Overcoming emotional eating: tips and help

What can you do to stop eating out of boredom, stress or frustration? Find out how you can get emotional eating under control and about the causes of emotional hunger.

29.05.2024 Imke Schmitz 4 minutes

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating – also referred to as emotional hunger – refers to a pattern whereby people eat to cope with emotions and not because they’re actually hungry. At times like this, those affected reach for certain foods to feel better and rid themselves of emotional stress.

Is emotional eating an eating disorder?

In psychology, emotional eating is not regarded as an eating disorder. That’s because, initially, emotional hunger is not pathological. It’s not until those affected start to eat in an uncontrolled or fitful manner that specialists start to talk about disordered eating behaviour. Think you might have an eating disorder? Is stress eating becoming a problem? If so, consult a doctor.

Emotional eating: what are the root causes?

The triggers for emotional eating can vary widely, but they all have one thing in common: they are without exception negative feelings. There are various different types of emotional eating:

  • Frustration eating
  • Boredom eating
  • Stress eating
  • Eating out of loneliness
  • Comfort eating
  • Emotional eating as a result of depression
  • Anxiety eating

Whether eating out of boredom or eating out of frustration – according to psychology, emotional eating is a learned behaviour. Those affected try to counter their negative feelings through emotional eating. For a limited time, eating has a calming effect, reduces stress, consoles or eliminates boredom.

Emotional eating: effects

Whether stress eating or eating out of frustration, the effects of emotional eating are always the same. Those affected subconsciously reach for foods that compensate for their negative feelings. For instance, crunchy foods like crisps serve as a means of working through frustration or anger by chewing. Chocolate is another common choice. It melts in the mouth and can trigger a pleasant and comforting feeling.

In contrast to this, genuine (physical) hunger manifests itself through physical signs. These develop slowly and include difficulties concentrating and stomach-rumbling.

The consequences of emotional eating

Emotional eating has various consequences – particularly when it becomes a habit. Those affected often put on weight and feel ill at ease with their eating habits. This, in turn, leads to mental distress. What’s more, emotional eaters often resort to food with a high fat and sugar content. This increases their long-term risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity.

What can you do about emotional eating?

There are a number of different measures that are easy to integrate into your daily routine that can be used to combat emotional eating. The best approach is to take it step by step and slowly incorporate the different methods. This will also help you to establish healthy eating habits in the long term.

Exercises: put a stop to emotional eating for good

There are various exercises you can use to overcome emotional eating. These help those affected to break habits like stress eating, for example. Try some of these methods if you notice a pattern of emotional eating:

  • Keep a food diary. Note down what you eat and try to understand the motivation behind your emotional eating. The following questions may help you here:
    • When does stress eating occur? In the evenings or at other times of the day?
    • What feelings precede this emotional eating? For example, am I stressed, tired or sad?
    • Why do certain foods help me to deal with this feeling? Does the taste or the consistency provide a feeling of relaxation or warmth, for example?
  • Consider an alternative that might make you feel good. What would speak to your senses in the same way? Maybe the taste of a quality tea, the fresh air on your skin during a walk or the scent of essential oils during a hot bath? Write down your ideas on a small piece of paper and put them in a nice box. Take them out when you start to crave something sweet, or you feel overwhelmed by your emotions. Choose something that would do you good there and then.
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation or yoga. Practical exercises like this can help you to stop stress-related eating out of frustration.

Emotional eating: strategies for day-to-day life

What can help with emotional eating? In addition to the exercises mentioned above, there are many other tips that can help you to stop emotional eating:

  • Plan your everyday routine – and make sure you get enough relaxation.
  • Give yourself enough time for meals and savour every bite.
  • Avoid diets, because these lead to excessive thinking about food and, as a result, to stress.
  • Make sweets and unhealthy snacks less accessible. This will help you to avoid impulsive, emotional eating. Either limit the amount of these foods you buy or keep them out of reach.

Tips to prevent eating out of frustration in children

Emotional eating often develops in childhood and persists as learned behaviour. Parents play a crucial role here. If your child experiences emotional stress, don’t console them with food. Instead, offer emotional support by talking to them. Don’t calm your child with sweets either. Teach them how to deal with emotional challenges instead.

Solve emotional eating with nutrition counselling

Do you feel like exercises and tips aren’t helping? Then nutrition counselling might be worthwhile. Here, you will learn how to deal with emotional eating and how to develop and maintain healthy eating habits.

Helsana will contribute 75% (up to CHF 200 per calendar year) towards the costs of SVDE nutrition counselling and courses from Weight Watchers, eBalance.ch, Oviva, My Coach and Betty Bossi under SANA and COMPLETA supplementary insurance policies. If ordered by a doctor, SVDE nutrition counselling for severe obesity (BMI over 30) and secondary issues caused by this will be charged to basic insurance.


Your supplement: Outpatient benefits and alternative treatments are covered.


All the benefits of TOP and SANA – in some cases with higher reimbursements.

Emotional eating: help through therapy

What other ways are there of stopping emotional eating? Some of those affected need professional support to help them overcome emotional eating. This is particularly true where quality of life is severely restricted by emotional eating. Psychotherapeutic treatment can be highly effective in such cases. Talk to your GP about this first. They will refer you to an appropriate specialist if necessary.

Emotional eating can be unlearned by following these various tips and incorporating the exercises into your daily routine. Refer to a specialist if you need additional support to help you develop balanced eating habits and boost your quality of life.

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