Roots of Emotional Eating

Getting To The Roots of Emotional Eating

June 23, 2021

Why is it so hard to stop emotional eating? It seems simple enough, right? Make a decision to stop giving in to those "pesky emotions" that cause you to overeat, then follow through. Viola, emotional eating no more! However, we all know that it is not that simple, but the actual question is – why isn't it that simple? Today's article is designed to help many people who struggle with emotional eating learn how to get to the roots of emotional eating. Many people will learn three critical preliminary steps that will help them curb the cycle of emotional eating to reach their health goals.

Roots of Emotional Eating

I will never forget the first conversation I had with a woman that struggled with emotional eating.

She shared with me that she meticulously weighed all of her portions of food out before eating. Every week she meal prepped to prevent random snacking, but she was often lonely and often bored at night. So, she would eat a whole quart of her favorite ice cream along with a small bowl of cookies.

In the morning, she would wake up feeling so ashamed that she would drive to the grocery store and purchase a quart of the same ice cream that she ate the night before. Meanwhile, she hoped and prayed that her family hadn't noticed the missing ice cream. She asked me during our Zoom call, "Why can't I control this? I'm tired of feeling guilty and inadequate. I'm tired of this vicious cycle that I know is really destructive."

As I chat with more and more women about emotional eating, certain "common threads" begin to emerge.

To save many people time and money, I am condensing my conversations and solutions into this article.

First, many people that struggle with emotional eating are under the impression that somewhere "out there" is a special diet or trick that will help them stop emotional eating once and for all.

The first step is to look at how we view emotional eating. Emotional eating often gets a bad reputation and is associated with negative emotions and feelings such as anger, sadness, boredom, and loneliness.

However, the "gateway" to emotional eating can be pried open with any emotion or feeling because many people are eating to cope. We are eating to cope with not only what happened this morning, but what happened the day before that, and the day before that, and so on…

We are eating to cope with a mismatch between our expectations and the reality that surrounds us. The next question that begs to be asked is, "How do we bridge the gap between the two (our expectations and our reality) so that emotional eating episodes are reduced or eliminated?" If you struggle with emotional eating, start by taking the following three steps listed below:

Three Steps For How To Get To The Roots of Emotional Eating

First, think back to the last three times emotional eating episodes occurred.

On the surface, emotional eating may seem simple, but in reality, the roots of emotional eating are multifaceted and complex. Listing the last three times emotional eating episodes occurred allows one to "pull back the curtain" to see potential patterns.

The fastest and easiest way to complete this step is to use a "speech to text" software installed on your phone (I like Otter because it has a high accuracy rate). You don't have to write much, and using the software allows you to allow your thoughts to flow freely. Once you are done speaking, you can export the document to any format you prefer. For example, I have exported my finished "speech to text" document into an e-mail for further examination. As you review your notes, patterns will begin to emerge.

When I suggested this approach to Helen (name changed to protect privacy) recently, she began to notice that she would emotionally eat after talking to a certain family member.

As we discussed her feelings about the family member, Helen realized that the family member always made her feel like she wasn't good enough. Even the most mundane task (such as shoveling snow) wasn't done to this family member's satisfaction. She realized that she was emotionally eating and, therefore, overeating to calm down.

Second, identify the feeling/thought that was "floating around" in our minds before eating.

In Helen's case, we pinpointed the feelings that were "floating around" in her mind were anger and shame.

She was angry at her loved one for not showing gratitude. Helen is a mother of three young children, and after tending to their needs throughout the day, she drives to the loved one's house at night to tend to their needs.

The loved one is elderly and isn't as mobile as they desire to be. Helen also felt shame for not speaking up for herself. Perhaps you can relate?

After speaking to Helen, I gave her the tools to use that would allow her to calm down before the urge to give in to emotional eating hit. Next, I gave her a "script" to use anytime she talked to this family member. This script was designed to diffuse the situation and learn why the family member made statements that were upsetting to Helen.

Third, are your basic physical needs being met?

This approach is often overlooked, but I would be remiss if I didn't include it in this article. Meeting one's basic needs, such as adequate sleep, is essential, however for someone that emotionally eats, it is non-negotiable.


Did you know that scientific studies have shown that sleep deprivation has similar effects on the body as intoxication? Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep lowers the body's inhibitions – just like alcohol. This translates into eating a whole sleeve of cookies when the plan was to only eat three of four cookies.

Avoiding Certain Food Additives:

Before our children were born, my husband and I used to own a bread maker.

We would make fresh homemade bread every week. We would leave the freshly baked bread on our kitchen counter. On the first and second day, the bread was heavenly. However, by the fourth day, the bread was tougher, and by the seventh day – it was approaching "science project" status.

Now, compare this to the bread or certain processed foods that rest on grocery store shelves today. These foods are designed to last on store shelves for much longer than one week.

Ever wonder why? This is because certain food additives are added to foods to help them last on store shelves longer. However, according to scientific studies, certain food additives such as MSG (monosodium glutamate) and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) have been linked to overeating. MSG and HFCS can be found in cookies, cakes, ice cream, ketchup, and various frozen foods.

Therefore, I always advise potential clients to check their kitchen to see if their favorite "go to" snack contains one or both of these food additives, which has been linked in scientific studies to overeating.


So there you have it – these are the first preliminary steps that help many people that I chat with to help them get to the root of emotional eating. These steps are an excellent start because it helps many people become more alert and aware of their needs and patterns.

Sometimes, more profound work, such as working with the subconscious mind to uncover values and limiting beliefs, is required. In that case, I've created an easy, scientifically based method that works. However, I share these three steps today because many people have experienced many successes in curbing emotional eating based on this approach alone. I hope you have enjoyed these tips, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Roots of Emotional Eating
Kristen Grant


Dr. Kirsten Grant is a researcher, speaker, consultant, author, obesity expert, founder of Phoenix Six, LLC, and host of “The Dr. Grant Show.” Her passion is helping women (and a few brave men) that struggle with food addiction and food addiction symptoms (overeating, food bingeing, food cravings, anxiety, emotional eating, stress eating, and withdrawal).
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