How do you deal with feelings of anger, frustration, fear, stress, loneliness, conflict, depression or disappointment? Do you find comfort in food? Are you constantly on a diet but, never losing weight? When you feel frustrated or disappointed with events or people – is the answer to eat something salty or sweet?

If you answered the last three questions with a ‘yes’, maybe you be categorized as an “emotional eater”.

What is Emotional Eating? It is the practice of consuming large quantities of food – usually “comfort” or junk foods – in response to feelings instead of hunger.

Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by feelings which means that most of us are guilty of using food to cope with emotions.

Lisa was always dieting and always fixated on food. As an overweight child she regularly turned to junk food to relieve feelings she couldn’t deal with. But, overeating caused her more feelings of guilt, disgust and failure.

Maybe you can identify with Lisa. Though your eating patterns may not be as extreme – you might still be labeled as someone who “eats for comfort”.

What are the consequences of emotional eating? Basically, the comfort one finds from eating is temporary. Comfort eating does not resolve life’s issues or feelings. This type of eating leads to long-term consequences such as obesity, emotional instability, guilt and shame.
What are some practical steps to change eating for comfort patterns?
Start by logging when you eat and are not actually hungry.
Do this for one week. Ask yourself – what triggered my need to eat?
What was the thought, stress, conflict, disappointment, fear, anger driving me to food?
Write out in detail what occurred prior to eating for comfort versus eating for hunger. It may have been awhile since you actually ate because you felt hungry. Eating, though an enjoyable activity, should be based on hunger.

Identify any healthy coping skills you use in response to the triggers. Maybe you don’t use food for comfort all the time. How could you begin to use the healthy coping skills you practice more often?

Explore and deal with feelings: The next step is to implement interventions and a strategy for dealing with the anger, resentment, depression, low self-esteem, fear and stress underlying the eating for comfort syndrome.

Your feelings are indicators that something is wrong in your life. Deal with your feelings directly by asking yourself “what is the issue I am facing and is it valid?” Once you identify the issues in your life underlying eating for comfort – you can begin to work on healthy coping skills.

Here’s an example: Your spouse calls you up and says he will be coming home late from work. You act understanding but, after you hang up the phone you begin to feel angry because you had planned a special dinner for the family. Instead of reaching for the bag of chips or a candy bar – stop yourself. Write out how you are feeling and a request you might make of your husband to help avoid this predicament in the future such as: “Can you please let me know a couple of days ahead of time when you have to work late?”. Plan an activity and a healthy snack such as carrots and celery or a piece of fruit for your family in order to deal with the delay in serving dinner.

How do you generally cope with your emotions? Do you have someone to talk to about your feelings? Do you pray? Do you confront people assertively who have disappointed or hurt you? Do you write out your feelings in a journal? Are you an option-thinker? Read about assertiveness and other articles on this site for more help.
Do you work off pent-up feelings through exercise?

Are you an option thinker? Can you analyze problems and come up with various solutions and resources? You need to learn how to tackle problems and stress with new skills that help you adapt to people and changes in life.

Healthy coping skills will help you face problems head-on versus suppress them by turning to food.

Get Support:
You may need to see a doctor for a physical exam to assess whether there is a hormonal or physiological basis for obesity and/or the compulsive eating patterns. You may consider consulting a nutritionist to set up a weight loss program for you.
Research diet programs carefully which include all four food groups, do not require drastic lifestyle changes, are recommended by your physician and have a good track record of maintaining weight loss (ex: Weight Watchers).
Find an appropriate support group for your particular eating disorder.
Contact the following Eating Disorders organizations for help and resources.

Overcomers Outreach, Inc: 1-800-310-3001; 1-714-491-3000

Consider seeking God’s help for managing your life and gaining control over food.Overeating feeds a craving just like any other addiction. People long to fill the spiritual void inside with something. This world is difficult and uncertain. We long for peace and security. People need supernatural help for living. Why not go directly to the Creator of the universe for the power to change?
God is the answer and can bring us freedom from any addiction or unhealthy behavior pattern.

Address other issues: any underlying depression, abuse, traumatic events or losses which have been left unresolved or haven’t been grieved. A Christian counselor can help explore the causes and triggers of your eating disorder and identify healthy coping skills to help change your thoughts and behaviors.

Finally, build your self-esteem. A good dose of self-confidence will enable you to express your feelings, opinions, preferences in healthy ways rather than stuffing feelings and finding comfort in food. Read a book such as The Search for Significance: Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes (workbook included) by Robert McGee.

The following book is helpful for tracking eating patterns to gain a deeper understanding of what emotional need food is trying to replace.: Thin Within by Judy Wardell, R.N. Halliday, Arthur W., M.D. Halliday, Heidi Bylsma, Sally Rackets

©2015 by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC