16 Feelings Emotional Eaters Confuse with Physical Hunger (Part 1)

We've all experienced some form of emotional eating. It seems the strongest cravings are during our most vulnerable moments. In My Secret Transformation, I share how we can become conditioned emotional eaters from childhood. It can be so subtle and "normal" that we don't recognize it as an issue...until consequences show up much later.


There's so much to grasp in this list that I had to break it into parts. You may find yourself gasping or doing a pearl clutch or two...or four as you identify with the information. It's perfectly ok. Healing begins with identifying the problem. Be as honest as you can with yourself when reading this list, because self-awareness is a key ingredient to recovering from emotional eating and the Yo-Yo Diet Syndrome. This list merely describes the feelings and explain why they lead to overeating.

Anger. Anger is cited in more cases of emotional eating than any other emotion. Anger, especially when it’s repressed, feels very uncomfortable, and this discomfort is often confused with hunger. What feels like hunger is actually a desire to use food to cover up or mask the painful emotion — anger. Women, in particular, have difficulty admitting that they are angry, due to societal pressures ranging from parental admonitions (“Young ladies shouldn’t get angry!”) to corporate gameplaying rules (“You’ll get ahead in this company if you just smile and agree with management instead of arguing about their policies”). With all this pressure, people sometimes wish they never felt angry – a futile wish, of course, since everyone gets angry at times. People run into trouble with their anger when they ignore their angry feelings or pretend they don’t exist, hoping the emotions will subside if they’re ignored long enough. Emotion Eaters turn to food in order to stuff their anger.

Fatigue. If anger is the number one psychological reason why people overeat, fatigue is definitely number two. Some late-night overeaters use food in an attempt to energize themselves when they’re tired. Shift workers, those who stay up late at night, and “workaholics” are especially prone to overeating when fatigued. Other people use food to calm the nervous tension associated with fatigue. Perhaps you’ve had a nerve-wracking day at the office, combined with over consumption of caffeine or chocolate. At night, you try to sleep but find you’re too wired. That’s when cravings for carbohydrate snacks occur, because these foods trigger calming brain chemicals that help you sleep. When we’re tired, our resolve to eat lighter and healthier foods often goes out the window. Feeling fatigued, we say, “To heck with calorie counting!” and down a quart of ice cream or a massive plate of spaghetti. It’s important to recognize fatigue when it occurs.

In particular, learn to recognize when you're emotionally drained or intellectually overstimulated. Once you can label these feelings as fatigue, you won’t be as likely to confuse them with hunger. Second, remember that when you’re tired, rest will make you feel better. Overeating will not. Food may give you a temporary surge in blood sugar that is reminiscent of feeling rested, but the key word is that the respite is temporary. An eating binge can lead to sluggish, tired feelings the next day as your body tries to break down the high levels of sugar, fat, and carbohydrates from the binge foods. Rest, regular exercise, and mind/body methods are the best ways to combat feelings of fatigue.

Depression. When life looks gray and gloomy, most Emotion Eaters start to think of ways to feel better, and their solution to depression usually involves food. People who eat when they’re depressed often turn to dairy products such as ice cream (particularly chocolate) and cheese, food that alleviates depression. The chemical makeup of dairy products has a neurological effect similar to antidepressant medications.


Depression occurs for several reasons from holding in anger for life changes that bring instability or uncertainty as a result of a loss... such as losing a job, divorce, selling a home, becoming ill, or losing loved ones (including pets). Physical exhaustion or poor nutrition can also result in depression, but the good news is that this type of depression quickly responds to rest and a healthful diet. Self sabotaging by focusing on real or imagined negative characteristics in yourself brings about depression. Stay focused on your positive qualities, and remember that everyone makes mistakes. Forgive yourself! You're not a helpless victim and the future isn't hopeless. The future will be as pleasant or as painful as you set out to make it! You really can create your own life.

Loneliness. Those who eat out of loneliness must push themselves to meet new people, even when the prospect seems frightening. Some of the easiest ways to get out and become active with others involve engaging in some sort of organized group activity, such as joining a volleyball team or a mastermind group, enrolling in any sort of class, or becoming a member of a charitable organization.


The list continues... check back soon.


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VKNOX is a holistic nutrition wellness practitioner, behavior change specialist, fitness nutrition educator, lifestyle transformation coach and author. She is the creator of the R.A.W. Lifestyle System.

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