Managing Emotions around Eating

It can be helpful to understand our emotional state when we reach for food or sit down to eat. Having insight into what triggers us to eat and how we feel in that moment, is essential to developing a balanced relationship to food and eating. You can start by noting the emotions that trigger eating or overeating when we are not mindful or paying attention to our food.

To start, try recording your emotions and how you feel in a mood-and-food diary. Write down:

  • What foods you ate, when you ate them, and how much you ate
  • How you felt as you were eating (stressed out, bored, happy or unhappy, worried)
  • Note: Were you really hungry or eating for comfort or any other reason?
  • How you felt after you ate

Over time, you may start to see a link between what you feel and what you eat. You may find that eating has become a way for you to cope with daily stress or boredom, rather than a way to provide energy and nourishment. An important question to ask yourself: how do I better manage my feelings to consistently engage in positive behaviors, like eating a healthy whole food plant-based diet, rather than junk food or overindulging in sweets?

Look for stressors and triggers

Learned behaviors like overeating or binge eating are usually ‘triggered’ by negative emotions (notably, anxiety, fear, helplessness, and/or guilt). It can be helpful to identify our triggers and the stressors in our lives. Is the source of your stress an external issue such as a financial worry, a new job, a birth or death, an illness, a marriage or a divorce? Or does your stress come from inside you, an internal worry like fear, anxiety or negative thinking? Continue to ask yourself questions as you explore the source. Knowing the source of your stress and attending to your feelings are the first steps in addressing stressful situations. Equally important, is addressing how you respond to these stressful feelings and situations.

To better respond, notice patterns around your eating, recall your triggers and what compels you to eat at certain times or in certain places. As you learn more about your behaviors you can start slowly to shift things around in your life and try out new ways of thinking and behaving. One of the best approaches to nurture positive behavior is to choose positive or neutral ways to fulfill them.