What's a practical way to avoid emotional eating?

Here are two of the most practical ways to avoid emotional eating:


1. Don't buy emotional eating foods 

2. Find alternatives for dealing with your emotions


Grabbing for food as a way of coping is within your control. 

Replace the unhealthy habit deliberately and consciously with a new healthy one.  Stay aware of yourself and as you start to feel you are moving towards food for comfort, go to your replacement plan.  Make yourself a cup of tea, change your environment by taking a walk, calling a friend, connecting with your support group online, starting a project or reading a good book. There will be times that you will have a plan and not work it.  This is a reality.  At this point, the important thing is to not be too hard on yourself as this brings us further down emotionally.  Isolate the situation knowing that you can make a better next choice.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Clearly, some of us eat for physical reasons (we're just plain ole hungry) and some of us gnaw on leftover Halloween candy for emotional reasons (we're steamed at the boss about having to start and finish a new report by 10 a.m. and it's 9:47). But sometimes, it's not always easy to figure out the difference.

To help, throughout the day, record your level of hunger as judged by the scale below. Stay in tune to what your stomach is telling you—not what's happening outside with stresses (kids going crazy), emotions (spouse is working late again), or habits (Leno equals bowl of Trix). This process will help you really feel your hunger—so that you can let you stomach, not your emotions, dictate your habits.
  • 0 Tank=Starving. It feels like you haven't eaten since junior year of high school.
  • ½ Tank=Hungry. You're ok, not desperate, like maybe when you're driving home from work.
  • 3/4 Tank=Satisfied. You can go much longer without food. You just ate nuts and a drink before dinner.
  • 1 Full Tank=Satisfied and comfortable. It's the way you feel after finishing an average-portioned, healthful meal.
  • Overflow Level S =Stuffed. You could've stopped two scoops of pudding ago.
  • Overflow Level OS=Overstuffed. Audible groaning detected.
  • Overflow Level BP=Button Pop. It's the typical Thanksgiving gorge. You feel sick, guilty, and even take the name of your momma's stuffing casserole in vain.
Every time you find yourself reaching for the cheese sauce or cookie box, rate your hunger. Then think about whether you're reaching for the leftover lasagna because you're truly hungry or for a reason that has absolutely nothing to do with hunger. Ideally, you'll want to stay in the ¾ to Full Tank range—satisfied at all times. And you'll get there through eating regularly throughout the day. After taking these gauges for two weeks, you'll start to instinctively know why you're eating, and better, you'll train yourself to eat simply to keep your stomach satisfied—and not your emotions.
YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

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YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

For the first time in our history, scientists are uncovering astounding medical evidence about dieting -- and why so many of us struggle with our weight and the size of our waists. Now researchers...
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Trying to find ways to break the emotional eating cycle? Remember the following tips to become a more mindful eater. If you have trouble stopping and feel distress and anxiety about food, don't hesitate to seek the help of a medical professional.
  • De-stress With Endorphins: Endorphins are brain chemicals that elevate mood and provide energy. Your brain releases these happy chemicals during exercise. Endorphins are also elevated when you’re excited, when you consume spicy foods, and when you’re making love. Instead of eating a truckload of carbs when you’re feeling down, why not go for a walk around the block with your dog?
  • Make Foods Work in Your Favor: Different foods have different effects on your stomach, your blood, and your brain. For example, turkey contains tryptophan, which increases serotonin levels, which improves your mood, combats depression, and helps you resist cravings for simple carbs. Another example, omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, have been shown to combat depression and boost mood.
  • Savor the Flavor: If you’re going to eat something that’s bad for you, don’t just inhale it. Enjoy it. Savor it. Roll it around in your mouth. It’s okay to eat bad foods every once in awhile. However, don’t overdo it by eating the whole bag of cookies. Try a piece of dark chocolate, with 70% cocoa content or higher, as a way to reward yourself.
  • Go to Sleep: Getting enough sleep keeps you thin. When your body doesn’t get the seven to eight hours of sleep it needs every night to get rejuvenated, it finds other ways to compensate for those tired neurons not secreting the normal amounts of serotonin or dopamine. How? Your body may start craving sugary foods that will trigger an immediate release of serotonin and dopamine.

This content originally appeared on
Rose Reisman
Nutrition & Dietetics
If solutions were simple, no one would be overweight. Here are a few strategies I use when I'm trying not to turn to food to deal with my emotions.
  • Rather than seeking comfort in food, try to solve the issues at hand immediately. I say "immediately" because when you don't deal with the problem, issues build on each other and that's when food becomes an addictive "drug" used to cope. The next time you're in a negative mindset and find yourself turning to food, stop and ask yourself if there are any steps, other than eating, that you can take to solve the problem.
  • When you start overeating, ask yourself what's really going on. What are you feeling right now? Are you angry at your spouse, child, boss or friend? Rather than turning to food, look for an immediate solution for dealing with this anger. It's tough, but even if you can't solve the quarrel right away, you can write out or think through the real issues.
  • Don't blame others for your emotions when you start bingeing. Take responsibility for your own actions and reactions.
  • When you break a bad habit you must replace it with a better one. You have to mentally and physically stop yourself from overeating and turn to more positive activities: exercise, reading, shopping or anything else you enjoy. The new activity you choose won't always work, so you'll have to experiment. I always try to deal with my negative feelings by doing something different for 20 minutes. If food is still on my mind after that, I eat a small amount of the food I crave.
  • Remember, your overeating isn't a "24/7" habit. It happens occasionally throughout the day, so it's only at these times that you have to work hard at changing your responses. You'll notice that these impulses tend to happen at the same times during your day, and knowing this in advance means that you'll have the ammunition to deal with the moment when you feel the impulse to eat.
  • Learn to identify the difference between a craving and real hunger. Craving is often a response to emotions, whereas hunger is biological. With hunger, your body is telling you it's time to replenish. Many people with weight issues say they don't know what real hunger is; they never get hungry, but they always eat. Often this reaction can be traced to your childhood when you were told to "clean your plate." You forced yourself to eat to satisfy someone else, and over time you lost your biological hunger signals. It's time to get them back.
Rose Reisman's Secrets for Permanent Weight Loss: With 150 Delicious and Healthy Recipes for Success

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Rose Reisman's Secrets for Permanent Weight Loss: With 150 Delicious and Healthy Recipes for Success

For the journey toward healthier living. Losing weight can be a constant and frustrating struggle. Rose Reisman's Permanent Weight Loss Solutions creates a blueprint for lifelong weight control that...
Daphne Oz
Health Education

The best way to avoid emotional eating is to distract yourself with an activity that will break that emotional need. Watch health educator and author Daphne Oz explain how a little distraction, some water and awareness of your behavior can help.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.