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 August 24, 2021

What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

I’ve been a dietitian now for a long time (more years than I care to mention), and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that fad diets are best avoided. This is why I’m so pleased that whole food diets are being talked about more and more.

Rather than a “diet,” I prefer to think of a whole food diet as a way of life. Eating this way is balanced, and it is a great way to support your all-around body health and longevity. Plus, it’s delicious and—in my opinion—not limiting either, which is a massive bonus.

A well-balanced diet follows some fairly basic principles and, in essence, consists of plenty of the following:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein
  • Nuts
  • Water

This is essentially all a whole food diet is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accepted definition of the whole food diet, which means that there are some highly restrictive versions around and some involve principles to frame your diet around rather than strict rules.

Read on to learn more about the whole food diet as a framework for eating rather than a strict rule book of dos and don’ts that restricts your lifestyle.

What Is a Whole Food Diet?

By definition, a whole food diet consists of eating foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. It’s easy to get lost in a quagmire of organic, local, or pesticide-free, but a whole food diet is basically food in its most natural form. Obviously, spices can be ground and grains can be hulled, but you get the idea. You eat the whole food rather than what’s left after being refined or processed.

In other words, it involves a lot of cooking because whole foods do not involve anything processed. That means no premade sauces, dips, or convenience foods like chocolate bars, sweets, or ready-meals. It also includes things like tinned vegetables and white bread.

Why? Processed and convenience foods are often high in salt, saturated fat, and additives in comparison to anything homemade. Because of this, their toll on your overall health is higher.


Can Other Diets Also Be Whole Food Diets?

Here’s where it gets confusing—yes, other diets can also be whole food diets. Eating a whole food diet is a lifestyle choice, but many other diets can exist within a whole foods construct. So, diets like the MIND Diet and Mediterranean Diet are also whole food diets.

For example, here are the foods involved in the MIND Diet:[1]

  • Green, leafy vegetables five times a week
  • Five or more different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Berries five times a week
  • Five or more servings of nuts a week
  • Olive oil five times a week
  • Whole grains five times a week
  • Oily fish twice a week or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement
  • Legumes and pulses five times a week
  • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins twice a week
  • Vitamin D supplement
  • Minimally processed foods
  • No more than one glass of wine a day
  • One or two coffee or tea a day max
  • Two liters of water a day

That’s pretty much a whole food diet, right? As long as any meat or plant-based proteins are as unprocessed as possible, then it can be a whole food diet.

Other diets, like a vegan diet, for instance, could be whole food diets or not. It really depends if processed foods are included. Some food substitutes are really heavily processed, so it’s important to read labels really carefully. But it’s only some, not all.

And here’s where it gets woolly. If you don’t need to eliminate certain food groups for whatever reason—ethical, health, religion—then a whole food diet can be great. But if you do exclude certain foods, then it could be beneficial to include certain “processed” foods. This is to make sure that you don’t miss out on vital nutrients to keep you healthy.

Processed Foods That Are Okay on a Whole Food Diet

Many brands of cereals are fortified with B vitamins, which can be hard to come by on a plant-based diet.

For example, vitamin B12 (needed for maintaining a healthy nervous system, energy, and mood-regulation), is largely found in animal sources. It is something that those on a plant-based diet need to keep an eye on, as studies show that around 20% of us are deficient. And we also know that 65% of vegans and vegetarians don’t take a B vitamin supplement.[2]

So in that case, choosing a cereal fortified with B vitamins would be a good option, if done wisely. By that I mean use your discretion and check the labels, as many brands of cereals are packed with sugar and additives. But you can strategically choose minimally processed foods using a whole foods mentality.


As a rule of thumb, if there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t understand, or sound artificial, they probably are best avoided.

Benefits of a Whole Food Diet

In a 2014 analysis by Yale University, they concluded that “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”[3]

A diet rich in fruit and vegetables or other high-fiber foods like whole grains and nuts is really important in maintaining good long-term health and preventing health problems like diabetes and cancers. These kinds of foods also help our bodies to cope and control the effects of inflammation.

