top of page
  • Writer's pictureL T

9 Less Known Emotional Eating Causes (Part 1)

Updated: Jan 3

Do you struggle with emotional eating? Do you know what your triggers are, but find that even when you're aware of them, you're still powerless to overcoming emotional eating?

If this is the case, then you may be overlooking some of the subtle causes of emotional eating. When you think of emotional eating, you might picture a lot of tears + ice cream after a break-up but emotional eating isn’t always so obvious or dramatic! In this post, we'll discuss some of these potential triggers and offer ways to help you overcome them.

emotionally eating, balanced meals, online registered dietitian, food choices, breathing exercises

Keep in mind that everyone's situation with emotional eating is unique, so make sure to tailor the advice to fit your own needs. With a little bit of effort, you can finally break free from the grip of emotional eating and reclaim control over your life. So read on for helpful tips that can get you started!

disordered eating, stress relief, emotionally eating, potato chips,  eating disorders,

Awareness precedes all change so before you can improve your relationship with food, learning more about your emotional eating triggers is key to creating new eating habits! Here are 4 out of the 9 subtle triggers for emotional eating that you may be missing and how to stop emotional eating!

Emotional Eating from Pain or Feeling Unwell

Feeling unwell is a big trigger for many of my clients! This includes chronic pain, a recent injury, unmanaged heartburn, migraines, hangovers, or feeling run down. If you crave your mother’s or grandmother’s cooking when you are feeling sick or run down, this might be a sign! That little hit of dopamine we get from emotional eating can help us feel better as dopamine is not only involved in our pleasure/reward pathway, but it can also reduce the sensation of pain. Unfortunately, these “feel good” effects are short-lived and we are right back to where we started. So how do we stop emotional eating?

disordered eating, mindful eating, food choices, eating disorder, junk food

One way is to become aware of which emotional and physical responses you have to uncomfortable emotions. What situations or emotions lead us to turn to comfort food? Once we are aware of our triggers, we can start to develop other coping mechanisms to deal with them. This might involve talking to a friend or therapist about our feelings, relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation, or writing in a journal. With a little effort, we can break the cycle of emotional eating and start on the path to true healing.

Pain or feeling unwell can be a very lonely experience. You can feel like you are the only one going through it and that nobody understands. You may feel like you have tried everything and nothing works. When you are dealing with chronic pain, it is important to find ways to cope that work for you. It can be sharp and searing, or a dull ache that lingers for days, weeks, even months. It can be physical pain or the pain of a broken heart. And while we all experience pain at some point in our lives, for some of us, pain is a constant companion. If you're one of those people who live with chronic pain, you know just how debilitating it can be. Not only does it take a toll on your physical health, but it can also lead to emotional eating. When you're in pain, it's easy to turn to food for comfort. After all, food can be a great coping mechanism. It numbs the pain, both physically and emotionally. But just as pain can be chronic, so can emotional eating. And if you're not careful, emotional eating can become a dangerous cycle. So how do you break the cycle? First, it's important to understand why you're turning to food in the first place. Once you've identified your triggers, you can start to develop other coping mechanisms.

For many of my clients dealing with chronic pain, we can improve flare-ups by minimizing inflammation from diet but it is also a great idea to get help from other services such as a chronic pain clinic or psychologists who specialize in somatic therapy to help you cope in a more helpful way. Remember, you're not alone in this battle.

Emotional Eating from Hunger

I don’t know if I will ever stop talking about this but it’s for good reason! While this isn’t true emotional eating, hunger is often confused with it so it is good to be aware of your triggers so you can make more effective changes to your eating habits. I have named this food personality type “Chaotic Eaters”.

disordered eating, emotionally eating, eating disorder, healthy eating, weight gain

Not eating enough can come in a few forms:

  • forgetting to eat

  • struggling to make time for themselves during the day

  • skipping meals

  • following intermittent fasting diets

  • restricting the volume, carbs, and/or calories at breakfast or lunch

  • restricting the volume, carbs, and/or calories during the week

So how do you know if you're really hungry, or if you're just using food as a coping mechanism? One way to tell is by paying attention to your hunger cues. If you're physically hungry, you'll likely feel a growling stomach or lightheadedness. But if you're just eating because you're stressed or bored, chances are you won't even be aware of your hunger cues. You may also find yourself eating even when you're not physically hungry, or eating more than you normally would when you are hungry.

Regardless of why someone isn’t eating enough, many of my clients struggle with the compensatory hunger that comes along later in the day, evening, or during the weekend.

In order to help my Chaotic Eaters avoid the compensatory eating cycle, I help them nourish themselves in a more balanced way during the day or week to prevent the feelings of being out of control around food (and setting them up for the diet-binge cycle).

Emotional Eating from Reward

Food is associated with celebration, love, recognition, and reward. From a young age, we are taught that food is associated with celebration, love, recognition, and reward. Birthdays are celebrated with cake and parties, holidays revolve around large meals shared with family and friends, and good grades are often rewarded with a trip to the ice cream store. Even in the workplace, food is often used as a reward for a job well done.

uncomfortable emotions, mental health, emotional eater

Eating can stimulate the release of a certain neurotransmitter, dopamine, which is involved in our pleasure/reward pathway. Eating can make us physically feel well but there is also an emotional attachment because of how we were raised such as getting ice cream for good grades which combines food + praise/recognition + our families showing us love. That is a powerful cocktail for making us feel loved, appreciated or seen!

While there's nothing wrong with enjoying a good meal, it's important to be aware of how food can be used as a reward. Overeating or eating unhealthy foods as a way to cope with negative emotions or celebrate your wins can lead to health problems or act as a barrier for you to reach your goals.

For many of my clients, we strive to improve their awareness of why they turn to fo