Medically reviewed on May 11, 2023 by Morgan Spicer, Medical Communications Manager. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Your emotions can influence your eating habits, causing you to eat more or less food than your body needs. Understanding your eating patterns can help you understand if and how emotional eating may be impacting your weight and overall health.
Emotional eating is when you eat for a reason other than hunger. For some people, strong feelings and emotions like sadness, fear, loneliness, and worry prompt them to eat more than usual.  Over time, eating when you’re not hungry can lead to overeating, weight gain, and unsuccessful weight loss attempts. Learning how to recognize what triggers emotional eating patterns can help you build a healthier relationship with food.
Self Reflection: In what ways do your emotions affect your eating choices?
A trigger is something that leads to another behavior.  Hunger is your body’s natural eating trigger, but you may eat for other reasons as well. For example, if you’re experiencing a stressful situation, you might eat foods you wouldn’t normally eat, like foods that are higher in sugar or fat. Identifying your eating triggers can help you understand why, when, and how much you choose to eat.
Common emotional eating triggers include:
Self Reflection: What are some of your eating triggers?
So, how can you tell if your emotions are behind your desire to eat? One easy way to tell if you’re eating because you’re hungry is to do a quick “apple test.” Before you eat, ask yourself this simple question: “Would I eat an apple instead?” If the answer is no, you might be eating for a reason other than hunger. This practice encourages you to eat more mindfully as you learn how to recognize your internal hunger and fullness cues more easily.
If you notice that you frequently eat for reasons other than hunger, it may be helpful to create a list of non-food activities that you can choose instead. This offers you alternatives “in the moment” when you’re deciding if and what to eat. When your emotions rise and you find yourself reaching for a snack, choose a non-food activity instead to break the behavior link.
Here are some examples of non-food activities:
Self Reflection: Make a list of non-food activities you could do instead of eating when you’re not hungry.
While emotional eating does not necessarily mean you have eating disorder, some people who struggle with emotional eating also struggle with disordered eating behaviors. If you have concerns about your relationship with food, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) can help you connect with a professional who can support you.