Emotional Eating: Finding A Way Through

There’s a reason why it’s called “comfort food”.

As a child, I learned that food could be a welcome pick-me-up that made me feel better when nothing else could, and that perception only grew as I got older. By the time I was an adult, food had become my coping mechanism.


It’s easy for me to have a love-hate relationship with food.

On the one hand, my comfort foods of choice have always been there for me – they don’t judge me, criticize me, reject me, or let me down. Binge eating always made me feel better – at least for a while –whenever I was feeling:

  • Stressed
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Anxious
  • Lonely

But here’s the thing – as time went by, a wicked pattern started to emerge.  Whenever I was feeling down, I would often overeat even if I wasn’t hungry. I would eat way past the point of feeling full. It was almost as if I was completely powerless.

Of course, all of this binge eating affected my weight, which in turn affected my self-esteem and made me feel even worse. So, without even thinking, I would turn to my normal coping method – eating.


My problematic eating caused me a bit of a health scare, and my doctor recommended that I get some help that went beyond just losing weight. After checking around, I found a reputable program right here in Arizona.

When I met with my counselor for the first time and she interviewed me, something she then said really stuck in my mind. She told me that my primary goal in therapy wasn’t going to be to lose weight – it was going to be to get healthy.

She explained that my weight was only a byproduct of a different problem – emotional eating. If, through counseling and therapy, we could get to the root of that problem, the weight would take care of itself.


During the first few sessions, we worked on identifying the “triggers” that set off an episode of binge eating. We talked about being “mindful” – trying to increase my overall awareness of how I was feeling at any given time. The goal was to recognize the emotional and physical signs that preceded a binge.

Once I was able to recognize my triggers, we worked on substituting positive coping methods that didn’t involve food. For example:

  • For stress or anxiety, I could get rid of the excess energy by taking a walk, doing housework, or even turning on the radio and dancing alone in my apartment.
  • For depression or loneliness, I could make myself feel better by calling up a friend or family member. I was also encouraged to get a pet to keep myself company.
  • For boredom, I could go to a movie, take up a new hobby, or even enroll in a class.

Of course, all of these were just examples that we explored. The main goal was for me to understand that I did not have to be held “hostage” by the feelings that could result in emotional eating. I could proactively regain a measure of control.

Once I started learning how to eliminate some of the triggering negative feelings, we worked on how to resist the inevitable cravings. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I would still sometimes experienced almost-overwhelming feelings of wanting to eat and eat and eat.

We worked on practical strategies that I could employ to deflect and delay until I felt more in control of myself:

  • Sometimes, all it took was steeling my resolve for very short periods – half an hour, 15 minutes, or even 5 minutes at a time, to give the craving an opportunity to pass.
  • When shopping, I stuck to a list of healthy, non-junk foods.
  • I never let myself get too hungry –I kept a supply of healthy, nutritious snacks. If I let myself get positively ravenous, it became all-too-easy to lose control.
  • I tried to practice portion control.
  • I ate slower and took smaller bites.
  • Most of all, I tried to appreciate my food, rather than just mindlessly wolfing it down. Again, this allowed me to be more mindful of what I was doing.

Over the course of my therapy treatment for emotional eating, I learned so much about WHY I overate, which helped me to practice strategies that I still use to this day. I honestly have no idea exactly how much I weigh, because I was taught not to judge my progress via a scale, but I can tell you this – today, I am happier and healthier than I have been in a very long time.

If you live in Arizona and are struggling with any degree of eating disorder, Empowerment Treatment & Counseling, conveniently located in Glendale, has licensed therapists who can help you regain control of your health and your life.

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