The corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen could be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions such as social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. 

Emotional eating in an attempt to cope with all the stress is not only bad for your emotional health, but it can be bad for your physical health as well. 

Is the slice of birthday cake in the refrigerator calling your name? Or maybe you’re bored or stressed and want to nibble on potato chips or a chocolate candy bar?

Chances are most of us have participated in emotional eating at some point in our lives. Whether reaching for a treat in the break room on an especially stressful day or having seconds at a get-together even though you are no longer hungry, these eating behaviours are generally not the result of physical hunger. Celebrating with food from time to time is a part of the human experience. However, when eating becomes the unchecked, “auto-pilot’” coping strategy for our emotions, a cycle of unhealthy behaviours are allowed to persist. It is important to understand the difference between physical and emotional hunger. Humans are capable of a wide spectrum of emotions; recognizing and acknowledging your own emotions will make it easier to identify the ones you manage with food.

Emotional Hunger  Physical Hunger
  • Emotional hunger comes on quickly and suddenly. 
  • Physical hunger comes on gradually.
  • Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly.
  • Physical hunger can wait.
  • Emotional hunger generally does not stop when you are physically full. 
  • Physical hunger ceases when you are full.
  • Satisfying emotional hunger can result in guilt, frustration, or other negative emotions. 
  • Satisfying physical hunger is not associated with negative emotions as you are fulfilling a need.
  • Emotional hunger is associated with specific foods and cravings. 
  • Physical hunger can be satisfied with any food.

Assess whether or not you participate in emotional eating habits. Be honest and ask yourself the following questions: 

Do I reward myself with food? 

Do I eat to make myself feel better? 

Do I feel powerless in front of food? 

Do I eat when I am full, not hungry, or until I am stuffed? 

Do I eat when I am feeling stressed, bored, tired, nervous, etc.? 

If you identified with any of the questions above, dig a little deeper to better understand your own emotional eating patterns and how to change them. 

    1. When do I find myself eating when I am not physically hungry? What are my triggers? 

Some common triggers: 

  • Stress! With chronic stress, the hormone cortisol is released and can make us more likely to crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods. These foods give quick surges of energy and satisfaction. However, the feeling is not sustainable. 
  • Eating can be a temporary way to “stuff” our emotions. Food can help us feel numb and avoid coping with our overwhelming or negative emotions. 
  • Boredom and lack of stimulation can lead to mindless eating.

    2. What am I feeling during these times?

It is sometimes difficult to identify and name your emotion but try to be as specific as you can. 

Some emotions commonly associated with emotional eating include: exhausted, guilty, ashamed, frustrated, overwhelmed, lonely, embarrassed, anxious, nervous, angry, overjoyed, and bored. 

    3. What is my emotion stemming from? What steps can I take to alter or resolve this root cause?

Analyse the true cause of your emotion. Are you frustrated with a co-worker, stressed with your never ending to-do list, or simply bored? Eating will not solve these issues and they will still exist after you have given into your emotional cravings. Determine what solutions exists for dealing with the origin of your feelings. Do you need to have a conversation with your co-worker, work on better prioritizing your to-do list, or pick up a new hobby? Efforts put towards finding long-term solutions will help you break your emotional eating behaviour chain. 

    4. What are my alternatives for coping with this emotion that don’t involve eating? 

Finding other ways to “feed” your emotions is crucial for altering your conditioned emotional eating response. Taking time relax, prioritizing exercise, and getting creative fostering relationships are a couple strategies for coping with emotions that are positive and productive.

Source: and 

Disclaimer: Content provided is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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