Emotional Eating

Many bariatric patients suffer from emotional eating, also known as “mindless eating”. There are many different names but the bottom line is that your body doesn’t need to experience any hunger for you to eat. Emotional eating is often an important reason why people have gained so much weight and proceed to undergo bariatric intervention.
After bariatric intervention, a physical change has occurred but you’ve only just begun your psychological journey! You want to make sure that you can stay in control on the long run and do not return to your old habits. This blog post will tell you more about emotional eating and how to deal with it.


Emotional eaters come up with excuses for their eating behaviour. Various things may come to mind in order to justify your unhealthy eating habits. You may recognise a few.

  1. “I’ll just have this chocolate bar now because I deserve it, I’m feeling a bit down, tomorrow I’ll eat healthy again”.
  2. “I could lose weight, but what’s the point? I won’t be happy anyway”.
  3. “Yesterday was an unhealthy day too, so it doesn’t matter anyway!”.
  4. “I tried a healthier diet but couldn’t stick with it”.

Recognise any of them? Odds are that you’re an emotional eater. The problem is that this is a self-destructive way of dealing with your emotions. Instead of solving your problems by talking about them, you resort to unhealthy snacks.

Emotional eating is not the same need as appetite

When eating for emotional reasons, you aren’t really eating to feed your body but rather to satisfy a different need. The problem here is that on the long run, this is a self-destructive way of handling your emotions. Apart from feelings of depression, other  potential causes of emotional eating are:

  1. Reward
  2. Fear
  3. A sense of hopelessness
  4. Boredom
  5. Feeling unappreciated

Recognise any of the above? Do you find yourself eating without knowing it on a regular basis? Do you often feel guilty after having eaten too much? Do you resort to snacks when something bad happens? If your answer to these questions is “yes”, then you are probably eating with emotional motives on a regular basis. No worries, we know the feeling and we will help you!

How to recognise emotional appetite?

The first step is to acknowledge that you are in fact an emotional eater. Repeat it out loud a few times: “I am an emotional eater!”. Once you’ve acknowledged this problem, the next step is to learn to recognise it. Where, when, and what do you eat to satisfy your emotional appetite. More importantly: how do you know if you’re dealing with true or emotional appetite. Here are some features of emotional appetite:

  • Specific appetite. You are craving something specific like cheese or chocolate.
  • Direct, sudden and urgent. You are experiencing a sense of urgency, you need to eat something now and you’re even willing to go out and get it.
  • Something happened. You have an experience and crave to eat something as a result.
  • You’re eating without knowing it and do not stop when you’re full. You’re eating but don’t realise you’ve almost finished the whole bag.
  • You don’t feel the hunger in your stomach. You crave a specific flavour in your mouth.
  • You feel worthless. You are feeling guilty about the amount of food you just ate.

5 Steps to quit emotional eating

  1. Identify the reason for your emotional eating. Are you eating out of boredom or sadness? Try to solve the problem at its core.
  2. Recognise your emotional appetite signals. Got a specific craving for chocolate? Don’t let your emotions fool you. And don’t take yourself too seriously. What you are thinking isn’t always reality.
  3. Are there certain snacks you prefer when you’re experiencing emotional appetite? Don’t buy them anymore. Buy healthy products that can satisfy a craving for sweet or salty just as well. If getting rid of unhealthy snacks isn’t an option, make sure you keep them in a location that forces you to ask yourself the question “Am I really hungry?”. For example, put your picture on the cookie jar.
  4. Do not skip any meals, this prevents overeating. Do not take a second serving right after the first. Wait and see if you’re actually still hungry.
  5. Find alternatives. Instead of a bag of crisps, grab a good book, do your nails, play with your cat or spoil yourself with a hot bath.