Home » Eating Disorders » Blogs » Weightless » Coping Skills to Curb Emotional Eating

Coping Skills to Curb Emotional Eating

Yesterday, I read a blog post that really resonated with me. Katie from Health for the Whole Self – one of my favorite blogs! – wrote about emotional eating, saying that sometimes the urge to eat (when we aren’t hungry) may come “from a place of desperately needing something else.”

Specifically, she writes:

I have had great success with the simple process of feeling the urge to go for the pint of ice cream, stopping myself in my tracks, and pondering, “What do I REALLY need right now?”

The answers have been wildly varied:

  • a hug
  • a nap
  • a trashy romance novel
  • a venting session with my journal
  • a mini temper tantrum, often involving some pillow-punching
  • some time away from any and all technology
  • sweatpants
  • a good, hard cry

Sound familiar? How often do you reach for food when you really need something else?

Years ago, for me, it used to be all the time. Like I’ve written in other posts, I used to cope with stress, anything negative or life in general with food.

Sometimes, though, what you need may not be what’s available, but food is still rarely an equal alternative. Katie writes:

Now just because I take the time to figure out what I really need doesn’t mean I always get it.There are plenty of times when I need a hug but I’m alone, or I need a nap but I’m at work.  In those cases I just accept that the situation isn’t ideal, and plan for a future time to give myself what I really need.

I don’t – or at least I try really hard not to – settle for an alternative. Because the simple truth is this: when what I really need is a hug, even the best chocolate chip cookie won’t do. When I really need to shed some tears on a supportive shoulder, a spoon and a jar of peanut butter are rather poor substitutes.

Food will never hug me back. It will never hold me and assure me that everything will be ok. In most cases, it just isn’t what I really need. The urge to eat subsides when I truly recognize that.

Below, I’ve brainstormed some ways to cope that might help you when what you need isn’t a piece of food. Remember that these coping tips aren’t meant to be distractions from a hungry stomach or when you genuinely want to taste the yummy goodness of a piece of cake, a bowl of pasta or whatever. These are helpful to use when you’re clearly in need of something beyond food.

So when you’ve got the urge to eat, ask yourself what you really need, like Katie recommends. Maybe it’s one of these…

At Home

  • Call a friend.
  • If you live with loved ones, ask them for a hug.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Write in your journal.
  • Read a favorite book.
  • Skype with a friend (seeing a person can make you feel even more connected).
  • Put on your PJs and curl up on the couch.
  • Watch a favorite TV show.
  • Watch or read something funny.
  • Meditate.
  • Practice yoga (you can absolutely do it at home).
  • Take a bath or shower.
  • Take deep breaths.
  • Just sit with your emotions, and feel them.
  • Pray.
  • Get out of the house, and go to the park, gym, store, beach or whatever your favorite place might be.

At Work

Like Katie says in her post, sometimes what you really need might not be able at work – like a nap, unfortunately. But these are other options for coping at work.

  • Take a 10-minute walking break.
  • Keep a piece of writing that inspires you near by, and read a few lines from it.
  • Go to the bathroom, and have that good cry.
  • Have a notepad handy, and take a few minutes to write down your feelings. Sometimes, we just need to get them down and out on paper.
  • If you have a close friend at work that you trust, talk to him or her.
  • Carry around your “blankie.” A blankie is an instant coping tool. It serves as a symbol and a reminder to hang in there, that everything will be OK. In Therese Borchard’s recently published book, The Pocket Therapist, she writes, “I need reminders — ideally, 234 of them — to refresh me on goals, promises, and prayers I pledged or recited in the morning with my coffee.” She carries with her a medal of St. Therese. “It reminds me that the most important things are sometimes invisible to the eye: like faith, hope, and love. So when I doubt all the goodness in the world — and accuse God of a bad creation job — all I have to do is close my eyes and squeeze the medal.” Your blankie might be a family photo, a piece of jewelry or a special keyring.
  • Close your eyes and take deep breaths.
  • Close your eyes, and say a mantra or prayer in your head.

What coping skills would you add to these lists? What are your favorite things to do when you’re upset or anxious?

By the way, today’s favorite post is “Journey into Loneliness: Lesson from Eat, Pray, Love” at Nourishing the Soul. Wow, can I relate to this one.

Coping Skills to Curb Emotional Eating

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

11 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2010). Coping Skills to Curb Emotional Eating. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 20 Aug 2010
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.