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End Emotional Eating: Identifying Your Feelings

As clinical psychologist Jennifer L. Taitz, Psy.D, writes in her book, End Emotional Eating, enjoying food during a difficult time is perfectly OK.

However, when we start to regularly depend on food to manage our feelings it becomes a problem. Distracting yourself with food basically tells you that “You can’t cope,” she writes. And this can kick-start and maintain your cycle of emotional eating.

Food doesn’t help you honor your feelings or figure out what those feelings even mean in the first place, according to Taitz. So you miss the valuable information your feelings are trying to give you.

And, over time, as many of us know all-too well, emotional eating also leads to confusion and shame, Taitz writes. (A whole lot of shame.)

In order to effectively regulate your emotions, it’s important to determine what feelings trigger your eating and possibly find common patterns. Taitz features a helpful activity in her book to do just that.

As she writes, eventually, you’ll be able to understand what you’re feeling and make the decision to cope another way.

She gives the example of eating when you’re lonely. You might say: “Ah, there is loneliness, and there is that familiar pull to eat.” With that knowledge, “You will begin to have a choice about how to handle the loneliness,” she writes.

The key is to identify your feelings with compassion and without being judgmental. If difficult emotions arise during the exercise, for instance, Taitz suggests noticing them and trying to gently return to your questions.

Use a piece of paper for the activity, and think about a recent situation when you ate but weren’t hungry. Then answer the below questions:

1. What was the situation (where were you, who were you with, what was happening, or was about to happen, or had just happened)?

2. As best as you can, slow down and consider, now that you have some distance, what emotions were present?

3. How did the emotions affect your eating (for example, did you eat more than you intended, or more quickly, or choose a food you may not typically eat)?

4. Now bring to mind the emotions you experienced after emotional eating. What were they?

You might do this activity for a week or a few weeks. See if it helps you better understand the feelings that precipitate your emotional eating — and whether certain patterns exist. Maybe you reach for food every time you interact with your family. Or after taking a difficult exam. Or after you’ve had a fight with a friend.

Remember to approach this activity with kindness. You’re simply noticing and gathering information. You’re simply trying to better understand what’s going on and what you really need.

Do you think this exercise is helpful? What’s helped you better understand why you eat emotionally? What’s helped you effectively cope with your emotions? 

End Emotional Eating: Identifying Your Feelings

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2012). End Emotional Eating: Identifying Your Feelings. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 17 May 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 May 2012
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