My Advice for Emotional Eating

Cinnamon swirl bread

I see the way my mother treats our family dog, DeeDee, and as funny as it sounds, I get a glimpse of the way she must have loved and coddled me as a baby. If Dee gets upset, starts barking, chews on a slipper, gets into a roll- or seven- of toilet paper, Mom is able to distract her with the very mention of a treat. DeeDee forgets whatever small acts of terrorism she’s committing in favor of Puperoni.

It’s so darn easy to do. To appease and love and distract and reward through yummy. Really it is. And it’s not that I blame my mother in any fraction of a way for my own ending up at nearly 300lbs, it’s just that I know when I see her hush a crying toddler who wants to play with the glass figurine in the china cabinet with a Fudgicle pacifier, I know that I must have been hushed the same sweet chocolatey way. I notice myself doing it as a babysitter. Nothing quite stops a hysterical two-year-old like a promise of cookies and their favorite movie. It’s the distraction and the pacification that works when all rationalization has failed.

Maybe it taught me that I shouldn’t experience discomfort. That whenever I start to feel even one iota of boredom, doubt, anxiety, anger, that food will soothe me. And though logically I know that food does not solve my frustrations and my fears, I’ve come to condition myself that it does. At least temporarily.

I’m an escapist. I want to run away when I feel threatened emotionally. Even from myself. It’s why I loved diving face first into food for so damn long. I look back at two decades and know that yes, I was sad and anxious and lonely and scared and angry, and food was a means of coping. I ate my way away from discomfort. Because I was distracted, I was high on sugar. I was so full I simply didn’t have the room for anything else, most especially uncomfortable emotions.

Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce

In truth, I didn’t figure all of this out until after I had lost all 135lbs. I spent a year losing the weight, approaching it as one would any diet and exercise regimen, being diligent and disciplined and willful. I saw a finish line and I sprinted there, thinking, ‘I’ll figure out how to stay there when I cross that line.’ A ‘let’s cross that bridge when we get to it’ mentality. I imagine this is the downfall of any diet, any weight loss surgery, any effort that doesn’t involve the inner work. People regain weight lost because they haven’t sorted out their insides in the time they fixed their outsides. It took me 20 years to pack on an extra 135lbs, and only 13 months to lose it.

I’m not saying it’s easy to lose weight, but it is a world easier to be focused on tangible, physical things, than abstract philosophical ones. And so, in getting to my goal weight, which was less an exact number and more a range of healthy possibilities, I figured out that I had to now cope with everything I had eaten away for 20 years. It was humbling. It was the hardest period of my life.

The only way to describe this work, this period of realizing I just had to sit with my emotions rather than gulp them down with Ring Dings, is to say, “The only way out is through.”

Truly, it was a process of working through feelings rather than around them. It was not distracting, not finding replacement addictions or numbing agents. I read a million and one books on emotional eating, I discovered the brilliant Geneen Roth, author of a slew of literature that connects food with feelings and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. And the answer I found to my question of, “So, I’m here, I’m thin, I’m sad as hell, what now?”, was this:

Just sit with your emotions. Be present for them.

What does that even mean?

It means that whenever I felt that urge at night to eat a king sized Reese’s, Snickers, and Almond Joy, I was probably experiencing something deeper. Because there’s a difference between wanting a sweet treat, a sugary nightcap, and wanting three to ten sweet treats. It’s as if the fact that I didn’t just want one candy bar and that I only wanted three king sizes of them in a row, was a symptom of a greater inner turmoil. Was I bored and looking for something to do? Was I sad and looking for comfort? Was I scared and food felt safe?
I found it often happened at night, the deep-seated cravings for lots and lots of food. Days were mostly fine and dandy, but come the dark and I wanted to crawl into bed with Little Debbie herself.
Talking to Daniel helped tremendously. Just forcing myself to realize that it’s not in the name of deprivation that I denied myself three king sized candy bars, but in the name of digging deeper, really checking in with myself about what I was feeling that day that sent me running to food.

Take out Chinese food

So… what do I do next?

1. Realize that you never feel any better after two cupcakes than you do after one.
This is huge. Though I often begin to feel terrible sadness when I’m nearing the last bite of dessert and wishing wishing wishing for three more sweets to follow, when I do go ahead and have a second dessert, it never feels as satisfying emotionally or physically as the first. I heard once that after the first three bites of food, we begin to derive less and less new pleasure from it. Almost as if our taste buds max out. If you think about it, it’s true. And while I don’t stop after three bites, I stop after one cupcake.

2. Get a notebook and write for five solid minutes.
I don’t care how much you hate this, how boring it is, how much you feel like a sixth grader. It helps. Not because you’re penning your own Tale of Two Cities, but because it forces you to articulate the feelings you’re having. No, every time will not be some big reveal. You will not get to the absolute root of your discomfort and the reason you want to binge eat, but you will be working toward listening to yourself and the stories you tell yourself about who you are as a person, what your life is like, and how you handle stress and emotion. Often times, as I found myself begrudgingly writing when I’d rather have been eating at night, I realized that many of the so-called truths I held were unsupported and false. When you’re forced to put your abstract thoughts into words, you expose something more.

3. Just move on.
Stop dwelling, stop missing the days when you ate with reckless abandon, stop lamenting a second bowl of ice cream, stop begrudging the present moment, and move forward with your life. Eating, though it seems like the most important thing in the world, is not. Food, though one of the purest forms of pleasure and fun and reward, is just sustenance. Think about your relationships and goals and other parts of your life that bring you satisfaction. If you focus on the food, the food will take over your life and you will miss out on so much more. Life is more than a great meal plan. Think about what could happen if you shifted all of your energy from food onto other parts of your life.

4. Resist the Urge to Judge Yourself.
Breathe. Rather than judging yourself for not being able to get over the food and the want to eat and eat and eat, be kind and recognize that yes, we all want to have cookies and cupcakes and Doritos all the time. There is nothing wrong with that. The reason food manufacturers are so successfully making millions of dollars is because they’re designing food that hits every pleasure receptor in our brains and those chemicals make us crave more. We’re pleasure seekers. Duh.
The best thing you can do is just stay in the moment you’re in. That means, if you’re reading a book, dive into the story. If you’re cleaning up your living room, just observe the things in the room and the way it feels to move about them. If you’re talking to your friend, really really listen and stay in the conversation. Don’t overwhelm yourself with multi-tasking thoughts of food at the same time. Give the present your full attention and you will see that the world, and food, is much less overwhelming.

What about you? What’s your best advice for overcoming emotional eating?



75 thoughts on “My Advice for Emotional Eating

  1. Michelle @ a whole lot of life

    This post is so beautiful and so honest. I work on this every day. I used to cover up every emotional hurt with food and just eat, eat, eat until my uncomfortably stretched belly lulled me to sleep.

    I still do not have it down at all. Sometimes I still eat too much, not knowing when to stop. When I get sad or stressed, I immediately want to cram something into my face to deal. I acknowledge that as much as I work on it, I will likely struggle with it throughout my life. Those of us who have struggled with an addiction to food have our work cut out for us. Unlike an alcoholic or drug addict, we can’t give it up cold turkey. Every few hours we are faced with the decision to do the right thing for our health, hearts and minds or throw what we know is best for us and eat with reckless abandon.

    Thankfully, I just feel better when I treat myself better. Working out consistently and eating well helps me be the best version of myself. I keep this in mind and consistently remind myself that food will always be there. I do not have to devour everything in sight because I can always have it the next time I get hungry. That simple fact helps me in this ongoing process.

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      “Every few hours we are faced with the decision to do the right thing for our health, hearts and minds or throw what we know is best for us and eat with reckless abandon.” I love this Michelle. Thank you for all this insight and thank you for relating to me on so many levels :)

  2. cbrady3

    Awesome post. So much truth and heart in it. I think I figured out that the cause of my emotion eating was a deep unhappiness. I felt like I had nothing to strive for, no goals, and no clue what was going to happen to me in the future. It took months of terrible eating and nightly tears to take action. I first educated myself on food so I knew more about what I was putting in my body, and then I found a goal: to be a runner. I had never run before, but I wanted to complete a half marathon a few months away. It worked like a charm! Not only did I burn calories and learn to fuel myself properly, but I was striving for something. It gave everything new meaning!

  3. Jenn

    This is something that I constantly struggle with an always have. Your post is so well-written that it almost sounds as if it’s coming from my brain. I think the munching comes from feeling lonely; my husband has a crazy work schedule, I’m working two jobs, and we live 7 hours away from our families. It’s also from stress, too…most of which are regarding situations that I cannot control.

    In the past three months I have had two colds, strep throat, and bronchitis. My husband pointed out to me the other day (as I’m sniffling and coughing on the couch) that I need to take better care of myself – eat better, get more sleep, etc. While at first I was offended by his comment, I thought about it and realized that he was right.

    So thus today is Day 2 of Taking Care of Myself Better. Day 1 was a bit of a stretch; while I went to bed late, I did get a nap in. I also cooked a very good dinner (thank you for the recipe). I guess it’s a one day at a time thing…

  4. Samantha

    Another amazingly moving post Andrea! You always seem to write just what I need to hear, exactly when I need to hear it. I think the most important part is forgiving yourself. Don’t judge. It doesn’t do you any good. Its nice to hear the perspective of someone on the other side. Thanks again!

