Are you an emotional eater?


“Do you live to eat or eat to live?”  The obvious answer should be “eat to live” but for many of us it’s not. Do you feel powerless when it comes to eating? Are you an emotional eater? Find out how to recognize it and overcome it with our emotional eating tips.


What is emotional eating?


What we choose to put in our mouths for breakfast, lunch and dinner comes from a combination of our knowledge about nutrition but also from emotional decisions. Have you ever said to yourself, “I was a healthy eater yesterday so I deserve to eat this today”. Emotional eating is eating for various reasons other than hunger. The difference between emotional eating and hunger is that ’emotional hunger’ comes on unexpectedly with a sudden urge to satisfy while physical hunger occurs gradually over time giving us the option to make choices. Everyone has, at one time or another, been an emotional eater. Remember the time when the love of your life took an interest in your best friend? Or, when you didn’t get that job you had hoped for? Or when you had a very important presentation and forgot all your lines?  Did you consume a pint of Ben and Jerry’s? The last of the bottle of wine? An entire chocolate cake because you just couldn’t stop? If you have, there’s an explanation. An emotional eater usually consumes “comfort” or junk foods in response to feelings instead of hunger. Emotional eating can also be triggered by social events and situations (such as holiday parties), erratic thoughts (OMG! I’m fat! Why stop now!?), and physiological symptoms (I need caffeine to make this headache go away). And how many of you have sabotaged your healthful eating for emotional eating because you fell off the bandwagon? Did it feel as if you were losing self-control…?


Why might one become an emotional eater?


Feelings of depression, boredom, loneliness, anger, anxiety, frustration, stress, interpersonal problems or low self-worth contribute to the desire to self-soothe and medicate using food. Although an emotional eater eats unwanted calories, an emotional eater may not necessarily be an overeater nor be overweight. Sometimes an emotional eater won’t eat because of stress or anxiety. The common denominator in emotional eating is that emotional eaters make unhealthy choices to satisfy an emotion. But why can’t we just turn this bad behavior off? Well, there’s more to it than just emotions…it’s also physiological. So, we can safely displace some blame…but remember the power ultimately is yours!


When we eat satisfying foods, we are rewarded with a chemical in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for telling the body it has done something good…real good…and embeds that memory in the brain. And from past experience you know that if it feels good you are more likely to repeat the bad behavior, and guess what, that dopamine reward comes around again. This cyclical pattern or ‘learned behavior’ becomes increasingly difficult to undo. Even if we don’t like the behavior, the dopamine release causes us to crave the ’emotional feeling’ hence perpetuating a vicious cycle. It’s like you’ve got the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.


Sugar and sweets release more dopamine than healthy foods because the dopamine is calorie dependent, which is why many of our comfort foods are actually unhealthy. Figures, right? These comfort foods provide fleeting moments of happiness, contentment or satisfaction…much like an emotional high. The food, which behaves like a drug, allows us to escape from negative thoughts while simultaneously allowing us to obtain a ‘high’ through the release of dopamine. The drawback? Chances are if you eat when you’re not hungry, the calorie consumption becomes more than the body needs. The extra calories are stored as fat, possibly causing unwanted weight gain.  So, you’ve fixed one problem but created another! A moment on the lips = a lifetime on the hips!


How to stop the cycle.


When individuals embark on a lifestyle change, many people find it hard to leave their comfort foods behind. Recognizing emotional eating is the first step in overcoming poor eating habits. Understanding what your trigger is is the first step in eliminating it. Could it be stress, anger, loneliness? Are you rewarding yourself, or self-soothing with food to avoid the pain?


The second step to developing healthier eating habits is to begin to distract yourself from emotional eating. Try rewarding yourself with a healthy behavior like going for a walk, deep breathing, avoidance activities that distract you from the urge to eat or binge; do a chore or even lay down to nap until the urge passes. Deep breathing is actually a relaxation trick rather than an avoidance issue, so that is first on our list of “try this over that”.


Another step in avoiding emotional eating is to keep blood sugar levels stable by eating low to no sugar foods. More importantly don’t let yourself get too hungry! Avoid foods that can potentially create mood swings like caffeine and sugar. More often than not, people use these tactics to pull themselves out of their mood when in fact are creating the very disturbance they’re trying to avoid. Think Starbucks.  Are you with me?


Do you want to live healthfully and feel healthy? Want more energy? Jump start a positive mood? Seeking a sense of calm? Try following this advice:


Eating foods that maintain healthy dopamine levels such as iron, B-6, Folate, Vitamin E rich foods are all excellent choices. The health benefits of many of these foods can be diminished with cooking so the best advice is to eat them as fresh as possible.


Here is a partial list of foods which contain the vitamins listed above (not found in any particular order or amount).


Vitamin E: mustard greens, swiss chard, spinach, kale and collards, almonds, papaya and kiwi, red peppers, broccoli, olive oil, wheatgrass, organic wheat germ oil


Iron: lentils, beets, mung bean sprouts, parsley, sesame and sunflower seeds, almonds


Folate (B-9): green leafy vegetables, beans and legumes, endive


B-6: beans, whole grains (sprouted), pistachios, garlic, sunflower and sesame seeds, hazelnuts, basil, chives, turmeric


In summary, one question to ask yourself when you are eating an unhealthy snack or meal – Am I eating this food to live or am I living to eat this food? Do I really want it or am I using it as a crutch? Do I feel out-of-control or powerless? When in doubt, put the food down and think about the alternatives.


Article written by Laura Bushey, MAT, Certified Health Educator and Personal Holistic Chef with Kitchen of Life. For more about Laura click here. Have a question? Ask her!]]>

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<![CDATA[It’s that back-to-school time of year again with schedules in full swing, which brings with it planning and back-to-school lunches! Eating healthy involves a little bit of time but it doesn’t have to be tedious or cumbersome!  Here are some helpful tips to get the creative juices flowing…

Drop the paper and plastic bags!  Instead put to use a reusable lunchbox system like Laptop Lunchboxes, or RubberMaid’s lunchblox.  These containers are the perfect size for a child’s meal.  Both are BPA free.



Water anyone?  Fun ways to transition kids to water is to add flavor with fruit!  Fresh fruit gives the enhancement of flavor without the added sugar.  Try an assortment of fresh berries, watermelon or citrus blends!  My first choice in water bottles is the inexpensive insulated Polar Sport in a 12 or 24 oz. size. They come in various colors, designs, and are also BPA and phalate free.   For ice cold drinks until dismissal, fill half-way with water and store in the freezer the night before.  Fill the next morning with water.  Your kids will thank you for it on those hot and muggy days!

Let’s start with the basics:

  • Avoid processed foods
  • Use all-natural and organic when possible, esp. corn and soy
  • Keep lunches minimal in sugar
  • Purchase colorful foods
  • Offer nutrient dense items
  • Avoid desserts like cookies or pastries

The Main Dish

Leftovers.  To keep leftovers warm until lunch, trying using a Thermos BPA-free Foogo container.  They come in 7, 10 or 16 oz. sizes.

Sandwiches.  There are many wonderful brands of gluten-free breads like Rudi’s or flourless, sprouted-grain breads like Ezekiel made by Food for Life. The benefits to eating low-glycemic, nutrient dense sprouted breads means the absence of blood sugar surges found with conventional breads.

Nut butters.  An alternative to the proverbial PB&J!  Add a high calcium choice like almond butter, local honey and add bee pollen (local bee pollen can help with allergies, but do not use with bee-sting allergies unless under a physician’s care).  Bee pollen is loaded with B vitamins, contains 8 of the essential amino acids that play an important role in body function. For the pickier set line with banana slices or a chocolate hazelnut spread instead.  Another option would be to ditch the bread and cut apples into slices and use the nut butter as a dip.

Salads.  I consider salads the most versatile of all the lunch choices.  Salads are also a great way to get greens and a plethora of nutrients into your child’s diet.  You can add just about anything to a salad to make it colorful, tasty and nutritious!

For starters, baby lettuces are tender, milder and more nutritious and than their adult counterpart.  My children’s favorite is Epic Roots Mâché, (aka Lamb’s lettuce).  It provides 80% of the daily requirement of folate in just 1 cup!  Top salad greens with your child’s favorite raw veggies like finely chopped carrots, red peppers and cucumbers.  For heart healthy fats, try adding 1/2 an avocado.  Healthy fats keep bellies full and feeling satisfied longer…eliminate the after school crash!  Sprinkle sunflower, pumpkin or sesame seeds instead of croutons for added crunch. Bite-sized portions of nuts, such as walnuts or pistachios are great for additional protein and omega-3 fatty acids.

For a simple dressing use first cold-pressed olive oil with lemon or vinegar.  If using bottled dressings, avoid those made with canola or soybean oil as they are highly processed.  To keep salads soggy-free, purchase 2 oz. disposable plastic containers online at

Vegetable Snacks

  • Sliced or julienned organic red peppers or grape tomatoes (oh, so sweet!)
  • Sliced vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, celery.  Pair with hummus or ranch.

Fruit Snacks

  • Offer a different fruit for each day of the week.  If you slice it, they will eat it!
  • To keep apples and pears from oxidizing (browning) squeeze fresh lemon on the apples to maintain its original color.
  • “Make your own” trail mixes with bulk nuts and organic dried fruit and antioxidant rich dark chocolate!

The alternative to processed snack foods

  • Organic tortilla chips with salsa for dipping
  • Bagged organic popcorn
  • Cliff’s Kid ZBar or Cascadian Organic granola bars instead of wheat based cereal bars

Sweet treats


  • Hail Merry Chocolate Macaroons (5g sugar) contain raw coconut needed for energy!
  • Chocolate! Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, contain less sugar and can be added to any trail mix.

Many of these options not only offer an abundance of health benefits, they are tasty too.   The salty and sweet treats mentioned above will surely satisfy while, at the same time, nourish kids’ bodies and minds.



Laura Bushey is a health educator and personal holistic chef. Her company Kitchen of Life, provides a hands-on approach to transitioning individuals and families to the joys of  eating and living healthier.


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