By Judith Albright 

From the time we were children it was drummed into us that we must eat three meals every day (maybe even more!) to keep up our strength, give us energy, and make sure we didn’t get sick from malnutrition. We got the message. But what came along with it? If there was no reason for eating other than to fuel our body, would we ever overdose on turnips, liver and onions or pickled tongue? Probably not! Then what makes us want to eat an entire bag of candy, a plateful of spaghetti, a supersized Big Mac and fries, a quart of ice cream or a box of doughnuts when we are unhappy or bored?

Taken literally, food is just food — it is what we need on a daily basis to keep our bodies healthy and functioning. Raw or cooked, the food we eat is simply energy. By itself it has no emotional qualities of its own. So why is a chocolate brownie far more appealing and satisfying than a few carrots or a bowl of oatmeal? Food is one of the most emotionally charged items in our lives.

Food does more than fill our stomachs when we are physically hungry — it also satisfies our emotional hunger. It is often the first thing we reach for when we are in need of comfort or are feeling stressed.

Food is One of Our Biggest Comforts

Why is this? One reason is because of the association we have with a particular kind of food that triggers a desire to have it under certain circumstances. For example, when you were a child and fell down and skinned your knee, your mother may have given you a kiss, dried your tears and handed you a chocolate chip cookie. Therefore, you were programmed from an early age to associate chocolate chip cookies with (a) mom (b) love (c) comfort, (d) pain relief — a quadruple whammy! What do you think you are going to want whenever you feel unloved, lonely, sad or in pain? Reaching for a stalk of celery is just not going to have the same effect because you have no emotional attachment or connection to it (not to mention the difference in taste!)

Not only do we want specific foods to address particular emotions, we also have emotionally loaded reasons for wanting to eat — sometimes to excess and at the expense of our weight. Those who have experienced some kind of loss may attempt to fill the empty space in their heart by filling their stomach. Someone who has been abused or hurt may eat to excess to create a wall of fat around his or her body for “protection” against further hurts. Still other people eat for compensation.

In other words, “If I can’t have what I truly want out of life, then I’ll just let myself have all the food I want.” One woman specifically stated that the reason for her compulsive eating and obesity stemmedfrom her deep need to be noticed. She had been overlooked and ignored all her life and truly believed that if she ate enough and got big enough, people would have to notice her!

If you are an emotional eater who soothes yourself with food, do you know the reason(s) why you crave something particular? Are you aware of what the triggers are that make you want to eat? Are you like many stress eaters and rarely allow your stomach to get empty because you are no longer able to recognize the signs of true physical hunger? How do you know the difference?

According to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center:

1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly; physical hunger occurs gradually.

2. When you are eating to fill a void that isn’t related to an empty stomach, you crave a specific food and only that food will meet your need. When you eat because you are actually hungry, you’re open to options.

3. Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly with whatever food you crave; physical hunger can wait.

4. Even when you are full, if you’re eating to satisfy an emotional need, you’re more likely to keep eating. When you’re eating because you’re hungry, you’re more likely to stop when you’re full.

5. Emotional eating often results in feelings of guilt; eating when you are physically hungry does not.

woman looking at donuts; food as a security blanket

Emotional Eating

What can you do to put the brakes on emotional eating? Depriving yourself of comfort foods is not the answer. Not only is it emotionally difficult, it is likely to add even more stress which in turn leads to more out of control eating. According to Brian Wansink, whose academic research on changing eating behaviors has been published in the world’s top medical, nutrition and obesity journals, “The key is moderation, not elimination.”

He suggests choosing some type of comfort food that is a little healthier than junk food, and dividing it into smaller portions to avoid the temptation of eating more than one serving at a time. He also states, “Your memory of a food peaks after about four bites, so if you only have those bites, a week later you’ll recall it as just as good an experience as polishing off the whole thing.” So have a few bites of chocolate, cherry pie, cheesecake, or chips. Then call it quits. You will derive the same amount of pleasure and comfort without the cost of padding your hips or expanding your waistline.

However, eating smaller servings addresses only the physical aspect of eating. While portion control is essential, the emotional programming that drives your eating behaviors has to be dealt with as well. Willpower is clearly not enough in the face of powerful subconscious motivators.

What can you do? The first step is to start noticing what you are reaching for and when you most want it. What food can you never resist? Why? Focus on this food and ask yourself what it does for you. What does it represent and what associations do you have with it? Maybe there are no associations and you simply eat because eating is a way to alleviate boredom. Maybe it is a way to relieve loneliness, pass the time, or is simply an easy way to distract yourself from thinking about your problems.

Whatever the reasons for your emotionally driven eating, there are energy healing techniques that are highly effective for addressing them. Among these are EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques — tapping) and PSYCH-K (psychological kinesiology). Both tools can be used to identify negative beliefs and behavior patterns and change or eliminate them on the subconscious level. However, because we are too close to our own issues and are not usually good at analyzing or treating ourselves, the help of a trained practitioner is needed. A practitioner can quickly zero in on beliefs, patterns and associations you may be unaware of, and help you rid yourself of them forever. If your eating is out of control find a practitioner and pick up the phone today. Your conscience, your weight and your health will be all the better for it.

Judith Albright

Judith Albright, MA, is a stress management specialist who uses EFT (tapping, PSYCH-K and other energy healing techniques to help people offload unresolved emotional issues, control stress, and change underlying beliefs and behavior patterns that are sabotaging their lives. Recently she published a workbook for people in addiction recovery, a free sample chapter of which is available on her website. For more information about the book and Judith’s work, visit .