Stop Emotional Eating – Use Mindful Eating

Emotional eating

Written by Dr. Paul Kelly, C.Psych.              May 11, 2024

Key Points

  • Emotional Eating can sneak up on any of us.
  • You can break the habit.
  • Try some simple tips to regain control of your eating.
  • You can stop emotional eating with mindful eating.


Table of Contents


Emotional Eating Isn’t Your Fault

Emotional eating isn’t your fault. It can sneak up on anybody. You know how it goes. You have a bad day. When you get home, you open a bag of cookies, dish out the ice cream, or microwave some buttered popcorn. Tasty foods

You eat comfort food to feel better. And, in the short term, it works. Creamy, crunchy, or sweet foods. Yum! All that sugar, fat, and salt gives your brain a dopamine hit.

Comfort foods also remind us of being cared for. When you smell and taste these foods, your brain connects with memories of feeling safe and loved.

So, you get a cozy feeling that temporarily shuts out sadness, distress, or loneliness. There is nothing wrong with a treat from time to time.

But if you get into the cycle – using food to manage your emotions – you are putting your health at risk.


Health Risks of Emotional Eating

Emotional eating can become unhealthy.  Do any of these problems sound familiar to you?

1. Weight Gain and Obesity

Food packed with sugar and fat can cause significant weight gain and obesity. Obesity puts you at risk for diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems.

2. Poor Nutrition

Comfort foods are low in nutritional value. This can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants.

3. Digestion Problems

Rapid eating, and consuming large portions, can lead to indigestion, acid reflux or constipation.

4. Sleep Problems

When you overeat close to bedtime, your sleep is disturbed by discomfort and metabolic changes. A snack is fine, but with emotional eating insomnia is a problem.

5. Mental Health Issues

Emotional eating is often an attempt to cope with loneliness, depression, or stress. You may feel better while you are eating, but it is not your friend in the long term.

It would be better to try other ways to cope with stress and difficult emotions.


Mindful Eating Can Help You Stop Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is a habit. Like all habits, it can be changed. It will take some time, but you can do it. Try these simple mindful eating tips. They can help you break the habit. These tips have helped me and many other people. Mindful eating

Tip 1: Taste Your Food

Notice the flavour and texture of your food. What is the aroma?  What flavour do you notice in the front of your mouth? In the back? Focused eating lets you savor your food, so you can enjoy it more.

Tip 2: Chew Slowly

eat slowly to control emotional eating

When you chew slowly, you release more of the taste in your mouth. The food breaks into smaller pieces. This enhances the flavour.

Chewing also increases saliva production. That helps your body release digestive enzymes. This improves your digestion.

Tip 3: Are You Full?

There is a Chinese saying: “Eat until you are eight parts full; live to an old age.” Maybe you want a little more than “eight parts,” but still, who needs to feel lethargic and bloated after eating?

Try paying attention to feelings of hunger and fullness.  Mindful eating can help you enjoy your food without getting indigestion or heartburn.

Tip 4: Move The Bowl

I eat more popcorn when the bowl is close by. How about you? If you move the bowl so it is harder to reach, you will break the emotional eating cycle.

That way, you can slow down, savour each bite, and eat less. You can make a mindful decision instead of eating on automatic pilot.

Which woman in the picture below will eat more of the popcorn?

Move the popcorn bowl


Tip 5: Notice Your Thoughtsnotice your thoughts

Your mind has lots of thoughts. You don’t have to act on all of them. With mindfulness, there can be a space between you and your thoughts. Just notice your thoughts.

You don’t have to push the thoughts away or get mad at yourself because thoughts popped up. Just observe them. And make a mindful decision.

You can have a thought without needing to do what it says.

Tip 6: Try Urge Surfing

Notice the craving to eat. How does your stomach feel? Is your body tense? Don’t act on the craving. Just observe it. It will get stronger at first, but eventually it will go away.

You don’t have to push it away or block it. Just let it be there, until it goes. Stay grounded. Bring you attention to the sensation of your hands and feet.

Urge Surfing is an advanced mindfulness exercise. Try it for 3 minutes, then 7 minutes. Eventually you can be a great ‘surfer’.

try urge surfing to reduce emotional eating


A Personal Note

My emotional eating go-to is pizza. The last time I ate half a pizza before bedtime, I didn’t sleep well. I felt uncomfortable and bloated. This happened after a stressful day.

Pizza was my solution to feeling stressed. It worked for about 20 minutes. But the next day, I still had to face my problems – with the added challenge of sleep deprivation.

Please be kind to yourself if you notice a pattern of emotional eating. It can creep up on any of us. Modern fast food is designed to keep us overeating.

You can make changes to break the cycle of emotional eating. Try the mindful eating tips that I recommend. They have helped me and many others. I hope that they can help you.

I wish you well.



It is important to me that I give you practical and trustworthy information. That is why I personally selected and reviewed all the sources for this article. My advice is also based on my experience practicing and teaching mindful eating to patients and therapists. We track progress at The Mindfulness Clinic, so I know mindful eating is helpful for overcoming emotional eating.

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