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I eat my emotions!

By Michelle May, M.D.

I-eat-my-emotionsI recently invited our Am I Hungry? enews readers to email me about their challenges with emotional eating. We’ve received over a hundred emails along the lines of “I eat my emotions” – and they’re still coming in!

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that the topic of emotional eating hit such a nerve. One thing I know is that you can feel pretty isolated when you are dealing with these issues by yourself, so I wanted to share just a few of the stories others have shared so you’ll know that you are NOT alone! (Some are slightly edited for clarity or brevity.)

I find I need to eat something intensely sweet when I am upset. At the time of anger/resentment/a feeling of unfairness, I just rush into sweet tasting food. I need to find a way of taking a moment before I dig into something to soothe myself.

I often feel hopeless when I think about coming to terms with my emotional eating. I have difficulty in even identifying my emotions. I’ve trained myself to push down, disregard, discount, and ignore my emotions and needs. I often just figuratively (and sometimes literally) throw my hands up and say, “Screw it!” It’s so easy to just eat to self-soothe – but of course, that comes with the associated feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and self-disgust. And I don’t want to feel that way anymore. So, to answer your question about thoughts and feelings: It’s scary. I’m afraid I’ll fail… once again. – Jana

I realized most of my life has been around emotional eating. If I was hurt or sick I was given a treat. My overeating is tied to emotions, including a fear of not having enough. – Rosemary

Emotional eating to me is using high sugar foods to, in the moment, address feelings of anxiety and stress. I feel unable to handle those momentarily intense bouts of anxiety without the short lived rush of happy chemicals those high sugar foods release. – Anne

My biggest eating time takes place when I am bored and my biggest issue is that I crave sweets and bread.

My entire life revolves around food. When I am going to eat, how much and what I am going to eat. That is why I am coming to the retreat in October. I just don’t want to live my life like this anymore. – AR

I have a difficult time trusting myself to do the “right thing” with food… I eat a lot for comfort and distraction. I am realizing I have repressed many needs to the point that I don’t really know myself anymore. – Sam

The comfort food brings during times of high stress – hello carbs! Food reminds me of time with friends and family. I love good food and taking anything out of my diet feels sad. I would love to learn more about being able to eat what I want and enjoy food, while doing so in a balanced way with a healthy mindset. – Lesleyann

I would love to tell you a great story about emotional eating but too many flood in. I feel like I do it almost on a daily basis. I eat cause I am bored, I eat cause I am stressed. I eat because I get upset about not being to just eat what I want when I want. Everyday I just hate it. – Peggy

I immediately thought of every diet I have ever gone on, and the cycle of hope, sadness, disappointment, and ultimate failure that surrounded it… and the glimmer of hope that next year I could eat normally. – Jeannette

My first thought was “I believe I am an emotional eater, using food as comfort, to alleviate stress, or out of boredom, but I’m not sure why/when/how.” I would love to get help decoding that. – Debbi

I struggle with emotionally snacking when I feel as though my life is too full. – LB

Please share your struggles in the comments section below because you just never know who YOU might help feel not so alone!


About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.


  1. Kathy Zimmerman says:

    Food has become my new BFF – always there for me, but never what I really need. My habits have gotten worse since my 2nd. divorce and I think and pray I am finally ready to make healthy changes. My first is by treating myself to this retreat for my birthday present to myself because I deserve it!!

  2. Mary says:

    I have suffered from emotional eating, yo-yo dieting, comfort feeding … you name it for my whole life (first WW class was in 5th grade). I even had Gastric Bypass thinking that would “fix” me — nope. There are ways around that too. Cheetos go right down and through, so do cookies! I feel like I am at my wits end about food and it’s control over me. Last night I ordered the Bariatric Surgery edition of the book/journal. I pray that I can find some comfort in this process rather than in food!

  3. Paulette says:

    I am finding myself experiencing periods of emotional eating in reaction to stress in my life, as I did the last two years before I retired nearly two years ago. One very important difference is that I know what is going on and am working on pausing and strengthening the mindful tools that I used to get me to this place in my healing journey. The slippery slope is there, but it is not nearly as steep as it once was and I have mindful “grippers” available if I just raise my head to see them. Picture ice grippers on an icy hill and you’ll get the idea of what I mean. I am re-reading Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating as a way to ground myself and remind myself of the wonderful tools I learned. I also plan to get back into the Mindful Eating Support Community so that I can chat with others who understand what I am experiencing.

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