6 Ways To Eliminate Emotion-Triggered Eating

Drop that pint of chocolate therapy.

Anyone who has ever polished off a package of Oreos after a heated phone call with the mother-in-law knows what emotion-triggered eating is all about. “Our emotional state can hold a lot of sway over our food choices, meal portion sizes, and how often we eat,” says Lisa Ellis of Harrison, a registered dietitian who has a master’s in clinical nutrition from New York Medical College and a master’s in social work from Fordham University. Here, she offers six tips to help take control of emotion-triggered eating.

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Keep a “Food and Mood” Diary 

Keep track of everything you eat and your emotional state as you eat it in a “food and mood” diary, suggests Ellis. Logging meals, snacks, and moods will give you an accurate sense of the quantity of food you eat and the emotional states that trigger overeating.

Take an Awareness Moment

Next time you are really upset with your significant other and find yourself compelled to pull a pint of Ben & Jerry’s from the freezer, take a moment to ask yourself how eating a bowl of Cherry Garcia will help. “You’ll probably still be upset at him or her,” she says. “Only now you’ll also feel crummy about having consumed a bowl of ice cream.”


“We are sometimes thirsty without realizing it,” says Ellis. “Water—or a flavorful
caffeine-free tea—refreshes our spirits, keeps us alert, and can elevate a sluggish, down-in-the-dumps mood.” 

Seek Comfort Elsewhere 

“It’s called comfort food for a reason,” explains Ellis. “Sometimes that inner 4-year-old still residing inside of us just needs to be
comforted, and we end up translating that as a need for mac ‘n’ cheese.” Instead, she suggests, try seeking comfort elsewhere. Put on some music, cuddle with a special someone or pet, or call a friend for a verbal pick-me-up. 

Change Up Your Environment

Our moods are influenced by our physical surroundings. So, next time you have the urge to graze, says Ellis, try changing the scene. Go for a walk or even redo your computer’s desktop background.

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Never Say “Never”

Finally, says Ellis, give yourself a break. If you love a certain food—say, chocolate-chip cookies—don’t tell yourself you can never have them ever again as long as you live. “Just be aware that if you choose to eat chocolate-chip cookies too often, it will be counterproductive to your personal health goals,” she says. “But do hold the possibility that you may at some appropriate time allow yourself freedom to eat a treat.”

Harrison’s Lisa Ellis specializes in dietary habits and clinical nutrition.

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