In fact, one review from 2019 stated that “diets high in plant foods could potentially prevent several million premature deaths each year if adopted globally.”[4] This is a big endorsement for a whole food diet.

Whole Foods and the Gut

Whole foods are loaded with fibers that are sometimes lost during processing or refinement. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because aside from its traditional “roughage” reputation, it also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, providing a whole host of other benefits.

They also provide a lot of variety, which the gut loves. The more variety, the better. So, even though you might fall in love with certain recipes, it’s important to mix up the kinds of whole foods you eat to maintain a healthy gut. Aim for 30 different whole foods each week. It’s easier than you think!

Whole Foods and the Brain

The brain is a really hungry organ, and it uses 25% of the total energy you consume from your food. Everything it needs to function at its best is—you guessed it—a whole, unprocessed food.

In fact, the best diet recommended for brain health is the MIND Diet. In one study, it was shown that people who follow the MIND diet closely had a 53% reduced rate of developing Alzheimer’s.[5]


Some of the best whole foods for the brain are:[6]

  • Oily fish
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Whole grains

Is It Easy to Follow a Whole Food Diet?

Once you’ve got your head around having “ingredients” rather than “ready-to-eat” things in your kitchen cupboards, it’s actually very easy. The only issue is the lifestyle and habit changes that come along with it.

It is very likely that for many people, following a totally, religiously whole food diet may be unattainable at least some of the time. For example, there are days where you don’t get time to make your lunch or if you want to enjoy social eating. Similarly, people who have young children or who are working more than one job are unlikely to be able to follow a whole food diet all of the time.

Sometimes, we put ourselves under pressure to be as perfect as we can with diets like this, which can lead to an eating disorder called Orthorexia, which is a preoccupation with healthy eating.

This means that following a whole food diet, in principle, can be healthy and accessible for some people but not for everyone. It also means that those with previous disordered eating, as always, need to avoid any form of dietary restriction or rules around their diet.

Is a Whole Food Diet Boring?

Absolutely not! The beauty of this way of eating is that there are barely any recipes that are off-limits. If you can make it yourself using natural ingredients, then it counts. So, dig out your recipe books and get familiar with your spice cupboard.

Here’s my advice if you’re just starting: stock up on coconut milk and canned tomatoes. You’ll use them all the time in sauces.

Best Hacks for Sticking With a Whole Food Diet

Here are some tips to help you stick with a whole food diet and develop this lifestyle.


1. Practice Batch Cooking

Especially in the beginning, if you’ve been used to eating more convenience-based or packaged foods, you’re likely to feel like you spend the majority of your life in the kitchen. So, I’d suggest getting your cookbooks out and planning around five things to make per week. If you make double, or even triple portions depending on your household, you’ll have enough quantity to last several meals.

For example, his could be homemade granola. Make it once, and that’s breakfast sorted for a week. Whole food diet ingredients like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, and seeds are all delicious, and great nutritional resources to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

I also love to make big stews, sauces, and curries that can happily be reheated and added throughout the course of a few days.

2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods

Sticking to a new way of eating can be really difficult, especially for your willpower. So, it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for yourself.

Pre-chop. Pre-chop. Pre-chop.

If you’ve got a container of carrot sticks on hand or can happily munch on a few pieces of melon from the fridge, use those—it’s almost easier than grabbing something from a package. This can extend to your other vegetables, too. If you get your veg delivered or buy it from a market, choose a few things to slice after you wash them. That way, if you need a speedy lunch or a lazy dinner, it’ll be ready in minutes.

Ready to Try a Whole Food Diet?

If you’re looking to maximize your overall health, well-being, and vitality, I’d absolutely suggest a whole food diet. But, as with everything, it’s important to do what works for you and your own lifestyle.

Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel – Restaurant Photographer via



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