OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

Peoria, Illinois

Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is turning to food for comfort or as a reward rather than for hunger. It is a common way some people try and deal with their feelings.

Are You An Emotional Eater?

  • Do you eat more when you feel stressed?
  • Do you eat when you’re not hungry or even after you feel full?
  • Do you eat to feel better about yourself or a situation?
  • Do you reward yourself with food?
  • Does food make you feel safe?
  • Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?
  • Do you feel guilty after eating too much?

If you answered YES to two or more of these questions, you may be emotionally eating.

Tips to Help Control Emotional Eating:

  1. Assess your emotions before you eat.  Ask yourself: Am I hungry right now? How am I feeling?  Know the difference between physical vs. emotional hunger.



Stomach growling, empty feeling in stomach

No physical cues (stomach is quiet)

Can be satisfied with any type of food

Have a specific craving

Time has passed since last meal

Comes on suddenly

Feel satisfied, energized after last bite

Feel regret, guilt or shame after last bite

  1. Become aware of your emotional eating triggers. What situations, places or feelings make you reach for food?  Examples include: anger, boredom, loneliness, holidays, excitement, procrastination, stress, social events, depression, anxiety, and guilt. 
  1. Find a healthy substitute to eating. Create a list of 3-5 activities you can do to avoid emotional eating. See examples below. If you know you are not hungry, decide how you are feeling and commit to doing the activities on the list. Do these for at least 20-30 minutes and see if you still want to eat.

Ways to cope without food 

Call a friend Exercise Positive self talk
Read a book Listen to music Take slow, deep breaths
Go for a walk Watch a movie Meditation or prayer
Journal Humor Work on a puzzle
Play a game Rest or sleep Try a "food and mood" diary
Face or feel the emotion Get out of the house Seek counseling
  1. Set-up your environment for success
  • Follow an eating schedule. Eat well-balanced meals at the same times each day to avoid getting overly hungry.
  • Eliminate trigger foods in the house à what you buy at the grocery store is what you will eat.
  • Have a plan before you enter the kitchen à do not “wander” into the kitchen.
  • Pre-portion snacks into snack sized bags.
  • Do not leave candy dishes or snacks out.
  • Keep healthy snacks, like fruits and vegetables, readily available.
  • Do not eat anywhere but the kitchen table.

Remember, it will take time to retrain your brain to no longer rely on food for comfort. You may need to try several ways in order to find the right method for you. If you have tried self-help options in the past, but you cannot control your emotional eating, you may need to consider therapy or counseling with a professional.

Watch this video to learn more!


Albers, Susan. (2016, January). 20 Mindful Eating Handouts. Retrieved February 7, 2022

Helpguide.org. (2021, September). Emotional eating and how to stop it. Retrieved February 7, 2022 from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/diets/emotional-eating.htm

Mayo Clinic. (2020, December 9). Weight loss: Gain control of emotional eating. Retrieved February 7, 2022 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20047342

Tribole, Evelyn, and Elyse Resch. Intuitive Eating. 4th ed., St. Martin's, 2012.