Methodist Healthcare - January 21, 2020

The truth behind emotional eating, and tips to stop it

Emotional eating is a slippery slope for those trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. The trick is to manage your stress before the urge to eat kicks in. We’ve gathered top tips to end emotional eating, and some guidance to see if your diet cheats or binges are actually signs of emotional eating.

Are you an emotional eater?

We don’t always eat just to satisfy hunger. Sometimes, we turn to food to cope with unpleasant feelings, like social anxiety, sadness, loneliness, or boredom. And after eating, we feel even worse: Guilty about the food and still anxious, sad, lonely or bored!

Using food as a reward—a pint of ice cream to soothe a break-up or swinging through the drive-through after a stressful day at work—is not necessarily bad. But when eating becomes your primary emotional coping mechanism and your first impulse, you can get caught in an unhealthy cycle of emotional eating, while ignoring your real feelings.

Emotional hunger can be mistaken for physical hunger. Look for these clues to tell them apart:

  • Emotional hunger comes on suddenly and feels urgent. Physical hunger comes on more gradually.
  • Emotional hunger is a feeling you can’t get out of your head—focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells. You may crave specific comfort foods so that nothing will do except cheesecake or onion rings. Physically hunger, on the other hand, makes you desire eating a meal or a snack, anything in a normal diet including vegetables or fruit.
  • Emotional hunger leads to mindless eating—without paying attention or fully enjoying it. Physical hunger is more mindful where food is enjoyed or savored in normal portions.
  • Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You find yourself wanting more and more until you’re stuffed. Physical hunger is satisfied when your stomach is full.
  • Emotional hunger is followed by feelings of guilt, shame or self-consciousness. Eating to satisfy physical hunger, feels like you’ve given your body what it needs nutritionally.

Take control of your emotional eating

Identify your emotional eating triggers: What are the situations, places, or feelings that make you reach for the doughnuts. While most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, it can also be attributed to positive ones—like a celebration. Finding your trigger is the first step to taking control.

Does stress make you hungry? It’s not your imagination—a chaotic, pressured or fast-paced situation triggers your body to release cortisol, a stress hormone, which in turn triggers cravings for foods that give you a burst of energy and feeling of pleasure or indulgence, like a candy bar. Recognizing stressful moments—and anticipating cravings—allows you to make a better choice.

Bored? Cooking takes up time and eating occupies your body. Instead, try an activity where you can’t eat, like knitting, jogging or singing.

Childhood habits, like getting a treat for good behavior, can carry over as bad habits. Instead of stopping for ice cream after a doctor’s appointment, revamp with adult rewards, like calling a friend or getting the car washed.

Find ways to fulfill yourself emotionally without food—by taking an art class, going to a concert or joining a book club. Activities that let you express feelings and enjoy your time can reframe emotional binges.

Hit with a craving? Take five. Pausing to reflect for a few minutes gives you time to identify your motivation and make a different decision. Try drinking a glass of water and taking a lap around the room or the block.

Recognize when you need more help. A counselor or therapist can help you identify and deal with the feelings that are your triggers. When eating gets out of control or leaves you depressed and upset, it’s time to get to the bottom of things.

When we stop obsessing or suppressing emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings lose their power. Eliminating stressful triggers and being more mindful about eating are healthy steps to end emotional eating.

Learn more about health-minded lifestyles at Methodist Healthcare Weightloss Centers. Our physicians and staff can help you create a realistic eating plan and monitor your health indicators.

Managing prediabetes: this is your wakeup call

Prediabetes is a pre-diagnosis, one that indicates your blood glucose level is higher than normal. Although it’s not yet high enough to be considered full-blown, type 2 diabetes, this clinical diagnosis is a giant red flag that things need to change.

Diagnosed with prediabetes

First, the good news: it’s possible to prevent prediabetes from developing into type 2 diabetes by changing your eating habits, losing weight, and being more physically active to help bring your blood glucose level back into the normal range.

Next, the reality. Diabetes develops gradually, so during the prediabetes stage you may not have any symptoms at all but you still must manage the risk.

Prediabetes is an indication that your body has trouble using the hormone insulin. Insulin is necessary to transport glucose (that your body uses for energy) to the cells via the bloodstream. In prediabetes, either your body doesn't make enough insulin or it doesn’t use it well. Both of these situations mean you can build up too much glucose in your blood. Doctors use blood tests to diagnose prediabetes.

Factors behind prediabetes

Doctors and researchers have not yet determined what causes your body to stop making insulin, however, they have determined some contributors, or risk factors:

  • Overweight, with a body mass index—a BMI—of higher than 25
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Ethnicity, with African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans being more at risk
  • Age, the older you are, the more at risk you are for developing prediabetes
  • Having gestational diabetes while pregnant
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol


The American Diabetes Association says that serious lifestyle changes are effective in preventing type 2 diabetes after you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes. Your doctor will make specific recommendations for you. Typically, lifestyle changes include:

  • Working with a registered dietitian or diabetes educator to create a meal plan specifically for you
  • Starting or increasing exercise
  • Weight loss, of 5 to 10% of your body weight can significantly reduce your risk
  • Medications that prevent your liver from making more glucose when you don't need it

DIY: do it yourself

While your doctor will make recommendations, following them is entirely up to you. In fact, those who set a goal of lowering their blood sugar and tell others about their condition and their goal, are more likely to reduce their blood glucose level than those who do not specifically set a goal. On your own you can also:

  • Overhaul your diet
  • Choose lean meats or protein substitutes
  • Fill half your plate with fresh vegetables
  • Choose high-fiber starches
  • Cook with healthful fats
  • Eliminate sweet treats and processed foods
  • Avoid eating out and fast foods
  • Reduce Stress
  • Eliminate or reduce causes of chronic stress by considering a job change or a move
  • Cope better with stress through yoga, meditation, journaling and exercise
  • Pump it up
  • Add or increase exercise, with a goal of 30 minutes of moderate activity, five days a week. Try brisk walking, stair climbing, jogging or swimming.
  • Use a step counter to push yourself to be more active.
  • Limit TV and other sedentary activities, or do them only while walking on a treadmill
  • Add strength training with weights, at least twice a week
  • Get your Z’s
  • Make sure you are getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night
  • Don’t watch TV or use your phone before bed
  • Establish a set bedtime, and wake at the same time each day

Prediabetes does not mean you are destined to get diabetes. With the right mindset, and some lifestyle changes your diagnosis is your wakeup call.

Learn more about health-minded lifestyles at Methodist Healthcare Weightloss Centers. Our physicians and staff can help you create a realistic eating plan and monitor your health indicators.

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