Weight loss: Gain control of emotional eating

Find out how emotional eating can sabotage your weight-loss efforts, and get tips to get control of your eating habits.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Sometimes the strongest food cravings hit when you're at your weakest point emotionally. You may turn to food for comfort — consciously or unconsciously — when facing a difficult problem, feeling stressed or even feeling bored.

Emotional eating can sabotage your weight-loss efforts. It often leads to eating too much, especially too much of high-calorie, sweet and fatty foods. The good news is that if you're prone to emotional eating, you can take steps to regain control of your eating habits and get back on track with your weight-loss goals.

The connection between mood, food and weight loss

Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. Major life events or, more commonly, the hassles of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating and disrupt your weight-loss efforts. These triggers might include:

  • Relationship conflicts
  • Work stress
  • Fatigue
  • Financial pressures
  • Health problems

Although some people eat less in the face of strong emotions, if you're in emotional distress you might turn to impulsive or binge eating, quickly consuming whatever's convenient without enjoyment.

In fact, your emotions can become so tied to your eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you're angry or stressed without thinking about what you're doing.

Food also serves as a distraction. If you're worried about an upcoming event or stewing over a conflict, for instance, you may focus on eating comfort food instead of dealing with the painful situation.

Whatever emotions drive you to overeat, the end result is often the same. The emotions return, and you likely then bear the additional burden of guilt about setting back your weight-loss goal. This can also lead to an unhealthy cycle — your emotions trigger you to overeat, you beat yourself up for getting off your weight-loss track, you feel bad and you overeat again.

Oct. 03, 2015 See more In-depth