Stressed and Starving? Three Simple Solutions To Stop Emotional Eating


It’s a well known fact that if you have a sleep breathing problem the stress of not sleeping well at night can make you eat more. Equally, if you’re an emotional eater, and use food to cope with stress you’re also more likely to develop sleep breathing problems, like obstructive sleep apnea, since weight gain can aggravate this condition.

Since Valentines is just around the corner, and many of you are just getting started on your New Year’s resolution to lose weight and keep it off this year, I’ve invited Peter Lappin, a holistic nutritional counselor to help you steer clear of your emotional eating problems. Hope it helps!

You’re happy – you just got a promotion! – so you treat yourself to pizza and Coke.  You’re anxious – Can I handle this new job? — so you grab a candy bar and coffee.  You’re lonely – you come home and there’s no one to celebrate with – so you turn to your two friends in the freezer, Ben & Jerry.  In short, you are eating to manage your feelings, rather than in response to physical hunger.

According to a study done by the National Eating Disorders Organization, 95% percent of Americans eat for pleasure or comfort.  What makes emotional eating so challenging is that, like a criminal returning to the scene of the crime, there’s no escaping food: we generally eat every day.  Unfortunately, we are eating ourselves into compromised health, with skyrocketing rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

In a typical urban (and even suburban) environment, cheap food is all around us, tempting us.  There are vending machines in every office, coffee carts on every street corner, and shelves of savory snacks by the cash register of every drug store, gas station, and corner bodega.  Television commercials and magazine ads remind us to reward ourselves with General Mills International Coffee or indulge in a Sara Lee dessert.

Eating seems like an effective solution to our emotional turbulence.  When we’re stressed or depressed and use food to take the edge off, we DO feel better, at least temporarily.  It feels good to satisfy our cravings.  But this “medicine” not only has dangerous side effects, it also never gets to the cause of the feelings we’re trying to manage.

What can we do?

We need to stop medicating ourselves with food and start checking in emotionally.  

First, we can look at how we are doing with the other things, beside food, that nourish us.  Do we have work we find meaningful?  Do we have relationships that sustain us?  Do we feel connected to something larger than ourselves, like a spiritual practice or a sense of personal purpose?  Do we have an exercise routine we enjoy that “takes the edge off” when life feels stressful?  We can start to address some of these areas where we may be lacking (one small step at a time. of course – we don’t need to create more stress).

Second, if you think you’re hungry, ask yourself, How hungry am I?  If your hunger feels like a bottomless pit, you’re desperate for a something to put in your mouth and you ate within the last few hours, you may be experiencing emotional hunger.  Breathe.  Take a work break.  Go outside to get some fresh air.  Call a friend.  Find sources of pleasure other than food.

We can’t eat ourselves more love, more friendship, a better job, or more understanding.  But we can feed our hearts with the things we really need to go through life feeling nourished and content.

As always, go gently, and treat yourself like someone you really love – because you are!


Holistic Health Counselor Peter Lappin works with adults with emotional eating issues in his private practice in Manhattan.  To e-mail Peter, click here.  For more information about Peter, visit his website by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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