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Your Question: Let's Talk About Irrational & Emotional Hunger & How To Deal With It

Emotional Hunger & How To Deal With It

Your Question Topic: Irrational/Emotional Hunger - the inner voice that wants to say f**k it and binge on rubbish.

It's a huge problem I see every day and one I had definitely struggled with myself.

So, what causes seemingly irrational and emotional hunger? When does it happen? Why does it happen? And most of all - how can you deal with it?

Emotional hunger is often triggered by a number of factors. We can all have the best of intentions but after a hard day at work, an argument, screaming kids, it becomes all to easy to day "f**k it... I deserve this".

Let's Compare Your Eating To A One Night Stand

Yes, we're starting light heartedly...

A funny comparison someone told me, that I'll never forget, is that binging on rubbish (takeaway, hot dog, pizza ...insert your 'go to' here) is like a one night stand.

- Absolutely incredible at the time, it is all you want and you'll do whatever you can to get it.

- You enjoy it at the time and think it's great.

- Straight afterwards you start to think it might not have been the best idea.

- The next day you're asking yourself 'what the f**k was I thinking?'.

How much of your eating behaviour feels like a one night stand?

If this relates, simply being mindful, considering this analogy could be the breaker you need. Stopping and thinking of yourself ahead of time can be a powerful motivator to stop yourself in your tracks.

But it also helps to get a little deeper than that. Read on...

Ask Yourself What You're Really Craving

Eating and in particular eating sugar and fat rich foods is comforting. It's not your fault. It actually triggers our body to release happy hormones that physically make us feel better. So, it goes without saying that when we're tired, stressed, anxious, sad - it's a bloody easy fix. Considerably easier than asking ourselves what's really up.

Identify Your Triggers

Some common triggers of emotional eating include stress, boredom, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. By identifying your triggers and finding alternative ways to manage your emotions, you can break the cycle.

It could be a place, a time of day, a social situation, a certain food that causes your emotional eating... when are yours?

Simply having certain foods in the house can be a trigger for some, so considering this when you do your food shopping can be a magical factor.

Time Of Day Triggers

Typical triggers I hear are often related to other habits and external factors that impact our emotions. Busy day at work, so you stop and grab something you consider a treat to take your mind off it. A slice with your morning coffee when the boss has been an arsehole. Eating the kids leftover lunches while they scream their heads off and your frustration levels grow. That family sized bar of chocolate you share with a partner on the sofa at night, because it's become your wind down ritual.

What do these events all have in common? A common goal. Distraction from your feelings.

Get Honest With Yourself

Do you overeat at home when no one is watching? Are you lonely or relishing in the lack of accountability that no one will know? Does it even count if no one saw it?

Do you have partners or friends who are a trigger for you? We are statistically far more likely to gain weight if our partner or friends are overweight (studies referenced below). It's a fact. The work mate we have coffee and a treat with to escape the office. The partner who loves ice cream so we've starting loving it too.

Are you trying to mask feelings of sadness? We crave sugar and fat because they are hugely comforting.

Identify the feelings you're having when you end up eating in a way that you don't want to. When it happens next - acknowledge it - be kind and listen to what you're actually feeling - ask yourself whether what you're about to eat actually aligns with your goals and values and getting you further towards the person you want to be. Or will you regret it and beat yourself up? Think of yourself tomorrow and be kind to them.

What Else Can Give You The Same Hit?

Although we may not always feel like it, the endorphins from exercise are POWERFUL!

I love a hike - or a serious workout to get your head in order and the feeling you get after this is often a very powerful high. Even just a walk outside for 5-10 minutes when you're having a craving to go crazy on snacks can be the cycle breaker you need. Sometimes all it takes is a short break to get some perspective.

Rather than snacking because we want a break from the screen consider an 'exercise snack' like walking around the block. I can see you rolling your eyes. Sounds cheesy but it works.

Social Situations

This is my biggest trigger. The excitement, the anxiety (in a good way) of getting together with friends, making an enormous platter and a delicious feast. Many of us definitely overeat when there is a plethora of different food choices in front of us. It looks so good and colourful and inviting... all it takes is a couple of drinks and 18 different flavours on a platter and before you know it you've tried everything, you're stuffed and bloated. Dinner isn't even ready yet. Good. Drinking can be a huge trigger for many.

Hacking Your Nutrition To Overcome Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is all the more likely to occur when we haven't eaten the right fuel. My hack? Adequate amounts of protein. Our bodies will continue to eat all foods - carbohydrates, fats - anything we can get our hands on - until our protein requirements are met. If you start the day with a breakfast low in protein (cereal, toast, smoothie, muffin) you are setting yourself up for failure.

Similar trends continue throughout the day. Eat protein at lunchtime. I find that if I have eaten enough protein - often more than I feel like eating - I physically struggle to eat much else. My clients find the same. They ask if they are eating too much because they feel so full.

If you find yourself hungry after dinner, ask yourself what you ate for dinner and whether there were sufficient portions of protein, fats and veggies to fill you up.

Gosh, This Got Long

Steps you can take today if you struggle with emotional eating:

- Stop, think and write down your triggers

- The places, the food, the feelings

- Write down the next time you think this might be an issue

- Write down what tactics you can implement when you feel those trigger feelings

- Have an actual 'blocking' activity (walk around the block)

- If you achieved stopping this one time - write it down, what you did, how it felt

That's success and that success of saying what you said you were doing to do can be as motivating as anything!


  • Gosby, A. K., Conigrave, A. D., Lau, N. S., Iglesias, M. A., Hall, R. M., Jebb, S. A., & Brand-Miller, J. (2019). Testing protein leverage in lean humans: a randomised controlled experimental study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 109(4), 1052–1063. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqy394

  • Simpson, S. J., & Raubenheimer, D. (2014). The nature of nutrition: a unifying framework from animal adaptation to human obesity. Princeton University Press.

  • Reference: Jackson, S. E., Steptoe, A., & Wardle, J. (2014). The influence of partner's behavior on health behavior change: the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(5), 734-741.

  • Reference: Salvy, S. J., de la Haye, K., Bowker, J. C., & Hermans, R. C. (2012). Influence of peers and friends on children's and adolescents' eating and activity behaviors. Physiology & Behavior, 106(3), 369-378.

If you want to get to the bottom of the key mistakes you're making, get in touch.

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