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Eat Well ·

Emotional Hunger: Is It Hunger or An Emotion?

By Sarah S – Jenny Craig

If you have struggled with emotional hunger — eating because you feel a certain way (bored, stressed, angry) rather than eating to fulfill physical hunger — you’re not alone. A recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association revealed that just over a third of Americans report eating unhealthy foods or too much when they’re stressed.1 Recognizing the difference between true hunger and emotional hunger can be the first step to forming healthier eating habits. Plus, it’s a great way to support your weight loss goals.


Even if you have made great progress adopting healthy habits, you may still get visions of brownies when stress creeps in. Don't feel alone when cravings hit during a big deadline at work or a recent break-up. Sometimes we find ourselves thinking, “is hunger an emotion?” because the two seem to go hand in hand. However, in times when you are struggling with anxiety, take a step back and try to separate stress and emotional eating from one another. Try to decipher if what you are feeling is actual physical hunger or something else entirely.


Craving "comfort foods" is normal when you are feeling anxious or blue — and sometimes you might find yourself eating foods unconsciously during tough times. That cookie may be delicious but in the long run, emotional eating won’t reduce your stress or solve any issues. In fact, it may actually hamper your weight loss goals.

What is Emotional Eating?

If you find yourself asking this question, just know we are here to help. Before you are able to control these feelings, you have to be able to recognize your comfort eating as being just that. Learning how to stop emotional eating is not always easy, but once you can separate your feelings with your hunger, you will be able to have a lot more control in your weight loss journey.


First, think about your emotional triggers. The next time you find yourself eating when you are not hungry, stop to ask yourself what emotion you are feeling. These can be obvious, such as stress, anger, sadness or anxiety, but can also be not-so-obvious, such as when you are tired, restless or excited.


Food can seem like a welcome distraction during times of stress. For instance, going out for pizza might appear to be a better solution than facing the negative emotions of a fight with your best friend. However, you must know that when you get back from the restaurant, your stressful situation will still be there. This situation applies to any emotion that can cause you to comfort eat when you are actually not hungry at all.


How To Stop Emotional Eating?

The main way to stop emotional eating is to identify what you really need to help you cope with that specific feeling. Next time you experience one of these emotions try doing one of these activities instead of eating.


If you feel tired or restless:

  • Taking a nap
  • Enjoying a bubble bath
  • Listening to music
  • Meditate or take a few deep breaths
  • Stretch


If you feel frustrated or misunderstood:

  • Call a friend
  • Write in your journal 
  • Write a letter
  • Confront the situation 


If you feel sad, discouraged or lonely:

  • Meet a friend or family member for coffee
  • Join a community group
  • Call a family member
  • Get moving — endorphins a great mood booster


If you feel bored, angry or anxious:

  • Get some fresh air
  • Dance to your favorite tunes
  • Chat to a friend or family member
  • Work on a hobby


By dealing with your emotional triggers in productive ways, you will gradually lessen the habit of relying on food to assuage your feelings, and you may see a direct impact on your waistline! It is also important to stick to your outlined meal plan as closely as possible, no matter how you are feeling that day. If you end up skipping a meal or missing your afternoon snack, there is a good chance you will become “hangry,” which will only further your emotional instability. Prevent this from happening by making sure you are closely following your outlined diet plan.


Whatever emotions you are feeling, channel that energy into physical activity! Exercise is a positive outlet to use when you are feeling any type of emotional instability. Not only does it aid in your weight loss journey, but it’s also a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. Most people know that moving more is good for your heart — but few know it’s also great for your mind and spirit. Next time you are faced with a stressful situation, going for a walk or dancing could be a healthy outlet for your anxious feelings.


Lastly, if you are having a bad day and end up reaching for that box of cookies, don’t go too hard on yourself. Even if you indulge in emotional eating — wake up and start fresh the next day! Learning from your experiences and having a positive attitude can help you make a plan to avoid these cravings in the future. When you decide to take action and stop emotional eating don’t forget that this is all apart of the journey. By learning to recognize your behavior and make an effort to change you can learn how to stop being an emotional eater and can eventually achieve your long-term goals.


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