An emotional eater is someone who eats in response to his or her feelings instead of genuine hunger. Emotional eating, sometimes known as stress eating, is often a response to depression, sadness, or anxiety and can lead to overeating and obesity. An emotional eater may not be fully aware of his problem until he begins to experience unwanted weight gain. Treatment for emotional eating usually involves encouraging the emotional eater to keep a record of her eating patterns and moods and finding healthier ways to address negative emotions.
For many people, eating food is a pleasurable activity that can also provide comfort in times of distress or serve as a way of occupying or distracting them when under stress or bored. Unfortunately, eating when not hungry to address emotional states can become a habit. If an emotional eater begins to gain weight, the stress and unhappiness caused by the weight gain can result in additional emotional eating, resulting in a vicious cycle from which it can be difficult to break.
Symptoms of emotional overeating include the urge to eat when a person is not hungry, eating very quickly during a bout of emotional eating, and eating alone because of shame or discomfort with the amount of food consumed. Emotional eating may also be impulsive, with the emotional eater feeling compelled to eat right away instead of waiting for a scheduled meal or snack. By identifying these symptoms, someone who is concerned with her eating habits or is pursuing a weight-loss program might be able to better understand how her emotions and diet are connected.
Some emotional eaters may be able to manage their condition on their own through keeping a food diary and developing new ways of coping with negative emotions. For example, an emotional eater may decide to drink a cup of flavored tea or coffee rather than eat a candy bar or pack of potato chips whenever he experiences the urge to overeat. Or a person may develop an exercise routine that helps her to manage stress and anxiety. If an emotional overeater does not feel that she can manage her problem on her own, she may wish to seek help through counseling or a self-help group for overeaters. An emotional overeater who is significantly overweight may also want to consider an outpatient or residential weight-loss treatment program.