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Coping with Emotions through Food: Understanding Emotional Eating

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

"We're all guilty of 'eating our feelings' now and then. When emotions run high, turning to food for comfort...well, it happens. To all of us. That's because eating is an inherently satisfying behavior. In fact, it needs to be! We rely on food to survive after all. Searching for ways to cope with stress is natural, too, by the way. However, we also all know that this tendency to cope via stress eating, emotional eating, or whatever we want to call it, isn't exactly healthy — physically or mentally, but no one ever talks about the triggers like financial stress that cause us to escape with food."

The Comfort of Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is a universal human experience, rooted in the innate satisfaction we derive from consuming food. Food provides us not only with sustenance but also comfort and pleasure. It's a natural, physiological response to seek solace in something that offers both nourishment and emotional relief.

The act of eating is deeply ingrained in our biology and culture as a source of comfort, celebration, and social bonding. So, it's no surprise that, when emotions run high or stress becomes overwhelming, we often turn to food for solace.

The Natural Response to Stress

Coping with stress through food is, in a way, a natural response. When faced with stress, our bodies release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, triggering a "fight or flight" response. In the ancestral past, this response was essential for survival. Eating during moments of stress could have meant the difference between life and death.

Today, the sources of stress have evolved, but our response to stress often remains rooted in these primitive instincts. The desire to find comfort in food during challenging times is a vestige of our evolutionary history.

The Unhealthy Cycle of Emotional Eating

While emotional eating might be a common response to stress, it comes with its set of issues. It can impact both our physical and mental well-being in profound ways. Using food as a coping mechanism can lead to overeating, consuming unhealthy choices, and neglecting the nutritional needs of our bodies. This, in turn, can result in weight gain, reduced energy levels, and a sense of guilt or shame.

The connection between emotional eating and triggers like financial stress is not often discussed. Stress, including financial stress, can indeed be a powerful trigger for emotional eating. In times of financial strain, the desire for comfort and security can translate into an urge to seek solace in food.

Balancing Emotional Needs with Healthy Choices

The first step in addressing emotional eating, especially when it's triggered by financial stress or any other source of emotional turmoil, is to acknowledge its existence. It's essential to recognize that using food as a coping mechanism is a common and human response to stress.

Once we acknowledge this, we can work towards healthier ways of coping with our emotions. This might include seeking support from friends, family, or professionals, practicing stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness, engaging in physical activities, or finding alternative, healthier comfort foods that align with our nutritional needs.

Understanding the role of emotional eating in our lives is the first step toward making conscious choices about how we respond to stress. By recognizing the triggers and developing healthier coping strategies, we can strike a balance between emotional needs and physical well-being, ultimately fostering a healthier relationship with food and our emotions. Below I created a worksheet to get you started with this sobriety goal.


Sobriety Goals

Worksheet: Understanding Emotional Eating and Coping with Stress

Part 1: Recognizing Emotional Eating

  1. List Your Triggers: What are some situations or emotions that trigger your emotional eating? (e.g., stress, sadness, boredom, financial strain, loneliness)

  2. Reflect on Past Instances: Can you recall specific instances when you turned to food for emotional comfort? What were the circumstances, and how did you feel afterward?

  3. Awareness Check: On a scale of 1 to 10, how aware are you of your emotional eating habits? (1 being not aware at all, and 10 being highly aware)

Part 2: Understanding Emotional Eating

  1. Recognizing It's a Common Response: Write down a reminder to yourself that emotional eating is a common and human response to stress.

  2. Acknowledge Your Triggers: List the triggers you identified in question 1. This acknowledgment is the first step toward change.

  3. Assess the Impact: Reflect on how emotional eating affects your physical and mental well-being. Write down your thoughts and feelings regarding this impact.

Part 3: Strategies for Healthier Coping

  1. Identify Healthy Alternatives: What are some healthier ways to cope with your triggers for emotional eating? (e.g., practicing mindfulness, talking to a friend, engaging in physical activities)

  2. Create a Plan: Choose one or more strategies from question 7 that resonate with you. Create a plan for implementing these healthier coping mechanisms when you recognize the urge to emotionally eat.

  3. Seek Support: Consider seeking support from friends, family, or professionals. Write down the names of individuals you can turn to when you need support during stressful times.

Part 4: Self-Reflection and Commitment

  1. Reflection on Acknowledgment: How does acknowledging that emotional eating is a common response to stress make you feel? Write down your thoughts.

  2. Commitment to Change: Write a commitment statement to yourself about working towards healthier ways of coping with your emotions. For example, "I am committed to recognizing my emotional triggers and using healthier coping strategies to nurture my well-being."

  3. Next Steps: What is one concrete step you can take today to start implementing your plan for healthier coping with emotional eating?


Bottom line just remember that understanding the role of emotional eating in your life is the first step towards change. By recognizing your triggers, assessing the impact, and adopting healthier coping strategies, you can make conscious choices about how you respond to stress. Remember that you're not alone in this journey, and seeking support is a sign of strength.


Need Help Developing A Plan For Self-Care Do you want help developing a self-care plan that works for your busy schedule? Do you want accountability in implementing a self-care plan? If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health, consider reaching out to Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. We are a Metro Atlanta, Conyers Georgia area. We are a coaching and counseling practice with empathetic, skilled counselors and recovery coaches who can help you set goals, develop a self-care routine, and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Our team would be happy to work with you either just for a couple of sessions to develop and implement a Self-care plan or longer term to work toward overall better mental health within our membership site or other programs.

Dr. Nikki LeToya White

About The Author: Dr. Nikki LeToya White MSEd-TL, Ph.D. RHN is the founder, director, and full-time board-certified trauma-informed nutritionist, folk herbalist, and wellness consultant at Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. She created Spiced Life Conversation, LLC Art Wellness Studio and Botanica to provide the Metro Atlanta area with counseling and coaching services where clients are carefully matched with the right program for healing abandonment and childhood emotional neglect trauma that cause codependency, emotional eating, financial stress, and imposter syndrome as it relates to fear of success and being abandon. We help you begin your emotional healing journey with ease. Recently, we have expanded to include an online membership site so we now provide support to people living all over the world. All of our recovery coaches provide at least one evidence-based treatment to assist in your recovery. Dr. White is a big proponent of self-care and helping people live a fulfilling life! She has been in full remission with both codependency and emotional binge eating disorder since 2016. In living a life in recovery from sugar addiction. Loving her low-sugar balance lifestyle.

Best Regards,

Dr. Nikki LeToya White


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