Feeding Your Feelings: How Emotions Affect Eating Habits

Chad A. Buck, PhD: Work/Life Connections – EAP and Health Plus I. What Is The Connection Between Food and Feelings?

  • Early childhood experiences.
  • Under stress, the body actually craves carbohydrates, which have chemical properties that soothe and relax us.
  • Focusing mental energy on food distracts us from what we are feeling or prevents us from facing feelings.
  • According to researchers at the University of Maryland, 75% of overeating is caused by emotions. Therefore, dealing with emotions appropriately is important.

II. Why Do We Crave Certain Foods?

  • Research indicates that what you reach for when eating to satisfy an emotion depends on the specific emotions experienced at the time.
  • According to an article published in the July 2000 American Demographics, "People in happy moods tended to prefer ... foods such as pizza or steak (32%). Sad people reached for ice cream and cookies 39% of the time, and 36% of bored people opened up a bag of potato chips."
  • Salty = Boredom; Crunchy = Anger or Frustration; Spicy = Excitement or Intensity; Sweet = Joy and Contentment

III. What is the Difference Between Physical and Emotional Hunger?

Physical Hunger

  • Comes on gradually and can be postponed
  • Can be satisfied by any number of foods
  • Once you are full, you are likely to stop eating
  • Doesn’t cause feelings of guilt

Emotional Hunger

  • Feels sudden and urgent
  • Causes very specific cravings (e.g., pizza, ice cream)
  • More likely to eat beyond a feeling of physical fullness
  • Likely to result in feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment afterwards

IV. Am I an Emotional Eater?

  1. Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
  2. Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
  3. Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
  4. Do you reward yourself with food?
  5. Do you regularly eat until you are uncomfortable?
  6. Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?

For more help with emotional eating issues, please call 936-1327 to make an appointment with a Work/Life Connections - EAP counselor.