Are you emotionally hungry ?

We’ve got a lot of emotions.

And sometimes our response to any one of these emotions is to eat.

Happy? This moment requires a cheeseburger.

Bored? That bag of chips is calling my name.

Anxious? Maybe fixing an elaborate snack would work as a good distraction.

Stressed? Nothing will do for me at this moment except for large latte.

Sad? Ice cream will always cheer me up.


There is nothing wrong with you if you respond to emotions by eating. Most of us will do it from time to time. It’s part of the way we function together as human beings. Enjoying food together is great way to celebrate, catch up, and bond. Eating together is a fundamental aspect of relationships. However, food cannot be the only means of expressing our emotions.

Recognizing the difference between the hungers may be hard, especially if responding to various emotions by eating is something you’ve always done.

Here’s one way to test if it’s physical hunger or emotional hunger: will any type of food fill the hunger? If all you had was an apple, would that answer the hunger until you could get something more substantial? See, emotional hunger is often tied to a specific food or type of food. I know when I am bored and simply want something to fill my time (instead of homework…), I am not going to reach for celery sticks. Sure, I like celery sticks, but that’s not going to satisfy the boredom.

The problem with emotional eating is less the eating and more emotional neglect and struggle that goes along with it.

Eating will not make sadness go away. (On the opposite side of the coin, neither will restriction!!) Sadness and other emotions need to be addressed. Feeding your emotional hunger with food is like starving it. It needs to be answered with things like comfort, meditation, fulfilling jobs relationships, and reflection.

Eating in response to emotions will often lead to unnecessary guilt. Food should never, ever make us feel guilty. However, many who struggle with emotional eating will feel guilty after feeding emotional hunger with food. The guilt will lead to the worst of the emotions, shame, and then shame could lead to restriction, which will cause anxiety, which could eventually lead to another episode of emotional eating. It’s a viscous cycle.

Sometime we emotionally eat simply out of unawareness. Perhaps we’ve become detached from the being able to listen to our physical hunger and fullness cues, so we respond to any sort of hunger, physical or emotional, by eating.

Sometimes we make food our only pleasure. Perhaps we’ve forgotten the joy of sitting in the sun, reading a book, window shopping, cuddling on the couch with our loved one, going for walk, or catching up with a friend. Food is certainly a great pleasure, but too often it becomes the only one.

Sometimes we have difficulty handling our feelings. Sometimes the stress, sadness, anger, frustration can be too difficult to bear. Responding to it may feel like a huge battle while opening a bag of chips or spooning into a pint of ice cream would be much easier. Food can take our minds off of pain, but it doesn’t make the pain go away.

Sometimes we emotionally eat because we are in vicious cycle of poor body image or low self-esteem. We want to “try harder” and so we set impossible goals that lead us to fail and feel worse about ourselves.

To reduce the frequency of emotional eating (it’ll never completely go away, but that’s perfectly OK), first: stop dieting. Eat food that is satisfying and that makes you feel good so that you can live a healthy, happy life. Dieting evokes unwanted emotions and stress that will only contribute to emotional eating. Dieting causes us to focus on food constantly and we neglect the other areas in our lives.

We must feed our souls and our stomachs, depending on what is hungry at the time.

When I am happy, I can call a friend to talk about it rather than treating myself with a latte.

When I am stressed, I can step outdoors to breathe in the fresh air rather than searching for chocolate.

When I am anxious, I can spend time in prayer and do some yoga stretches rather than baking cookies.

What emotional hunger do you have that may need “feeding”?

30 thoughts on “Are you emotionally hungry ?

  1. this is a really insightful post… thank you for this Kate. You are so right- food should not be the only thing that is making us happy. There are so many other great things in life- sure, food can be comforting. But so can friends, family, loved ones…those all make us feel good
    Lyss recently posted…Where I’m at Right NowMy Profile

  2. This was so true –> “Feeding your emotional hunger with food is like starving it.”
    I think emotional eating is perfectly fine and normal from time to time unless it becomes the only way to cope with emotions. When it’s used to simply numb or avoid feelings all the time it becomes unhealthy.

    I also think it’s good to have an awareness about it so even if you do choose to emotionally eat, you still call a friend or take a walk or journal etc so you actually get to the root of the emotion.

    I agree that the best way to quit emotional eating is to stop dieting. Great topic, I have been thinking about this a lot lately.
    Megan recently posted…6 Hours in Downtown PhoenixMy Profile

  3. Great post, Kate. It is crazy how food has become such a HUGE part of our society and way of living – way more than just regular pleasure and sustenance. You said it – food is and should be pleasurable, but it shouldn’t be the ONLY thing our minds go to in order to fill some sort of void. And its funny how both eating or not eating seem to do the same thing for different people. We have to go through a world wide re-training process again I think.
    When I’m sad/down I definitely go for a latte. It is a form of comfort. But I know that a walk outside does the same thing.
    Cora recently posted…My Kind of Marathon: Eating for Performance (WIAW)My Profile

    1. I want to become more in touch with the things that give me pleasure, other than the obvious things like really good food and coffee.
      Restricting vs eating all the food can totally come from the same place, and both are not healthy if they mean we leave our emotions starving!

  4. My biggest one is feeling bored. When I am studying I constantly crave chocolate because it makes the awful stuff we have to learn less of a drag. I have discovered that making tea provides an excellent distraction too.
    Megan recently posted…The week in reviewMy Profile

  5. I love this post, Kate. It’s interesting how food is sometimes the first thing we turn to when we feel any sort of out-of-the-ordinary emotion, regardless of if it’s good or bad. Love your ideas of taking a walk, calling a friend, etc. as ways to deal with our emotions instead!

  6. Thank you for this post!
    As someone who does not handle her emotions well, I restrict rather than eat emotionally. My sister on the other hand is a big time emotional eater. She knows it too – she will straight up say “I am eating this only because I am stressed out right now.” But its like she just can’t find another outlet. We are working on it – but it is NOT easy!
    kat recently posted…Vegan Cinnamon Roll CakeMy Profile

  7. Love this post, Kate. I’m a big emotional eater…actually, I’m just really bad about handling emotions period. Whether it’s eating, taking it out on others, or taking it out on myself in some other way. I stress eat, but I am learning to reach for other things when I’m anxious or sad. I definitely agree that food should NEVER make us feel guilty.
    Catherine @ A Cup of Catherine recently posted…Currently // November 2016My Profile

    1. Emotions are tough in general. I think emotional eating is fine from time to time, but being careful not to always feed our emotions with physical food when they need something more. It’s awesome that you’re aware of what you’re doing emotion-wise. Awareness is key!

  8. This is a tough issue to tackle, but you do it so well. Emotional eating is definitely something I think most people struggle with, my main one is boredom. When I am studying all day, all I can think about is how having food or even just a drink will lift my spirits, and it does haha.
    We just need to be mindful of our choices!
    Stephanie Leduc recently posted…On the go Rainbow Salad in a JarMy Profile

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