  5. Shanna, like Banana

    Oh this is so very true Andrea..and well written as always!

    Regarding “Realize that you never feel any better after two cupcakes than you do after one.” I completey agree with the key word *after* because *during* eating the second one, the high is so incredibly wonderful as your nomming on whatever craving result you have, it’s indescribable. But the after, well the after is a feeling of guilt, shame, and annoyance. So stop after one!

  6. Clarissa @ Sober and the City

    Call a friend who understands you. I mean someone who really GETS you and just vent to them. Most likely you will chat on the phone for at least 20 minutes. And most likely they will have good suggestions for you or they will entertain you with some funny story or something about their own life that is meaningul. Pace around the room or outside while you are chatting. Soon you will forget about indulging yourself in those two cupcakes. And even if you are still hungry by the time you get off the phone, you might be ready to make a better food choice. When in doubt, I’ve learned to talk it out!

  7. Liz @ Tip Top Shape

    This was a beautiful post. So honest and so true. It can be terrifying to face the issues that lie behind emotional eating, but it really is the only way to move forward. I love the advice of not dwelling on things. Something I do (actually picked it up from some other blog) is to view each meal, each workout as a chance to be healthy. It forces you into the present.

  8. Dess

    This post is wonderful. I’m trying to fight my way back from an eating disorder, and reading this reinforces what I’ve been trying to tell myself. I think I’m going to write this out and keep it with me. Thank you for this post.

  9. emily

    Thanks for this post! It came on a day when I was really suffering from emotional eating. I’ve never tried the notebook idea, and I think this will be a huge help to helping me finally squash the emotional eating. Love the blog. Thanks for the help and motivation!

  10. Colleen

    Great post, and great advice! I am such an emotional eater! My husband just went out of town and I’m feeling the urge to make cookies. I’ll try writing instead because I know cookies, while delicious, won’t make me feel better.

  11. tj

    I know I eat according to my mood, but never like you described here. Incredible insight thanks. And bigtime congrats on your achievement/lifestyle change.

  12. Sam

    How is it that you are somehow tapped into my soul and you can always write just what I need to hear at that time?
    I came home from a terrible day ay work yesterday (I’m a teacher at an after school program in a very rough area), whined about my day and proceeded to eat more than I can even list. Halfway through my 3rd helping of mashed potatoes I realized what I was doing and stopped.
    I was embarrased and ashamed of myself and I’m so glad you wrote this so I can realize that I need to learn and move on. It happens.
    I feel better. Thank you.

  13. Nikki

    First of all, thank you for your frank honesty.

    Second, I can relate. Filling my stomach distracts me from whatever else I’m feeling at the moment. But I’m more than my emotions and I have a strong will. I’m working to overcome the impulses that I always regret later.

    Thanks for such a great post.

  14. Kelsey

    Thank you. I’m having a really hard time dealing with overeating, and I’m working so hard to sort out my life right now. I overwhelm myself so much by saying that I have to change overnight, that tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life. But it really is about taking it one day, one moment, and one decision at a time. I’m inspired by your success and it gives me hope that I can start to change too.

  15. MelissaNibbles

    I have so much to say after reading this. I’ve read it 5 times, but can’t put my thoughts into words. Very well written and I relate to every word. Thank you Andrea.

  16. Laura H.

    Melissa Nibbles sent me over here and I’m so glad she did. Emotional eating (and right now emotion in general) is something I struggle with. That suggestion: take a notebook and write for 5 solid minutes. Wow. I know it seems like a simple thing, but it’s something that I’ve never thought to do before. This post put so many of my feelings and thoughts into well-articulated words and, more importantly, steps to move forward. Thank you for this. I will be sending this on to those in my life who also struggle.

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      Laura, first, thanks for reading! Second, I know, the writing part, though totally annoying and somewhat tedious at the beginning, is so so helpful. When I write exactly what I’m feeling, so much of the crap I tell myself dissipates because it doesn’t make logical sense. You know? All of those things you think are true are often obstacles you’re building in your own mind. I wish you the best. Email me if you ever feel the need :)

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  18. Di

    This is such a great post. So well written.

    I try to get out and drive now when I’m feeling a little out of control or emotional. It works a lot better than a box of cookies or a huge glass of wine or a container of ice cream or just about any other food. I’m sure you get the idea. I just drive, blast music (which may be why I’m going deaf…), and escape with my thoughts and let myself run through them.

