amount of serotonin produced by the nervous system, and thus, make sleep feel better.[3] This means that fishes would not keep you awake! You don’t have to roll from side to side trying to fall asleep after eating them.

Fishes also contain nutritive oils that are good for your body and skin.

3. White Rice

White rice is just rice that has no bran germ—that is, both bran and germ have to be removed as a result of processing from brown rice to make it white rice. This removal of bran and germ causes white rice to contain lower fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants when compared with brown rice. However, white rice still contains a commendable amount of nutrients such as thiamine, folate, and manganese and so is great as a late-night meal.

White rice has a high Glycemic Index. (GI). A food’s glycemic index is simply the measure of the rate at which that food increases the body’s sugar level. Taking in foods with a GI index, such as rice, can improve the quality of one’s sleep. This is as long as one takes these foods one hour before sleep. If you plan to sleep by 7 p.m, then it is a good idea to eat white rice by 6.p.m.[4]

4. Bananas

Finally, Something for vegetarians. A fruit! Bananas not only taste good, but they are also rich in the compounds potassium and tryptophan, making them one of the best foods to eat at night.

Tryptophan, as earlier stated, is an essential protein that plays a role in relaxation. Some bananas before meals can improve the quality of your sleep. Plus, they contain vitamins and are rich in antioxidants. They also contain compounds that are capable of making bowel movements easier.

5. Cheese and Crackers

Cheese and crackers, crackers being a source of carbohydrates and cheese a source of tryptophan, can help balance the body’s sugar level. When you take cheese and crackers together, more tryptophan is made available to your brain.[5] The sugar in cheese feeds your brain, and tryptophan helps with the production of melatonin.


This means that there would be more serotonin and melatonin production in your nervous system when you take cheese and crackers together. Serotonin improves the quality of a person’s sleep.

6. Warm Cereals

Cereals are great sources of fiber. Ones like oats also contain an impressive amount of melatonin, which improves sleep.

Before bed, a hot bowl of cereal and maybe even whole grains are a good choice. They do not contain a lot of calories and would most likely not keep you awake.

7. Yoghurt

Yogurt tastes good, and kids and adults love them. They are also a rich source of calcium. Calcium is an essential mineral to the body. It is necessary for the growth of bone and teeth, and skeletal, smooth, and cardiac muscles need it for muscular contractions to happen.

Your body also needs calcium to produce melatonin from tryptophan. If calcium levels are low, there will be a reduced rate of production of melatonin—and thus, low quality sleep. Yogurt also contains casein. Casein is believed to reduce early morning hunger.

Unsweetened yogurt is a great snack and one of the best foods to eat at night.

8. Eggs

Eggs are great sources of protein and don’t contain many calories. As a late-night snack, eggs are a great pick. They are easy to cook and can go along with many different kinds of snacks.


Eggs also contain tryptophan, which—as you must now already know—can improve the quality of one’s sleep.

9. Protein-Pineapple Smoothie

As you may have noticed, most of the snacks and foods on this list of best foods to eat at night are protein-rich foods. Protein-rich meals taken around bedtime can boost muscle repair. They can also combat age-related muscle mass loss especially in people who frequently exercise.

As a late-night snack, you can blend some pineapple pieces into milk. Milk is a great source of the protein tryptophan from which the body produces melatonin. Pineapples do not contain a lot of calories and might not prove a threat to your body’s normal digestive functions. Pineapples can also boost your body’s serotonin levels.[6]

10. Tart Cherries

Juices made from tart cherries are great alongside other snacks, such as crackers and cheese. Tart cherries have anti-inflammatory effects. Even though in small quantities, tart cherries contain the sleep hormone melatonin. They also contain procyanidin B-2, which is believed to keep stable the essential amino acid tryptophan.[7]

Tart Cherries have low calories, too. This means that they are not too heavy and do not pose the threat of fat deposition, and they would not keep you awake.

11. Honey

Honey harvested from bees is nutritious and does not contain a lot of calories. It is known to be capable of increasing the production of melatonin in one’s body.[8]

It also contains healthy sugars, such as fructose and glucose, and can have a healthy effect on your body’s sugar level. Honey is one of the best food to eat late at night.


12. Popcorn

When it isn’t swathed in sugar and milk and other fatty stuff, popcorn presents as a great late-night snack. Popcorn is a low-calorie snack and contains a rich amount of fiber.[9] High-fiber grains are believed to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

Also, popcorn contains polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants believed to improve circulation and in general, health.

13. Baked Sweet Potato Fries

French fries are amazing. They taste so good. Do you like french fries? Then baked sweet potato fries are a great pick you might want to consider.

As a late-night snack, you can very well bake sweet potatoes instead of frying them. They are easier to prepare when baked and do not contain so much fat. Sweet potatoes contain a good quantity of fiber and vitamins.[10]They also contain some great amounts of protein.

Final Thoughts

When next you have the craving for a late-night meal, you should know that not all meals are great when eaten at night. Some are about right, and others could contribute to excessive weight gain, heart diseases, digestive disorders, and other health issues.

Have you ever woken up with swollen eye bags, felt nauseous, or had malaise after a late-night meal? Then it’s possible the meal was not a great pick.

When choosing the best meals and snacks to eat at night, you should choose meals that contain low calories—not more than 200 calories—and have high protein content. Proteins like tryptophan enhance the quality of sleep. Some of these foods include eggs, turkey, cheese, bananas, yogurt, juices, etc.


Remember, eating healthy is a great way to remain healthy.

More Healthy Snacks Options

Featured photo credit: K15 Photos via


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