5 Ways to Curb Your Emotional Appetite

I’ll put this out here right now: this could be sensitive topic.

The other day I talked about an internal struggle I had, and I know it resonated with some people. I want to explain it a little further.

The biggest problem I’ve had in dealing with my relationship with food is that no one understood me. I’m the biggest person among my friends, and none of them understand what it’s like to not be able to stop eating when I’m full. They don’t know what it means when I say certain foods make me happy. They don’t know what it’s like to be me.

I am an emotional eater.

Confused relationship with food

People who aren’t emotional eaters can’t understand. They don’t know what it’s like to crave a doughnut so bad that you get upset if you don’t give in. They don’t even understand how calm and content that first bite is once you finally do. Either they already eat healthy, or they are active and have high metabolisms. Either way, they don’t struggle with food.

If you habitually turn to a pint (or more) of Ben and Jerry’s when you’re upset, welcome to the club. You are an emotional eater. If you have ever ordered a pizza immediately after seeing a commercial, you’re an emotional (and impulsive) eater. But you probably already know that, otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this.

You’ve wondered why you can’t stop, why all of your friends are skinny and can only eat one cookie. Or, like me, you have a brother-in-law who eats a whole pizza without gaining even water weight. And you detest these people, secretly, when it comes to food. Because you want to stop and you feel like you can’t. You feel alone in the fight.

You’re not.

You just have a confused perception of what food is. Food is fuel. Tasty, delicious, mouthwatering fuel, but fuel nonetheless. To think it will give you emotional release is giving it way too much credit. Realizing that you do is the first step in getting over the hump.

Overcoming emotional eating

The good news is that it’s possible to eat correctly, eat well, and overcome the habits of old. It takes hard work and some dedication, especially at first, but you can put food into perspective. You can get to a point where you don’t turn to food into your best friend. Here are some tips I’ve used to help curb my emotional appetite.

1. Plan your meals in advance, and stick to the plan
When you plan ahead, you leave less room for impulse. I did not do this on Monday, and I couldn’t stop myself until dinner. Planning ahead also takes care of some of the stress of wondering what to eat (if you are like me, this causes you some stress at times).

2. Start out light
Don’t expect to win the first time and always win. Sometimes you’ll get tired and may cave. By easing into the new lifestyle you’re less likely to forget about it after you fail the first time. When you’re first starting out and you’re at the store and feel an impulse that you can’t control, buy it. Just don’t eat it yet. If you’re following 4HB, there will be a day very soon where you can eat that thing guilt free. You’ll get the satisfaction of having bought the item, but you’ll still exercise the discipline of control because you will decide not to eat it yet.

3. Avoid, if possible, your weak spots
My weak spot was Hardees. I had to avoid it like the plague, otherwise I was feeding the temptation and eventually it would get too difficult to fight. Eventually it became second nature to drive past. If there is a place you know will make this change more difficult for you, avoid it if you can. If you can’t, see point number 1.

4. Become accountable and stay honest
Every one of you reading this blog are my number 4. I can tell you from experience that when you are accountable to at least one other person, it increases your chances of success. Suddenly you realize you’re not alone. You need someone to whom you can be honest, though. If you know they’ll criticize you when you tell them you failed again, find someone else. You also don’t want someone who will always coddle you and tell you it’ll be OK. You need someone who after your third day in a row cheating will tell you to cut the crap and get back on the wagon. This especially works for people who care way too much about what other people think of them (*raises hand*).

5. Work on your spiritual discipline
Not everyone will agree with this one, but because it helped me, I need to include it. My turnaround was when I started giving God more attention than the rest of my life. I intentionally spent a month focusing on daily Bible readings and prayer instead of focusing on weight loss. I had tried weight loss before and it never worked. Realizing that it was a deeper issue than just eating too much is what changed my life. After I spent time getting to know God through His Word, it was like the light switch was turned on and suddenly I was able to finally make some legitimate progress with my health. Additionally, it’s always nicer to turn to Him with my emotional issues rather than turn to food, because He provides much deeper consolation (and He’s calorie free).

You really can get a hold on this

This isn’t a black hole that you can’t get out of. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail, just get back up and keep going. With recognition and discipline you can overcome it. Your body will thank you. Celebrate each small success, and you’ll find yourself on the way to your own fitness before you even realize it.


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  1. Hey Jason,

    After reading your post I realize I get emotional with food too, for me it is easy until night time then I want to eat any food I see. I think because all my life after diner = desert/snack time it will take me a while and some self decline to break that.

    One thing that I use to avoid eating when I know I don’t need to is water, I will drink a big glass of water quickly chugging it and then food cravings seem to cease for a while. It also helps while I fast during 1/2 the day.

    Another one that I also use unconsciously, is distraction. I seldom eat when I am busy at my computer hacking something out. Even before I started to eat better I would sometimes be so busy I forgot to eat. Another helpful tip for fasting too.

    • @Justin:
      I do the same thing with water. When I eat something, I usually take a pretty good few swigs to wash the taste out. And I’m a *classic* bored-eater. Like you said…when I work, I am not hungry. But if I’m bored, I’m craving some snacks!


  2. This is my second week on 4HB. Last week was no problem, but this week has been full of sad and hard days, and it has been *SO* hard not to have comfort food.

    I did come to realize that Jesus has to be my comfort. Thanks for posting this!

    • Jenne, I will say it gets easier over time, but that fundamental issue always remains. However, I do believe that adopting the slow-carb diet has helped shift the focus in my life from food to fitness. That’s totally not to say that I don’t like food. Quite the opposite actually. 🙂 But I don’t turn to it *as much* as I did when I needed to feel better.

      Nice to have you stop by!


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