Our relationship with food – emotional over/under eating (#obesityawarenessweek)


Hi, and welcome to this week’s blog post.

This week is National Obesity Awareness Week (#obesityawarenessweek), and in this post I’d like to focus on a particular aspect of our relationship with food: emotional eating (or not eating).

Firstly, I’d like to point out that obesity is an issue and it should be tackled, discussed and treated with compassion and sensitivity.

Secondly, I’d like to point to another issue – undernutrition, being underweight. There is information out there on this topic, but it’s discussed much less.


As mentioned above, I’ll be focusing on emotional over-eating or under-eating. There are so many more aspects of obesity and undernutrition to discuss!

Some people over-eat when they are stressed or upset. Others under-eat.

Over-eating leads to being overweight and a bunch of health issues – both physical and mental.

Undereating leads to being malnourished and underweight, which brings its own health issues.

The cycle of over/under eating is vicious. 

We eat/don’t eat to placate our stress and as a way of dealing with our emotions by distracting ourselves from feeling them as they arise.

Then we feel guilty for eating too much or making ourselves go hungry.


So now we have the original avoided emotions plus guilt for over/under eating.

(If you’ve read any of my other posts, or psychology related literature out there, you know that if we repress or don’t process stuff when it’s happening, it will come back full force later on! So it’s best to deal with them as they happen, no matter how uncomfortable. This is where therapy can help.)

Being aware of what we do is one of the first steps to help us deal with our emotions in the best ways rather than in dysfunctional ways that will only make it worse.

It is through this awareness that you can start reviewing your eating habits, maybe reaching out to a nutritionist for help with how to move forward with your eating.

You can also reach out to a counsellor to help you work through the emotions linked to emotional eating and to work through those unresolved issues that were being covered up by unhealthy eating habits.



The point of seeking help and changing your eating habits is this:


you might need to remove the link between eating and coping with emotional and life stuff. 



Go back to when food was something you did because your body needs energy to keep going through your day. Your body needs nourishment and eating is a way to get it.

Your emotional world doesn’t quite work the same. In order to nourish your psychological and emotional world, sometimes going through the hard stuff is necessary to clear up the clutter that can accumulate in your mind and start afresh, with a new grip on your emotions.


By getting a new grip on your emotions I mean that, by working through these emotions and patterns of eating behaviour with both a therapist and a nutritionist, you’ll be able to manage whatever life throws at you in a much more productive light.

The challenges that life throws at you might seem like monsters now, but working with professionals and with your support network (family, friends, colleagues) will allow you to “shrink” that monster into something you can manage and deal with.

You will deal with it without needing to link it to food.



I found a very useful article from helpguide.org.

I’ll summarise some of their main points, you can read the full post here.

(I highly recommend reading it in full!).



The difference between emotional and physical hunger

  • Emotional hunger comes on suddenly.

  • Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods.

  • Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating.

  • Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full.

  • Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach.

  • Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt or shame.

What are your emotional eating triggers?

  • Stuffing emotions

  • boredom or feelings of emptiness

  • childhood habits

  • social influences

  • stress

In this article, the authors also give alternatives to emotional eating when you are depressed or lonely, anxious, exhausted or bored. They also talk about mindful eating and how to start eating more mindfully.


Here are some more helpful articles for further reading:

What is obesity, BMI calculator, Tips for losing weight – Article by HealthAssured

A new awareness week to promote sustainable, healthy living starts today (9 January). – Article by the Royal College of Midwives

Obesity Awareness Resources – NHS Employers website

Children’s Health: The Opposite of Obesity: Undernutrition Overwhelms the World’s Children

Emotional Eating: how to recognise and stop emotional and stress eating

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