What to do Instead of Emotional Eating
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Strategies to help identify emotional eating and manage it

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Emotional eating can include all types of eating including eating for celebration, eating as a form of procrastination, eating out of boredom, stress, or eating to help soothe an underlying emotion such as loneliness or anger.  

When people come to me, they are not usually worried about their eating in celebration! Most of the people who come to a dietitian for help with their emotional eating are struggling with how often or how intense they feel their eating is as a result of boredom or strong feelings.  

The thing about emotional eating is that it is not bad! However, it can be problematic or troublesome if it is the only way we cope with challenging emotions. Our goal in bringing awareness to our eating behaviours and to help discover what to do instead of emotional eating.  

Where do you think emotional eating might show up for you?

Let me give you some examples to think about: 

  • At the end of the day once the kids are in bed  
  • When you are studying or have a task to do that you have been dreading  
  • Friday night when you don’t have plans  
  • Sunday night before going back to a busy week of work  
  • Before you have a difficult conversation  
  • When it feels like no one else understands what you are going through 
  • After getting disappointing news  
  • When you are stressed about all the things on your to-do list

a woman lies on her stomach in bed, the covers over her head eating a piece of cake. Several other desserts are around her.


Tips for identifying your emotional eating behaviours and ideas for what to do instead:

Step 1 – Identify when

For many of us, emotional eating happens at similar times in our days or in similar situations.  

If you are unsure if there are any patterns to your eating, try paying attention to the why of your eating. You do not need to track your food, but it may be helpful to take note of why you are eating and when you are eating.  

Remember, if you are hungry! Eat! This isn’t a strategy for avoiding eating, but rather a tool to identify when emotional eating or stress eating might be happening.   

Step 2 – Learn from it

Now that you know when this type of eating is taking place, explore why you think it might be happening.  

For example, when I was in university I used to procrastinate with snacks. This was fine every once in a while, but when it happened too often it was making me not feel good, and my grocery bill was getting really expensive! 

When I looked for what to do instead of emotional eating, what I learned was that short breaks worked well for me. I could go for a 10-minute walk, stand outside in the cold air to wake up, or go talk to a friend for a 5-minute break. I also started blocking my study time into 20-40 minute blocks so that I only had to focus for a specific period of time.  

Another example is rewarding ourselves with food after getting through a tough day. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but other ideas for rewards could be quiet time for you, watching your favourite show, painting your nails, or having a 5-minute dance party to find some joy at the end of the day.  

Step 3 – Give yourself options

As I mentioned before, emotional eating is okay! We all do it. However, you don’t want food to be the only way you manage stress or your more challenging emotions.  

To increase your options, brainstorm a list of alternate things you could try and make easy and accessible. You could try putting them in one location around where you think you will need them. These items might include a good book, headphones for music, your sneakers, fidget toys, a word search, affirmations, a journal, or whatever you choose.  


a partially completed mandala pattern picture in a coloring book next to colored pencils

Step 4 – Just try it

When you catch yourself wanting to use food to cope with an emotion or a situation, pull out your list of ideas and just try oneRemember, after you try you can always eat if you still want to.  

Not all of your ideas will work. You might find some strategies that work better than others or work in different circumstances, but either way, just keep trying! This will help you add strategies to your tool kit in addition to using food.  

Want to read more about emotional eating and what to do instead? Try these other dietitian articles.  

Struggling with emotional eating and need some helpful, confidential support?

If you know what to eat but feel alone and struggle to put strategies in place that actually stick, we can work with you to support you with your goals.

As university trained Registered Dietitians and a practice established in year 2000, you can count on us for credible advice and many years of experience for practical ideas so you don’t have to stress about food anymore. You can achieve a healthy and joyous relationship with food and your body. Let’s talk about what this can look like for you.

Learn more about nutrition counselling services here or contact us to find out more.

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