Emotional Overeating Symptoms You Might Not Be Aware Of

emotional overeating

Could You Have an Eating Disorder?

Do you find yourself gaining weight during times of stress? Do you fear boredom because you know you’ll simply eat to fill the time? These are just some of the symptoms of overeating emotionally.

If you think you may suffer from this relatively common eating disorder, here are some signs and symptoms that may help you identify whether or not this is what you’re struggling with.

Mindless Eating

If you have a binge eating disorder or emotional overeating problem, you may stuff food in and not even really taste it or realize what you’re doing. It’s as though you are “out of it” and just mindlessly stuffing food into your mouth.

Feelings of Guilt and Shame

Many people with emotional overeating disorders feel really embarrassed and hateful of themselves after they’ve got through with an eating binge. The problem, of course, is that these negative feelings may make you reach for more food for comfort.

Eating in Secret

Because of being embarrassed, may emotional overeaters will eat in private, reserving their “naughty” foods for when no one is looking.

Always on My Mind…thinking of food

 Do you think about food all the time? Do you feel anxious about the prospect of leaving the house without snacks or money to buy food? Constantly thinking about food (food obsession) may be a sign that you have an emotional overeating disorder.

Feeling Sick

Sometimes, emotional overeaters will eat and eat to comfort themselves, and then feel sick afterward. Obviously, this is your body’s way of telling you you’ve eaten far too much more than is good for you; but for emotional overeaters, this sickness does not necessarily deter the next binge.

Identify Your Triggers

Emotional overeating is usually triggered by something – emotions, yes, but sometimes we need to be more specific than that. Identifying your personal triggers can go a long way toward helping you overcome the disorder. Basic trigger categories include:

  • Emotional – Eating to relieve boredom, stress, or anxiety
  • Psychological – You may eat in response to negative, self-destructive thoughts
  • Environmental/Situational – You may eat simply because the opportunity is there.

Also in this category is the habit of eating while doing another activity, such as reading or watching TV.

Do any of these signs and symptoms describe you? If so, don’t despair – there are treatment options available for emotional overeaters. Check with your healthcare provider for advice on therapists or specialists in your area.

What Are The Causes Of Overeating?

Emotional overeating disorders can be difficult and devastating for those who suffer from them. What makes this happen? Why is it that some people, knowingly or unknowingly, turn to food for comfort?

Here are some thoughts and ideas on those questions.

Emotional overeating disorder is a general term that refers to any of various eating habits where genuine hunger is not the motivational factor. It is more common among women than men, but men are not immune – especially young men in their teens and twenties.

Those who suffer from this disorder associate food with emotional comfort, and will turn to eating to escape negative feelings.

Past Trauma

For some with emotional overeating disorder, the problem stems from past traumatic events. Someone who suffered sexual abuse, for example, or some other kind of sexual trauma may overeat in response to feelings of anxiety and confusion.

The result is a fatter body, which some sources suggest may cause the sufferer to feel “protected” from being attractive to the opposite sex. Subconsciously or consciously, the sufferer wants to be unattractive. Other examples of past trauma or unmet needs may cause a person to turn to emotional overeating.

Poor Self-Image

People who suffer from low self-esteem and a negative self-image may seek escape by overeating. In a way, emotional overeating is a physical expression of what the sufferer feels inside, and the resulting weight projects the same image of self-disrespect.


Like alcoholics, those who struggle with emotional overeating may be unconsciously using food as a drug. Eating numbs or dulls the emotions that might be too hard to deal with otherwise.

depressionDepression And Overeating

Studies indicate a strong correlation between depression and emotional overeating. Ironically, sometimes as depression grows worse a sufferer loses weight; weight loss means the sufferer is not eating as much, and therefore not engaging in his or her coping mechanism.

Overeating Due To Stress

Prolonged, unrelieved stress can have a profound effect on the body. Stress stimulates the body to produce, among other chemicals, the hormone cortisol. Cortisol apparently has a hunger-stimulating effect, and as the stressful emotions increase along with the cortisol, a cycle of emotional eating can play out.

Individual Triggers

There are triggers or causes of emotional overeating that are not necessarily in the categories above. Some examples might be:

  • Boredom
  • Oral need or a need to satisfy your mouth’s need to do something
  • Social pressure or embarrassment at eating in public, resulting in overeating in private
  • Financial stress
  • Relationship difficulties

Emotional Eating: Here's What You Need to Know - with Marc David

Read the full transcript here:

Emotional eating is more and more of a concern these days, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer when it comes to best understanding it, and how to let it go. But when we say "I'm an emotional eater," what does this actually mean? As humans, we experience a constant and ever-changing flow of emotions all day long, so it makes sense that our feelings will be there when we're eating, too. Dynamic Eating Psychology shows that the way we relate to our emotions can have a big impact on what we choose to eat and how our body processes our meal. In this illuminating new video from IPEtv, Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, offers some unusual and unexpected insights to help us work with emotional eating in an effective and empowering way.

Want a sneak peek? Read part of the transcript below:

Greetings, friends. Marc David here, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. Let’s talk about emotional eating. I want to tell you what I think you need to know about this topic.

Now, you know emotional eating is a concern for so many people. So here’s the question: what is it? Why does it happen? And what to do about it? So how to nail this down in a few minutes or less.

So people will self-diagnose as emotional eaters. And really when somebody says, “I’m an emotional eater,” what they’re saying is, “I’m doing unwanted eating that’s driven by unwanted feelings.” I want to say that again. When people self-diagnose and say, “I’m an emotional eater,” what they’re saying is, “I am doing this unwanted eating behavior that’s driven by these unwanted feelings that I don’t like.”

Now, here’s the thing.

I want you to think about this. What’s the opposite of emotional eating? Unemotional eating? What would you do? Sit there and just be a machine and eat? So here’s the thing. We are beautifully emotional creatures. Emotional eating means you’re at a party and you’re sitting down and you’re eating with friends. And you have love. And you have nourishment. And you have warmth. That’s emotional eating.

Yeah, emotional eating might be your birthday dinner and you’re in celebration mode. There’s emotional eating. Emotional eating might be, “Yes, I come home. I had a bad day at work. And I’m stuffing my face with food because I’m all stressed.”

Now, check this out. We are emotional beings. It’s almost impossible to eat without emotions present. Now, what happens is so many of us, we don’t experience the full complement of emotions in our life. And when we’re not experiencing the emotions that I feel when my loved one, when my partner, when my parents, with the challenges of life, the good emotions, the hard emotions, when we don’t really embrace them and feel them and metabolize them, emotions around food symbolically become more important. We put all this feeling and energy and emotion into our food, thinking it’s going to make us feel good.

So what I want to say is we use food to regulate our emotional metabolism. I want to say that again. We use food to regulate our emotional metabolism. Feel bad, have food, feel better. It makes perfect sense.

So what I want to say to you is if you emotionally eat, it’s okay.

I know it’s a challenge. But I want you to know a lot of people define themselves as emotional eaters, but they’re really not. Meaning, if you’re eating poor quality food, you’re going to hunger for more because your body wants nutrition. If you’re artificially dieting and you’re not getting enough food, you’re going to be driven to eat because the brain is screaming for nutrition. It’s going to make you eat.

And then you think, “Oh, my goodness. I’m an emotional eater.” No! You’re not an emotional eater. What happened is you have not enough fat in your diet, perhaps, or not enough protein or not enough nutrient density. And then your body screams for food.

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