How to Stop Emotional Eating

*** A Guide to Understanding and becoming more Aware of our Unconscious Patterns that Result in Emotional Eating.

emotional eating

I Lost 100 lbs.

And I'm still an emotional eater as I explained on the about page.

(Emotional eating always wins, always.)

That's really important because you can't simply stop emotional eating. You can replace it with another habit or coping mechanism, and if that new addiction happens to be work or exercise then it's a much better choice health-wise, but still a problem.

If it's replaced with an even worse habit then I don't have to tell you how bad life can get.

So it's important to know that you can both be an emotional eater and lose weight. It's important because overcoming emotional eating altogether takes many years IF you work at it.

The pull we all feel to overeat is incredibly strong, way stronger than our willpower or than a book's special diet plan.

I gained 100 lbs through emotional eating and then lost it without having to suffer, which is the most important part. No diet or plan that relies on tolerating pain ever works long term.

I'll out line below how I first managed the emotional eating (so that I could lose weight) and then how I started chipping away at the root cause of it, emotional dysregulation. I've been at it for 4 years and have seen a lot of progress, and will share the simple things I've done to grow psychologically.

So the first part will be about my weight loss and management and the second will be about getting to the root.

I'm still an emotional eater and continue to use food to cope. It just has less control over me now with the scale and stress levels reflecting that reality.


The first rule I implemented in managing my emotional eating to lose weight was that I couldn't suffer.

Another way of saying that is I still had to get as much enjoyment, satisfaction and grounding with any change in my diet that I used to get before. For example, eating celery instead of date squares just doesn't cut it.

So how would I do this without giving up pizza?

Well, I knew that if I could control my insulin, I could control my weight. Most diets that work do so because they impact our insulin in some way. (If you'd like to understand this better see the site's article on insulin).

Celery doesn't up our insulin levels at all, date squares do. But I knew I couldn't eat celery and be satisfied, so I had to find a way around this, and the way around it, metaphorically, was to eat date squares that didn't up my insulin levels.

In other words cheat the system. Yes, I'm talking about sort-of, kinda Keto, low-carb 'style ONLY'.

... I never went on a Keto or Atkins diet. I did my own thing and just used some of their principals. I will say that the HOW (implementation) was more important than the WHAT (types of foods) although the what was important too.

The how included a strategy that didn't involve the sorrow and disappointment of watching the meals I looked forward to eveyday disappear from my diet plan, only to be replaced with grapefruit.

I had 3 mostly carb meals per day and then dessert at night.

That's an ultra carb heavy week. Lots of high carb meals which was not good. So I knew I had to make changes and I decided that the easiest way would be to start with breakfast because that was my least favorite meal. If I knew I could enjoy my lunches and dinners and desserts then it wouldn't be painful to modify my breakfast to something that wasn't what I was used to, but was still tasty and satisfying.

So my first modification was to have 2 hard boiled eggs and 2 slices of KETO biscuits, [It's easy to make that toast in the microwave - see recipe here] and honestly, it was pretty easy. I enjoyed my breakfast and still looked forward to the rest of the food I would eat that day.

In those first 2 weeks I lost a couple of pounds and I didn't feel like I was on a diet. But my body had a different experience, it experienced low insulin levels for 15 hours in a day instead of 11 - I stopped eating at 8pm nightly and had breakfast at 7am = 11 hours fasting. Four extra hours of low insulin makes a difference.

I was excited. What else could I do?

Next I eyed desserts. No, not cutting them out (c'mon now), but replacing them with desserts that are just as good but have no to low carbs in them (check out the recipe section for ideas). Now before you think they must have been boring, take a look at this collage I made of the types of desserts I was eating:

emotional eating desserts

You see what I mean? It's not so bad. This one change was huge! After a month with the breakfast and dessert switch combined I lost 10 lbs. I was hooked which was great, but more importantly my insulin levels were low now for 17 hours a day AND I had some new diet habits (breakfast and dessert) that I could comfortably keep the rest of my life, without pain or without feeling deprived.

So now my weekly diet plan looked different.

A lot less high carb meals. Do you see where I am going with this? Lunches eventually turned into chicken/bacon/tomato/mayo sandwiches on keto bread with dinners remaining the same as they always were - protien, carbs (rice, pasta, potatos, bread) and vegetables. And desserts that involved anything that had fruit like cranberries, to chocolate like this mousse

So I didn't have to give up on carbs entirely and I still lost weight. How much ...

50 lbs within first 6 months

That's still eating bread or rice or pasta everyday + desserts and all meals being delicious and satisfying. I keep repeating that because it's so important. I firmly believe that the reason most diets fail is because people try to will their way out of them and can only tolerate the suffering for so long before they cave. Then they rationalize away their decision saying something like, "Well, it probably wasn't the diet for me anyway," or, "I found a better one that has more science to back it up." What they really should say is, "That diet I gave up on was too painful."

I lost 50 lbs in 6 months because I was able to stick to it, and I was able to stick to it because I'm better than everyone else. :) No, it's because it was easy, I didn't suffer. I did 2 things:

1- I replaced most of my carbohydrates with tasty alternatives to keep my insulin low.

2- I made sure to plan ahead and buy grocery items and ingredients I needed to have a good week.

Here are some examples of foods, desserts and drinks I enjoyed (and used) in that 6 month time span.


emotional eating drinks

No calorie drinks helped a lot and there were so many that I enjoyed:

  • Diet lemonade, both store bought and homemade with sweetener; one of my favorites
  • Zero colas
  • Gatorade Zero
  • Diet cranberry juice (how to drink the pure stuff here)
  • Ice tea with sweetener
  • Keto strawberry smoothies
  • Flavored sparkling water (no cals)
  • Diet orange anything

I wouldn't have one can or small bottle either. I'd fill up a big gulp cup and go to town. Hey, any quantity multiplied by zero is always going to be zero, so drink away. I sometimes wouldn't need dessert that night because I'd have a constant drip of flavor going into my mouth all evening. Try zero drinks out, they're incredibly helpful.


emotional eating foods

You can see here that there's lots of tasty foods to eat and satisfy you when carbs are not the focus:

  • Chicken wings (breaded ) with barbecue sauce (which has sugar in it by the way )
  • Grilled steak with sides like Greek or Caesar salad
  • Vegetable platters with high-fat dips like guacamole and sour cream based dips
  • BBQ chicken with rice
  • Cheese and deli platters
  • Fried chicken (without sides )
  • Large salads with high-fat dressings and lots of grilled chicken
  • Moderate amounts of rice, pasta and breads, or large amounts of Keto equivalents.

This is just a sample of types of foods that I would eat. I was able to really look forward to my dinners each evening and never really paid attention to quantities or calories (within reason) of most my foods except for carbs. I ate vegetables and dips or salads as much as I wanted to, and often the portions would be larger than family-sized servings. When it came to meats and poultry I would eat until satisfied, and when it came to high-fat foods like cheeses and cold cuts I would eat a small to a moderate amount. They're very heavy and salty foods anyway.


emotional eating desserts

Most of the desserts I ate contained low or no carbohydrates but were still awesome:

  • Jello chocolate pudding sweetened with sweetener, super simple and fast to make (I used whole milk and often ate the whole bowl )
  • Jello gelatin desserts again sweetened with sweetener. These have almost no calories in them so go to town.
  • Cheesecake made Keto style. Tastes almost as good as the real thing you won't care
  • Fruit salad. Fruit has a moderate amount of carbohydrates but its sugar doesn't spike your insulin the way normal sugar does.
  • Peanut butter balls with cream cheese and sweetener.
  • Keto brownies
  • Blueberry muffins made with almond flour and sweetener.
  • Homemade chocolate ice cream made with sweetener.
  • Large bowl of popcorn with real butter

The Jell-O and the pudding were by far my favorites because they were so easy and quick to make and gave me the most return on my investment so to speak. The peanut butter balls were great because I only needed one or two each night and they could stay in the fridge for good while. Sometimes I'd have the entire bowl of Jell-O and two peanut butter balls to satisfy that "urge" that emotional eating brings forth. The large bowl of popcorn isn't exactly Keto but I'd have it once in a while since it's not very sweet.

The next 50 lbs took 18 months

You know what they say, those last 50 pounds are the most stubborn.

After losing the first 50 pounds in a six month period, I felt very comfortable and settled with my new way of eating. I wasn't suffering at all nor did I feel that I was on a diet. I also didn't need to plan ahead in terms of grocery shopping or preparing foods as my new food habits were all automatic now.

The next six months had me losing only 10 pounds total, which meant my losses were slowing. And with 40 to go, I knew I had to adapt in some way once again if I wanted to keep losing weight at a decent enough rate. Had I kept my eating habits the way they were, I would've probably lost another 15 pounds in a year's time instead of losing the whole thing. That would've meant that I had lost 75 pounds out of 100 which is great, but I wanted more. I wanted to lose everything and so I decided to tighten up a little.

Most people I've spoken to online were happy to get to a point like this, where they've shed the majority of their weight but still retained about 20 pounds. A good achievement for sure that comes with lots and lots of benefits. They couldn't go further though because tightening would've given them too much difficulty. That emotional eating pull would've started to become painful. That's why working on the emotional part (which you'll see below in part two ) is important as well.


I won't go into a lot of detail about what I did to tighten as it's really not that exciting or new. What I did was start to experiment with intermittent fasting very gradually. I'd start with one day a week where I would skip breakfast for that day and once I became used to that I increased the amount of days until I got to a full 7. Most people have never tried intermittent fasting saying they could NEVER EVER do that. But then when they finally do and become accustomed to it, they see it's not that big of a deal. This, plus a few more large drinks in place of desserts, was enough to have me shed the rest and get back to normal.

Part 1 - Conclusion

That's how I was able to cheat (not beat) emotional eating. I remained an emotional eater, or rather the monster still had its grip on me, and yet still I lost weight.

It wasn't an easy but I was motivated. I find that most people lose weight or make big changes in their lives once they become frustrated, disgusted, fed up and worried (health concerns) enough to push them over the threshold of resistance. It has to hurt more to stay the same than it does to change.

The next part is how I started tackling the root, or emotional aspect of emotional eating. It's where I got in touch with what purpose my emotional eating served, and what it was replacing, or acting as a proxy to what I really needed or was missing in my life. Hope to see you there.


"What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams. -Werner Herzog"


Why Doughnuts call to Me

If you're an emotional eater then you experience this too. You walk by a box of doughnuts and instantly there are two forces in your body that spontaneously appear. One is an urge to take a BIG bite out of it, and then chomp down like you've been in the desert all day and finally get a hold of some water. The second is your voice of reason and willpower pushing back with all its might telling you to hold off. When the latter wins it's good, but you still experience frustration that you can't have the doughnut. When the urge to eat that delicious doughnut wins out, you experience guilt and self-hatred afterward.

Emotional eating wins every time.

Before I managed my eating I was able to keep the urge at bay and score some victories from time to time, but in the long run, the urge won out. It always does. That's when I knew it was time to do something about it.


The problem with most psychological issues IMO is that we don't even know they exist. We know something is wrong or off, and that maybe we're kinda stressed and need to practice more self-care and be good to ourselves, but we have no idea what we're dealing with. And if we did, we wouldn't know what to do about it.

I had dealt with anxiety in the past, read a lot of books about therapy in general, and took up journaling. So I had some idea of what I was dealing with although I'd never really related all that psychological processing with my emotional eating. So I decided to pay more attention to how I was feeling around my eating, and found that there were two main reasons why I overate:

1- To help soothe my continuous anxiety.

2- To make me feel better - to relieve the bad feelings.

Once I tuned into myself I realized quickly that my anxiety was there 24/7, even though I didn't always feel it to the same degree.

The times where I didn't feel it, or that I thought I didn't feel it, were when I was usually distracted by something like work, TV, or talking with other people. The times I felt it the most were when I was alone, especially at nighttime because that's when I slowed down and most of my tasks and distractions were at a minimum.

So comfort food called to me to soothe my nerves in the same way that a hit of heroin called to an addict to soothe his (unbearable) anxiety. That's why my willpower was only able to take me so far. You can't fight perpetual anxiety and win.

Food also made me feel better (not so bad actually) about myself. My own childhood trauma (likely like everyone else's) left a wound that caused me to feel a sense of shame about who I was. I was mildly aware, as in a, "I have a confidence or low self-esteem problem," but I never really turned toward that part of me and created a relationship with it. I needed to do that so I could understand it better and work with it instead of running away from it because I couldn't tolerate how ugly it (I) was. Not knowing what to do about it made me avoid it even more.

So in order to get to the root, I decided to do whatever I could to work on my psychology.

inner child work

The Bad News

The bad news is that it takes a long, long time to resolve psychological issues. Five years if you work at it.

The Good News

The good news is that you can get started right away and do this pretty much for free. If you do decide to take on this practice you will be in the minority of those who are growing and changing for the better, which will have a huge impact on your life. Like Scrooge in the Christmas Carol story, your life can take on a different path.

The Better news

The better news is that when you work on your psychology you improve every other aspect of your life as well. By working on your psychology you're not taking resources away from other areas of your life that you want to work on such as relationships, work, health, hobbies etc. Everything that you do in your life is affected by your psychological state. Make a change there and see the ripple effect in every other area of life.

Not only that but you will make life better for the people around you as well. And besides, five years are going to to pass by anyway, may as well start now.

My Ritual

Below I'm going to outline what my weekly ritual was to help me bring attention to, and process my psychological issue. I found that having a practice, like going to the gym or doing yoga X amount of times per week, is the best way to do it. Inserted yourself into a practice and let it take you.

Prerequisites - Awareness & Honesty

I knew that if I was going to get better I had to commit to being honest in every aspect of my life, and to stay aware.

Honesty - nothing improves or changes without honesty. Honesty and reality are the same thing and if you can't see reality - for example telling yourself you only eat one cookie a day instead of the entire box - then you are in the dark, wasting your time and bound for frustration and tragedy.

The honesty needed isn't just for food though, it's for your whole life. It's being able to welcome new information andadmit to yourself that the diets or ways of eating that you've vehemently argued for your whole life aren't as good as you thought they were. It's being able to see how you clung to one political party or another, and rabidly defended and fought for their views without critical thinking. In other words it's being able to see how you were wrong and being able to say sorry when necessary. Being able to do that for a friend, for food for your politics and any other beliefs will all affect the way you do that with your diet, and more importantly with your psychological health.

If there's no honesty then there is no change. So I knew I had to try my best in this regard no matter how bad it made me look, or what I discovered about myself.

Awareness - I had to practice being aware of my emotionality as much as I possibly could. It meant trying to figure out how I was feeling in different situations. At first it was very difficult because I wasn't tuned in to what was going on inside me. I avoided my emotions because again, they were extremely uncomfortable and I didn't know what to do about them.

So when I would talk to people, especially my parents, I would try to see how I felt before during and after the conversation, and then journal about it later on. After a while I began to see what was going on with me in real time. Constant awareness allowed me to dig deeper and deeper and see more of what was going on in my unconscious, a part of me that controlled my behavior.

Below are the four things I included in my weekly ritual to help me become more aware:

therapy, parents work

1. Phone Call to my Parents

Once per week to each one. The goal was to try to create as authentic a relationship as I could with them, which was hard because at first I felt a ton of resentment toward each due to their parenting when I was young. If the resentment had a voice it would say, "You don't deserve to have me be nice to you, you don't deserve to have a good relationship with me!"

But the purpose of my trying to establish an authentic relationship with them wasn't to be nice to them. It was to create a weekly ritual for myself. It gave me the opportunity to vastly increase my awareness, and at the same time work on my relationship with the world.

The way we relate with our parents is generally the way we relate with the world and so if I wanted a more assertive, and healthy relationship with everybody in my life, and everybody that happens to be around me in the world, I needed to work on my relationship with them.

It didn't necessarily mean being all lovey-dovey. It meant being honest. Honest about who I was fully to them. If they believed in God and I didn't, I'd have to learn to tell them. If they wanted me to be a doctor and I wanted to be an artist, I wouldn't be apologetic about it.

If I felt like bringing up their past abuse toward me I would. I wanted to let them know they were cheap or selfish in some way I would.

Each phone call would last from 10 minutes up to 30, depending on how long I had and how long I wanted it to last. The insights that I got from these phone calls about myself were extremely valuable. Over time I'd be able to see where I was anxious with them, where I shut down and didn't say anything that I would've wanted to say, and how cut off I really was from them. Being aware revealed to me my dynamic with them and hence with most other people.

I needed to learn to be myself completely in front of them, regardless of whatever reaction they would have. "Hey mom and dad, this is me, this is what I think, and these are the emotions that I'm feeling about whatever subject we talk about."

Of course the anxiety was skyhigh at times, especially around the sensitive subjects ("You're going to make your mother feel bad!"), but that's why this is done in baby steps, one phone call a week for many years to come.

This is a very, very important step that takes little time, is free, and yields a huge reward in terms of psychological growth.

2. Journaling

Keeping a journal is another important practice to help increase awareness. Remember we're increasing our awareness of what's beneath the surface of our psyche, and we are doing it to try to uncover what's in our unconscious because what's there basically controls our life.

So I needed to be able to see myself and because journaling is simple and effective I decided to use it. I bought an empty notebook from the dollar store and used the journal in two ways:

1- 5 Minute Daily: at the end of the day I'd write down what I did well, or didn't do well, or what I noticed about myself as I related with other people. For instance I might write down that the grocery store cashier accidentally gave me the wrong change and owed me a dollar, but I didn't say anything. I then write down why that was - because she looked like she was a disagreeable person and there were lots of people waiting in line impatiently and I didn't want to look cheap. I was afraid (I felt anxiety) that people would get mad at me and I didn't know if I could handle the stress, plus I wanted people to like me in general. That's it. That's all I'd write whether it be something good, bad or just an observation. The goal isn't to be perfect but to notice how I am in situations throughout my day.

2- 1 Weekly Long Session: once a week I'd sit down for about half an hour to 45 minutes and really write in depth about the most dominant thing that's been going on with me psychologically in that week. The extra time allowed me to tease apart exactly what I thought was going on and to go deep with it. For example I might write about how I have difficulty with confrontation. I'd write about the confrontations I had or avoided throughout the week and what I thought was behind them. Then I'd write as many details as I could about it before finishing off with what I'd like to do instead, in this case to shy away less from confrontations and be a little bolder.

The good thing about journaling, aside from being cheap and easy and a great way to gain awareness, is that you can go back and look through what you had written in the past. I was able to see lots of different patterns emerging in my behavior, and also see how some of my problems were no longer problems anymore, or as much of a problem as they used to be.

I would also write down any strong dreams I had every so often which I highly recommend. Our dreams are our unconscious and a valuable source of information to us.


3. Free Online Group Thyerapy

Nobody wants to do this. I didn't want to do it either. It's incredibly awkward and for losers and I didn't want to be part of that crowd. Plus I didn't have a drinking or drug problem. But I learned that it is an incredibly valuable resource that offers insight that's hard to get anywhere else.

The purpose of group is not to tell everyone your problems. The value comes from listening VERY carefully to what others have to say and paying attention to how they feel, then trying to see how you feel that as well (again is about insight). Doesn't matter what they're going through. The person talking could be a long-standing drug addict talking about his struggles, or a rich aristocrat upset that the price of yachts just went up, and you could relate with them BOTH and get value for yourself from it.

For example, during one group I was listening to somebody talk about the difficulties he went through after losing his father at the age of 10. That never happened to me, but I was able to relate with this man and realize that I too felt an abandonment of sorts with my own father as our relationship was dysfunctional, and I also felt lonely and isolated. This increased my insight by making me aware of something inside of my unconscious, that I wasn't aware of before. Then, I could talk about this new realization with my spouse, with a therapist, with my father if I felt comfortable, or I could just journal about it.

It's important to talk every once in a while as well, but the real value is in listening to others. Many groups will accept you regardless of whether or not you have the specific issue they happen to be there for. To find them, just do a search for free group therapy online and insert this into your ritual once/week.

Making group a part of your practice is tough for many because it's very uncomfortable at first. I did it because I was in enough pain, meaning I wanted to change so bad I was ready to do anything, and I mean anything. I found that once I got into it though, not only was it not so bad but I wasn't afraid to tell the people closest to me that I attended. It stopped being some weird loser meeting and became as normal a part of life as going to the corner store.

I also learned that the way I relate with people in group is the way I need to relate with everybody else in my life. I listen carefully to what they're going through and I see how I do the exact same thing in my own way. Then I watch myself as I interact with this other person and that's how I learned to connect.


4. Facing fears and assertiveness.

Therapy, journaling and introspection is great but at some point I knew I needed to take some action or else I wouldn't grow much.

Talking with my parents honestly and going to group is considered taking action but I had to make sure I was doing it with as much intention as possible. It meant that when I spoke with my father I was trying my best to be as brutally honest as I could be. I failed most of the time but because I kept at it with intention, I got better and better at tolerating the anxiety and being more forthcoming.

Had I just been shut down and passive throughout the conversations with my father they would've been a waste of time for both me and him.

Taking action meant that the next time I was at the grocery store and in a similar situation as the example I gave a few paragraphs above, I would ask for my change, or at least walk in there with every intention of doing so. If I failed it was okay but I had to have the intention that it was going to happen, that I was going to do something that was uncomfortable for me because it was in my best interest and because I wanted to grow psychologically. In this case I didn't want to be intimidated by others or have my behavior influenced by other people's anger. Whether I was successful or not didn't matter as much as going in there and trying my best. Plus I could journal about it later.

There are lots of opportunities to take action every day, whether it's having a serious conversation with your parents or just communicating gently but assertively to your spouse that you don't like it when they leave the towel on the bathroom floor.

Action gives insight and again is something that's free and widely available for us to use to help us grow.

Back to the Root

Remember I said that emotional eating soothed my anxiety and helped me to feel (better) not so bad.

I felt bad because of early childhood trauma (like everybody else). This trauma led to a core belief that I wasn't good enough - again like everybody else. This 'I am no good' concept was more than just a belief, it was an affect that permeated my whole body. I didn't just feel inadequate, I WAS inadequate - in my mind's eye anyway.

This visceral feeling, which can also be called shame, caused a lot of unconscious inner turmoil in the form of anxiety and anger. I wasn't consciously aware of it. I just knew something was "wrong", that I experienced "stress" and I didn't know how to soothe it except through food.

Uncovering much of this through my ritual made me realize that my loneliness was due to the fact that I was not being my authentic self with the people closest to me in my life, and everybody else, myself included. Even though I was around a lot of people I had no actual connection to them because I was afraid to fully express who I was, and what my thoughts, ideas and emotions were.

Over the years I've started doing that more and more and although I'm still emotional eater, I feel less of that emotional eating pull. In other words the root is being pulled out slowly and is starting to lose its strength.

I still feel stressed often enough, but again less than before. I have a much better sense of myself which allows me to be a bit more grounded in who I am.

Another way of saying this, is that I feel that I'm more important now. The sense of inadequacy is still there but less. My relationships with my immediate and extended family, and everyone around me really, has improved. That doesn't mean that we are all best friends, just that we're (I'm) more honest which decreases my anxiety and makes me feel more connected. Initially, honesty invoked a lot of anxiety in me which is why I stayed away from it for so long, but over time honesty with the people I've interacting with has a way of regulating my anxiety so that food doesn't have to.

If you've read this far I know it's a lot to take in. I'd suggest starting with just the weight management part and once you feel you have that down then begin to put together your ritual.

Re-read this guide as needed and check out the newest articles to give you more insight into yourself and the recipes to help you manage your emotional eating.

All you have to do is insert yourself into a process and let it take care of the rest.

Good luck and if you have any questions, suggestions or submissions of your own, you can find my email on the contact page.

- EatingLove


Break the Habit