Emotional Eating

Emotional Eating

Back in November of 2018, Dr. Deborah Da Costa, PHD came to talk with WHHI regarding emotional eating.

We have all had times where we are looking for some comfort, grandma’s cookies, mom’s pasta or just some chocolate. But when is it a problem?

When we use food to soothe:

Being overwhelmed/stress

Normally at this time we consume foods that are high in fat, sugar, and calories. This is just a temporary fix for our current feelings, usually leading to weight gain and increased risk of heart disease (diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure).
Dr. Da Costa explains that emotional eating is driven from childhood eating experiences, perhaps food was used as a comfort or reward; relationship issues; history of trauma; low self-esteem; stress and other social and cultural components.

How can we stop self-medicating with food when we are emotional and finding it difficult to cope?

Dr. Da Costa suggests, “instead of trying to suppress or avoid negative emotions, staying in tune and learn to tolerate and accept your emotions rather than turning to food to escape.”

As always, easier said than done right?

I too am and emotional eater and turn to food when stressed and tired. Before I eat, I now try to ask myself a few questions:

Am I actually hungry?
Will this snack fuel me to get through the next few hours?

The other thing I find really helpful, is I always pack a snack. I always have a healthy option at hand. So, when my energy is low or I am feeling stressed, if I do need to eat something, it’s healthy and will fuel me for the next few hours.
I will always carry a few nuts, granola bar, or banana, items that are easy to carry and ensure I’m not hungry.

I try to drink before I am thirsty, eat before I am “starving”.

A little like what we used to do with our toddlers. This keeps my mood stable and leaves room to cope with experiences that pop up that drain my energy. Work, teenagers, family etc. This small habit really helped me during my recovery after my heart attack. I still find my energy getting very low easily, and after any stress I just feel so tried. I also plan my eating ahead of time. Breakfast, snacks, lunch, snacks, dinner, snacks. I eat a little all day long, this way I never feel deprived and my energy level stays stable.

Remember the 80/20 rule. Sometimes it’s ok to have that piece of chocolate cake but be conscious of it. AND be nice to yourself, we are our worst critics. Focusing on the task at hand also helps. STOP to eat. Don’t eat standing up, at the computer, in the car or on the run when possible. Even to eat a granola bar or a few crackers just stop for that few minutes. I promise the break will do you good!

Finally, multiple breaks throughout the day help keep my energy level and emotions stable. Every hour I stop, stand up and walk around or stretch or just sit there to recharge, then go back to what I was doing.

This leads into Dr. Da Costa’s “Mindful Eating”


When was your last meal?
Were you actually hungry?

Develop the awareness of what your body is asking for and signals of being hungry or full. Pay close attention to the effect the food has on your senses (smell, taste, texture). Slow down.

“Mindful eating includes all of our choices, from the time we first feel like eating, through to completing our meal or snack and afterwards as well.”

Mindful Eating Tips:

Do not skip meals
Plan meals and snacks ahead of time
Keep a journal
Eat sitting down
Limit distractions (no TV, work, technology)

See Dr. Da Costa’s presentation here