Breaking free from emotional eating



It is there for you when you are happy. The delicious treats to be devoured to enhance that special moment and to celebrate good times. 

It is there for you on a lonely evening when you are longing for comfort and support.

It is there for you when you are bored, offering stimulation at the cupboard door when nothing else excites.

It is there when you are sad and in desperate need of consolation.

It is there for you when you are feeling overwhelmed and your shoulders are burdened down with pressure.

It is there for you when you feel desolate and empty, seeking to fill the void to just feel something.

It is there for you when you worry and fret about what is going to happen next.

It is there for you when you feel envious and inadequate as you make comparisons with others.

It is there for you when you feel disgust and self-loathing helping you bury these feelings deep to find some momentary escape.

Food can serve a multitude of needs beyond nourishment.

Why is this so?

Emotional eating is often rooted in our early experiences. You might have been given sweets or chocolate to soothe away the tears when you were crying and upset.

You may have been forbade to eat certain foods and in your mind they became even more extraordinary and desirable.

You might have lacked essential nurturing from your care givers when growing up and learned to turn to food to try and satisfy that ‘something’ that was missing. Maybe love, care, affection, support, time or a combination of these?

You might have been very aware of your size or experienced comments about this. You may have felt pressure to diet and consequently developed a guilt-ridden relationship with food.

It might have been something else.

To begin to disrupt the cycle of emotional eating, you need to step back and become more aware of your eating patterns, so you can begin to untangle the complicated threads where food has become much more than nourishment. You can enhance your awareness of this through a simple food and feelings diary.

You may not know how you feel to start with. You may have become adept at dissociating and pushing your feelings away.

It might be a new learning process to begin to explore your emotional world. This may not always be an easy one.

It is about learning to name and feel your feelings.

It is about learning different ways of coping with your emotions without turning to food.

What is it that you really need? Is it food or is it something else?

How else can you achieve this need? This is when you might need some support in learning new strategies.

And is it wrong to turn to food for emotional reasons at all? If we ate purely for nourishment, maybe we would lose some of the joy from food.

Food is meant to be enjoyed and shared and celebrated as part of life.

A healthy relationship with food might still involve some emotional eating on occasions. It is a joy to eat a tasty meal with friends or celebrate a birthday with cake.

It is only a problem when your main strategy for feeling better and deriving pleasure (albeit short-term) is eating.

Because of the short-term fix that food can offer, it is very typical that you might feel some ambivalence about changing relationship with food. This is okay. It doesn’t need to be a barrier.

If you are feeling stuck and you are looking for a way out with support, this could be the time to think about having some counselling.

This article was written by Harriet Frew.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Cambridge, CB1
Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet Frew is a counsellor, blogger, writer and enthusiast in supporting people with eating disorders. She has worked in the NHS; private practice and in the voluntary sector; working in the field since 1999. Harriet now works privately in Cambridge and London.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Eating disorders

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals