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Emotional Eating

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Topic Overview


Use a hunger scale

A hunger scale can help you learn how to tell the difference between true, physical hunger and hunger that's really just in your head. Psychological hunger is a desire to eat that is caused by emotions, like stress, boredom, sadness, or happiness.

When you start feeling like you want something to eat, rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being starving and 10 being so full you feel sick. A rating of 5 or 6 means you're comfortable-neither too hungry nor too full.

1-Starving, weak, dizzy
2-Very hungry, cranky, low energy, lots of stomach growling
3-Pretty hungry, stomach is growling a little
4-Starting to feel a little hungry
5-Satisfied, neither hungry nor full
6-A little full, pleasantly full
7-A little uncomfortable
8-Feeling stuffed
9-Very uncomfortable, stomach hurts
10-So full you feel sick

Use the scale to rate your hunger level. If you feel like eating but your hunger level is a 6 or higher on the scale, stop and check your emotions.

For more information about listening to your body's hunger signals, see:

actionset.gif Healthy Eating: Recognizing Your Hunger Signals.

Change your usual response to stress and other triggers

When you start to recognize your emotional eating triggers, you can change the way you respond to them. Instead of reaching for a candy bar or bag of chips to soothe your emotions, try these ideas instead:

  • Take a short relaxation break.
  • Take time to stop and think about what is really bothering you and how you could deal with it.
  • Change what you're doing. Take a short walk down the hall or around the block.
  • Call a friend.
  • If you are truly hungry, reach for a healthy meal or snack. Focus on the experience of eating, and enjoy your food.

For more on how you can change your thoughts and manage emotional eating, see the topic Stop Negative Thoughts: Choosing a Healthier Way of Thinking or see:

actionset.gif Weight Management: Stop Negative Thoughts.
actionset.gif Stop Negative Thoughts: Getting Started.

Where can you get more help?

If you feel like you need more help, talk to a dietitian or a counselor to help you understand your emotions and eating habits.


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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