Avoiding a Train Wreck: Curbing Emotional Eating

Guest blog by Becky Williams | B Kinetic Fitness



Hi.  My name is Debbie.  I am an emotional eater.  Always have been.  Likely always will be.

Being aware that emotions are food triggers for me, though, I’ve spent a bit of time seeking better ways to  deal with my feelings.  Of course I’m not alone!  Emotional eating is something many of us struggle with.

My colleague, and fellow trainer Becky Williams at http://www.bkinetic.com and I discussed the issue in some detail this week since we’re both helping clients develop ways to handle it, and we’ve both written about the topic.  Becky in February (Feelingz) and me in March (5 Strategies).  Becky’s mission is to help women find the strength inside and out to live the kind of life they desire, to find joy in movement, and to feel like they can take on the world.  Here’s what she had to say about emotional eating:



If you’re like most women, you’ve had nights when you get home from a crazy busy, stressful day at work or the kids were driving you bonkers all day and all you can think about is downing a glass of wine (or two or three) or diving headfirst into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Or maybe you have ironclad willpower all day, eating all the right foods, but you find yourself sitting on the couch after dinner and you hear the chips or cookies in the pantry calling your name. And before you know it, half the bag is gone or the wine bottle’s half empty, and you wonder what just happened. Been there, done that.

How many times when you did give into those emotion-triggered cravings do you feel guilty or maybe even a little ashamed afterwards? Again, I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt. You’re definitely not alone in your struggle.

Most of us know what to eat — lean proteins, veggies, fruit, healthy fats. The catch is that there is oftentimes a huge gap between knowledge and implementation. Even fitness professional such as myself struggle with that piece. Why is this? Why can’t we bridge that gap? Sometimes the answer lies not in what we eat, but in why we eat what we eat.

First off, we are human, and human beings are not by nature rational creatures. Sometimes our need for immediate relief or comfort hijacks our rational side and our desire to change. You can really, really want something — lose 20 lbs., get some muscle definition in your arms, or just get healthier and more energetic to hang with your kids — and still struggle to not give in to emotional eating. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, undisciplined, or not committed to your goals. It just means you’ve got some stuff to work on (and don’t we all?). Self-compassion will get you further to your goals and the kind of life you want to lead than guilt or shame.

[[Right, Becky!!!!!  I really harp on this myself.  If we don’t learn to like ourselves as we’re working on things, we won’t like ourselves even if/when we reach our goals!  I think this is so important!]]


Emotional eating is an impulse. It can happen without us fully realizing what’s going on. It’s said that the time between an impulse and action is half a second. No wonder it’s so hard to stop doing! If we work on increasing that time so that we can be more mindful of what’s really going on and if we’re actually hungry, we’ll have a greater chance at success.


So how do we do this?

I once had a client who struggled with mindless night time eating. So he set an alarm to remind himself to not eat those snacks. At first, I thought, why would you want to remind yourself to not eat? Wouldn’t that backfire and trigger cravings and make you more likely to eat? But no, it actually reminded him of his goals and if he was elbow deep in a bag of chips at the time, he had that reminder that he was trying to break this bad habit. Sometimes we actually forget what we’re trying to accomplish. We just get sucked into the daily minutiae and everything else gets thrown out the window. We always automatically revert to our habits, good or bad. It’s the path of least resistance for our poor, frazzled brains.


Here are some other ideas for reminders:

Post-Its (on your laptop, calendar, fridge, kitchen counter, steering wheel, etc.)

Sending an email reminder to yourself or having a friend check in with you every day

Smartphone wallpaper

Laptop screensaver

Note in your wallet or purse

Piece of jewelry, like a bracelet or ring (something always visible)


Next, take an emotional inventory.  Evaluate without judgement. We’re not trying to punish ourselves for being weak or undisciplined. We’re just increasing awareness.  Ask yourself these questions (actually write them down!) and get as detailed as possible:

When do you feel:





Not good enough?


What do you usually do when you are experiencing those feelings?

Do you ever use food or another habit (smoking, alcohol, retail therapy) as a distraction to avoid feeling those emotions (boredom, disappointment, fear, anxiety, sadness)?

When does this usually happen? How does it drive your behavior?


This can be a very uncomfortable process. It may unearth some deep, dark stuff that you’ve been avoiding for years. It may be something that’s just simply a habit that’s been really tough to break. But we have to get out of our comfort zone if we want to change, and that is especially true for emotional eating.

This process isn’t an overnight thing. It doesn’t just click one day and you’re good to go for the rest of your life. I still work on this, and I don’t always succeed. But I do show myself a little compassion and analyze the situation to do better next time. What emotion was I feeling? Was I fatigued or stressed? Was I alone or in a group? What happened to trigger those feelings? What can I do instead the next time that happens?


Over the 4th of July holiday weekend, in fact, I experienced this myself. I was feeling frustrated and cranky about something (I can’t even remember what it was!) one night and gave into eating a piece of frosted sheet cake that was sitting on the kitchen counter. It was really good, but I wouldn’t have eaten it otherwise. My willpower was drained, and I gave in. Instead of feeling guilty about, like I would have in the past, I acknowledged that it was an emotional response triggered by being tired and feeling frustrated and stressed. I made a mental note that I need to step away from the kitchen and do something a little more constructive when I’m in that kind of situation, like read, journal, stretch, or do a few yoga poses.

You are stronger than you think. Sometimes we just need a little help or introspection to get to the heart of what’s really going on to cause these episodes. And of course, if this is a more serious issue for you, with frequent episodes of binging, please see a licensed medical professional for help.

[[Again, I have to second Becky’s input here!!!  I see many “coaches” and multi-level marketers, these days, providing information about bulimia, anorexia, and other eating disorders.  Only medical providers are licensed – and able – to help with these incredibly complex and potentially life-threatening issues.  Please seek professional help.]]


Emotional eating is a struggle for so many women, but it’s something that can be worked on with a little introspective work and daily practice. Remember to show yourself some compassion and give yourself the space and time to figure this thing out. It will take time, but it does get easier.


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  1. Love it that the focus in on creating awareness and non-judgment. We don’t get anywhere meeting out goals if we are full of shame and self-blame. Nice post that’s got something for all of us. Great job!

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Tammy. Judgement does nothing for any of us.

    2. Thank you, Tammy! Glad that it resonated with you.

  2. Debbie and Becky, this is such an important subject, especially for women. I am a professional stress management therapist, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. My biggest trick, when I crave that binge but don’t want to honor it, is to drink a delicious glass of water. That hydrates the cells and makes you feel full, and your newly hydrated brain will probably have a better idea about what to do for the next few minutes, rather than eat. Then you’re distracted and skip the binge. You’re doing important work. Blessings to you both!

    1. Perfect, Kebba. Thank you for your input!!!! 🙂

    2. Thank you for reading, Kebba! It’s good to find out what little tricks and hacks work best for us when we are stressed and emotional and rooting around in the pantry for something to eat to soothe ourselves. I like the water thing. I could probably use more water in my life! 🙂

  3. Arciltes like this just make me want to visit your website even more.

    1. That’s a huge compliment!!!! Thank you so much.

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