Emotional Eating

Researchers have discovered some common themes that lead to emotional eating
Emotional Eating

Food and feelings go together. From birth, we link food with enjoyment, affection and nurturing. Food often accompanies emotion-filled events, both happy and unhappy ones. Eating for comfort is a common behaviour—and comes from this deep connection between the experience of eating and the sensation of comfort.

Specific patterns of emotional eating are highly individual. But researchers have discovered some common themes that lead to emotional eating. Their findings provide insight into eating as a response to emotions rather than hunger.

Emotional Eating and Weight
Not everyone is susceptible to emotional overeating. For those who are, however, the impact on weight can be significant. In a study on emotional eating that included both overweight and underweight subjects, it was found that those who weighed more were more likely to eat in response to negative moods and situations.1

Emotional eating is not limited to bad times, however. Good moods and happy events can also lead to overeating for those who eat from emotion. In a study that evaluated overeating in a group of obese women, it was found that larger meals were eaten in response to both good and bad moods when compared to those mealtimes when the women's mood was neutral.2

Emotional Eating and Weight-Loss Success
Eating in response to emotions can undermine weight loss. However, research has shown that becoming aware of emotional eating and developing strategies to manage it works. In a study conducted at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., researchers found a direct connection between a reduction in eating in response to emotion and weight-loss success among adults.3

Understanding the connection between emotions and eating reveals how behaviour can impact weight. Becoming aware of the impact that emotional eating may play in a weight-loss attempt is the first step. If emotional eating is an issue, developing ways to cope without food is vital for lasting weight loss.

view footnotes

The Weight Watchers Approach:

The Weight Watchers Tools for Living provide specific skills to develop alternative approaches to managing emotions without turning to food. Anchoring and Asserting are two of the Tools for Living that can be particularly helpful in overcoming emotional eating.


Other Science Library Topics:

Mind Skills for Lasting Weight Loss

Mood and Weight


1Geliebter A, Aversa A. Emotional eating in overweight, normal weight, and underweight individuals. Eat Behav. 2003 Jan;3(4):341-7.

2Patel KA, Schlundt DG. Impact of moods and social context on eating behaviour. Appetite. 2001 Apr;36(2):111-8.

3Blair AJ, Lewis VJ, Booth DA. Does emotional eating interfere with success in attempts at weight control? Appetite. 1990 Oct;15(2):151-7.