What Is Emotional Eating — And Is It Actually Bad for You?

The question, ‘What should I do about emotional eating?’ is one Melissa McCreery, PhD hears often. The term has a bit of

The question, ‘What should I do about emotional eating?’ is one Melissa McCreery, PhD hears often. The term has a bit of a stigma, if only because it’s associated with having unresolved feelings of depression. anger, or anxiety.

Her answer? Maybe nothing. According to Dr. McCreery, clinical psychologist and emotional eating coach and expert, simply quitting (or trying to quit) the behavior might not be the best solution.

“What should we do about [emotional eating] is not the question. It has to do first with whether or not we think it’s a problem that needs to be addressed. If so, we need to figure out why it happens.” And those answers often have nothing to do with food and calorie count.

Food and You

McCreery claims that “sometimes, our eating patterns aren’t connected to heavy emotions, but everyday things like stress levels and sleeping patterns.”

Emotional eating, binge eating, stress eating, overeating — chances are you’ve heard all of these phrases before. They are used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be. Why? Because emotional eating can look different depending on the individual.

“Our relationship with food is so personal, and whether or not we eat emotionally is for us to decide. If it’s an issue for you and you want to change it, I can help,” says McCreery.

Is emotional eating normal?

“Emotional eating is using food to cope with feelings. Ninety-nine percent of us do it,” says McCreery. “There’s nothing wrong with you if you are in that group. The real question I like to ask is, ‘Is this behavior causing problems in your life?’

If it is, and you feel out of control with it, then that’s a place to start.” McCreery, who believes strongly that real change needs to come from within. Her mission is not to “fix” her clients, but to empower them to make decisions around food and lifestyle that feel good to them. What works for one person might not for another. This is where her customized coaching approach comes in.

Emotional eating or ‘hidden hunger’?

The Hidden Hungers quiz, created by McCreery, guides people toward the underlying source of their eating behaviors. In other words, it answers the question: Is food actually what we are hungry for, or is it something else?

I took it, and as it turns out, my hidden hunger is stress relief. I eat to zone out. I eat to escape. Sometimes, I eat without even tasting my food. For me, mindless eating is a way to cope with stress. I wouldn’t say it’s a problem, but I’m ready to find other means of stress-relief. (I recently started tap dancing, and it seems to be working.) The point is, I used to think my eating was about sadness, or anger, or boredom. And sometimes it is! But most of the time what I’m truly hungry for is less stress, not that bag of Doritos.

Ultimately, whether or not you engage in emotional eating is something only you can determine — and whether or not it’s a problem is up to you to decide. Likewise, how you choose to confront it, if you do decide it’s something you want to change, is in your hands. Be honest with yourself and your body, and realize that you are the one in control. The end goal is to feel great not just about what you see in the mirror, but about who you are inside: a fabulous, powerful woman.

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