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3 Key Factors that lead to emotional eating

To cope with emotional eating, a helpful strategy is discovering what leads to your emotional eating.

To discover the key factors that lead to emotional eating, let’s first explore what is emotional eating. Emotional eating is about using food in response to an emotion. 

Basically, you are filling your body with food to replace whatever is lacking in your body and life or a feeling you are experiencing. Biological hunger is one factor as to why we eat.  However, there are many other reasons we eat and feel satisfied.

In order to determine the key factors that lead to emotional eating, you first need to determine how hunger, fullness, and satiety play into your drive to eat.  The biggest reason people talk about needing to eat is they are hungry.  

1. Hunger drives your desire to eat but is confusing with emotional eating

Hunger is the drive to eat when you are lacking in enough food.  

When you have not had enough food, you can experience physical signs of needing food such as:

  • a decreased ability to concentrate
  • irritability
  • rumbling in the stomach,
  • headache

The body does not know if your hunger is from following a strict diet with not enough energy (with a desire to lose weight) or that you missed breakfast because you woke up too late.  Your body’s hunger signals are purely cues and responses from the lack of enough calories to function optimally without symptoms.

These signals are clear signs a person needs to eat and not about emotional eating.  Though eating in a response to being hungry can feel emotional. Especially if you do not want to eat because you are trying to follow a restricted calorie intake. 

Many people use the word being hungry when they eat without there being a biological hunger.  This means that they are hungry for food to give them something more than just the biological need to eat in response to the lack of enough food to function. 

2. Lack of food satisfaction

Your satisfaction with the food consumed can lead to an enjoyable food experience. Lack of satisfaction is one of the key factors that lead to emotional eating. When you are not feeling any satisfaction with your foods, as often experienced on a diet, you may have an increased drive to eat foods that give you more satisfaction.

So if you continually try to follow a restrictive approach with little satisfaction in foods, you are priming your body and mind with excuses of why you deserve to eat other foods.  

Consider if you allow yourself to eat your “go-to favorite foods” outside of an emotional eating episode. If you do not work in and consider foods that truly satisfy you, this is kind of like the saying, absence makes the heart grow fonder. 

For more information on determining food satisfaction and how to be more in tune with what the body needs, this article “What is intuitive eating”  will get you started. 

To address this food satisfaction when eating, consider if you are listening to your intuitive regulator. This regulator is an indicator of what your body is desiring to eat.  If you are not eating what you desire, you may feel like you are emotionally eating. Subsequently, you may need more food to attempt to satisfy the desire you are looking for with the food.

The following are just a few questions you may consider when choosing to eat: 

  • Do I want something hot or cold?
  • Do I desire smooth or textured food?
  • Have I eaten the same foods lately and need some variety?
  • How will I feel after eating this food?
  • Am I choosing this food because I think the choice is what I should choose or want to choose?

Choosing foods based on how the food will satisfy you at the time and in the future is helpful. By determining a good match for your eating in the moment and how the food will make you feel, you can impact your emotional state. and decrease the chances of using emotional eating to get food satisfaction.  

3. Heightened emotional response 

Emotional eating can be a response to how you are feeling and experiencing emotions when making food decisions. When you are in an intense state of emotions, making mindful decisions about eating is challenging.

In an emotional state, your decision-making ability is decreased. During a heightened emotional state, it is far too easy to revert to food choices you know you have always enjoyed, such as your favorite foods you ate as a child. 

Clients discuss with me that they have an insatiable hunger when in an emotional state. This insatiable hunger is often not even connected to true physical hunger but more to a hunger for something else.  

Often emotional hunger is connected to a desire. In other words, a desire to feel more connected, rested, and less stressed, to name a few. 

If you want to stop emotional eating, your key is to discover what factors lead you to emotional eating. 

Determining what is behind an eating episode is an important step to mindfully navigating the solution

A few questions to consider that may give you a clue to what is happening include:

  • Are you getting in enough food to fuel your body’s basic energy needs to function?
  • Have you been restricting yourself from specific foods or food groups?
  • Are there certain types of food you emotionally eat?
  • Are there certain times of the day you experience emotional eating?
  • Is the eating episode right before you leave or return from work?
  • Do you experience emotional eating during your work breaks?
  • Is there a holiday or season of the year that you experience more challenges?
  • Is the episode simply a stressful time or event in life?

Looking at the answers to these questions and considering the 3 key factors listed above will help you identify the source behind this emotional eating.   

If you want more help discovering why you are eating emotionally, then book a time for a free 20-minute discovery call here. 

If you want to address the real reason you are eating without using food all the time, you can also read this article 5 Tips to stop your emotional eating to fill a void

Take our free emotional eating quiz to find out if YOU are an Emotional Eater

Take the Emotional Eating Quiz

Kathryn Fink Martinez

Conquer food fear and overwhelm! My passion is helping guide people who are embarrassed about their struggle with food and teaching them simple habit changes that lead to a life with more energy, happiness, and the freedom to eat the foods they truly enjoy. Find a realistic food and exercise approach and remove the uncertainty about what to eat. Get started with some of the free resources on my Confidence in Eating website, especially the Bariatric Success Guide., Emotional Eating Quiz, and Binge Eating Quiz resources. I offer telehealth nutrition programs so you can live your life knowing how to nourish your body, mind, and soul.