  19. Kate

    Your thoughts that you shared are so relevant to my thoughts lately. I embarked on a journey to lose weight last year. I startled myself with my intensity. I lost 65 pounds in short order. It was so difficult, but what made it easy was drowning out my inner feelings because I was focused more on the numbers and calories.

    I had finally thought I had kicked the fat me. Nope. In short order I gained back 40 of those pounds before I realized just how much I gained.

    Denial is a wonderful world.

    Well, this time I have embarked on the weight loss journey again. I haven’t been to my counselor since before I lost all the weight. I don’t feel like I can right now. The new thing is writing my feelings in a journal. Those feelings that I drowned out and stuffed down with food.

    I hope this time I can modify my behavior and make better choices when I get to goal.

    I find it poignant when you write about these topics, as I remember reading you grew up with an alcoholic dad, as did I.

    I cannot blame my childhood, I can only forgive myself when the patterns of coping I learned as a child, rear their ugly head in times of stress.

    Thanks for making the tears come, it is about time I learned to feel, and not be afraid.

  20. Amanda

    WOW! What an awesome post. I have exactly 135 lbs to lose, and I just started changing my lifestyle over the last couple of weeks. This was really an extra boost of motivation- very inspiring! Thank you so much for telling your story! I can’t wait to read more of your blog.

    1. Katie G


      I know we’re strangers, but I too found myself in early September needing to lose 135 lbs. This blog has been one of the biggest motivators helping me through. As a result of the wisdom of Andrea, I’m not only 42.8 lbs into my journey, but I am eating healthier than I ever have in my entire life. I’m also having a lot more fun in my kitchen cooking healthier meals. Who knew it was possible? Anyways, if you ever need to chit-chat, feel free to email me. I know exactly what you’re going through.

      Take Care,

  21. Nicole

    I think that we girls especially are prone to eat due to our emotions. I like that you recommend writing. I do use a journal, and it really helps. I also love your honesty and willingness to share your journey. It’s encouraging for others to see that they can overcome their emotions as well!

  22. jamie

    I LOVED this post. Really you have so much wisdom. Everything about this post rang to my soul. Even though I have never been over weight I have battled off and on with an eating disorder sadly for over 18 years. Much of the same thoughts and issues are the very same…I just choose not to eat anything rather than over eat. Food becomes the enemy for me rather than the friend. Thank you for this post tonight….I needed to hear this. You are changing lives through your blog…please keep it up.

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  24. Sarah (Running To Slow Things Down)

    This post speaks volumes. You wrote it so beautifully and put into words the very thoughts of emotional eating.

    I like that you mentioned just “sitting with your emotions. Be present for them.” It’s okay to be bored. To be scared. To feel worried. And I think it’s so important, no matter how difficult, to just *feel* the emotions for what they are, instead of trying to find ways to cover them up in the current moment.

    THANK you for this post. It was absolutely wonderful. :D

    (p.s. You really should consider writing a book on eating mindfully/intuitive eating!!)

  25. Sagan

    I LOVE this. And so true: “People regain weight lost because they haven’t sorted out their insides in the time they fixed their outsides.”

    I lost about 25 pounds, but I hadn’t dealt with any emotional stuff. Consequently I’ve gained back about 15 pounds. So now I’m trying to deal with the emotions/mental part in addition to the physical. It’s tough, but it’s important!

  26. Alexa @ SimpleEats

    Wow, what a great, well-written post. I actually just found your blog and it’s incredibly inspiring. So happy for you!

    Emotional eating is probably one of the toughest aspects of losing/maintaining weight loss. I find sometimes I’m doing really well with eating right and exercising and then some stressor comes along and all hell breaks loose in my kitchen; Cookies and ice cream everywhere! I usually try to do some yoga, or just breathe and realize that I can get over this without eating horribly. If I want something, I’ll eat fruit. Or, call a friend or talk to my room mates or boyfriend to get my mind off of it.

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  28. Elina (Healthy and Sane)

    This is so fantastic! I agree – the only way to get over food “issues,” binge eating, etc. is to do the emotional work. I am currently at the very beginning of this process and it’s very hard to let yourself feel the emotion instead of numbing it with food when that’s the self taught behavior I’ve been used to all these years.

  29. Hannah

    What a wonderful post, Andrea!

    I found your blog from Melissa Nibbles! This is really a great piece. I’m only 18, and have dealt with an ED since I was 14, and even though I was restricting, I have had binges and have essentially dealt with my emotions with food/lack of food. Your advice is also really helpful. I just read an article in Fitness Mag about how processed food, as you said, combines ALL three fat, sugar, and salt, which is addicting.

    My advice, though it’s not really mine, is like yours…be in the present moment/have mindful awareness. And not just while eating, but with every activity in life.

  30. johnny

    WOW!! I had problems with my computer and missed this post when it came out. You hit it right between the eyes. Throw away ALL those other diet plans and listen to this girl, she has it!! :)

  31. leslie

    This is my first visit to your blog – I found you through JBS posting a link to this post today. Wow – I was supposed to read this – possibly the best blog post I’ve ever read. A gong went off for me. Thank you for articulating your process so beautifully and giving real tangible suggestions for dealing with the desire to overeat (or binge my brains out).

  32. Natalie

    I just had to read this post for about the third time since you published it. I cannot tell you how much this means to me as I sit here trying not to lament over putting a few pounds back on in the last month – some of which I worked very hard to lose. This reaffirms the balance that I need to establish with myself. Thank you so much for posting this Andrea.

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  34. Linda

    Thank you for your expertise on emotional eating! I weighted 127lbs and was a smoker! I quit smoking one year ago and now weight 165 lbs. Although, I would never consider smoking again, I really need to shed this extra weight I am carrying around. I do believe everything you said in your explanation of emotional eating. I know that is what I have done. I need to change this as it is doing harm on my health. So how do I start! Thank you

  35. Megan

    I just found your site today, and all I can say is thank you! I’ve been reading blogs for a while now, but your’s is the first one that I can completely relate to. I have been struggling with emotional eating for a long time. It is refreshing to know someone is willing to be so honest with their readers. I, like you, lost a parent at a very young age. So, a lot of what you says truly resinates with me. Every day is a struggle in terms of finding an “inner peace” with myself, but I know I can. Your honesty is refreshing and greatly appreciated!

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  37. Kim

    Andrea, I just read this post for the second time and felt compelled to tell you how amazing it is. Thank you for your honesty and for having the courage to share such personal things. I have struggled with emotional eating for as long as I can remember and just knowing that I am not the only one brings great comfort. Thanks again for being so honest, it really is beautiful.

  38. Chelsea

    Okay, so for about the past two weeks I have been reading your blog backwards. I read it before bed, in between classes, during classes (oops), and anytime I have a few minutes to spare.
    You see, your blog has really hit home with me. In almost every way.
    I am a freshman in college, and I am about a third of the way through my weight loss journey. In the end of January when I started, I weighed 320lbs, and now I weigh 270lbs. (I’m 5’10) I have been bigger my whole life, like you. And a lot of the things you say take the words I couldn’t think of right out of my mouth. It’s very cool to be able to look at someone who has done the same thing that I am doing. It reminds me of a senior in highschool telling a freshman the in’s and out’s of high school. I go to the gym for about two hours a day and literally kill myself. I absolutely love it though. Except for when I don’t. And on those days I ask myself the same question you asked yourself..”Can I do today? Just today?” And I can. So, thank you for that. I was planning on sending you an email when I was completely done, which I am sure I still will..but this post really got me today. So, just know that while my teacher talks about Watson in my Child Psych class I am getting chocked up at my desk. You are awesome. And by the way, you kill me. I have been known to laugh out loud at a few of your posts. So, Andie, (because I know you well enough to toss out a nickname), thank you. Honestly, truly, and simply. Thanks.

  39. Mia

    I guess I need to thank you for this post. I’m not sure you see bc you are so right, so right that you made me realise why I am eating the whole pack of cookies and more. You’re right Andie but it hurts to face the truth and tbh I’m scared. Who thought a blog post could be do revealing and touch me at th core? I knew I ate like that bc it made me feel nurtured. What I hadn’t done was to ask myself WHY I am so desperate for nurturing. I now think I know why but I don’t (yet) know how to deal with it. I know food won’t deal with it in the long term but the anathestic effect is very tempting in the short term.

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  41. Anna

    Hi, what a great blog, you should keep posting and speaking about this with others. I particularily love the ‘move on’ and ‘resist the urge to judge yourself’. These are two areas that i have found difficult within myself, not just with food, but with all choices. I feel so many of us judge and beat up on ourselves which is so harming and abusive. That leads to an inability to truly accept and offer ourselves understanding and so stops us from being able to move on, we cannot truly let go. This is a subject worth talking about. I am working on letting go of my past hurts and of all the self beating and judgment i have been in for so long. I found Universal Medicine ( and their teachings on self love, self care and the reasons why we hold ourselves back from offering such simplicity and love to ourselves first have been instrumental in me shifting this in my life. Still not perfect but I’m slowly becoming more understanding with myself, rather then choosing the old pattern of self beating. Again, great blog, you should write some more. With love Anna

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