Emotional Eating

Researchers have discovered some common themes that lead to emotional eating.

Specific patterns of emotional eating are highly individual. But researchers have discovered some common themes that lead to emotional eating. Their findings provide insight into eating as a response to emotions.

Emotional Eating and Weight
Not everyone is susceptible to emotional overeating. For those who are, however, the impact on weight can be significant. In a study on emotional eating that included both overweight and underweight subjects, it was found that those who weighed more were more likely to eat in response to negative moods and situations.1 A 2011 study found that employees who had high scores for emotional eating were more likely to gain weight. In a research setting, the creation of negative emotional distress sensitizes the reward system in the brain, causing a stronger reaction to appetizing foods.2 This may help explain why emotional stress can lead to disinhibited eating.3

Emotional eating is not limited to bad times, however. Good moods and happy events can also lead to overeating for those who eat from emotion. In a study that evaluated overeating in a group of obese women, it was found that larger meals were eaten in response to both good and bad moods when compared to those mealtimes when the women's mood was neutral.4

Emotional Eating and Weight-Loss Success
Eating in response to emotions can undermine weight loss. However, research has shown that becoming aware of emotional eating and developing strategies to manage it works. In a study conducted at the Technical University in Lisbon in Portugal, researchers found a direct connection between a reduction in eating in response to emotion and sustained weight-loss.5

Understanding the connection between emotions and eating reveals how behavior can impact weight. Becoming aware of the impact that emotional eating may play in a weight-loss attempt is the first step. If emotional eating is an issue, developing ways to cope without food is vital for lasting weight loss.


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1Geliebter A, Aversa A. Emotional eating in overweight, normal weight, and underweight individuals. Eat Behav. 2003 Jan;3(4):341-7.

2Koenders PG, van Strien T. Emotional eating, rather than lifestyle behavior, drives weight gain in a prospective study in 1562 employees. J Occup Environ Med. 2011 Nov;53(11):1287-93.

3Wagner DD, Boswell RG, Kelley WM, Heatherton TF. Inducing negative affect increases the reward value of appetizing foods in dieters. J Cogn Neurosci. 2012 Apr 23. [Epub ahead of print]

4Patel KA, Schlundt DG. Impact of moods and social context on eating behavior. Appetite. 2001 Apr;36(2):111-8.

5Teixeira PJ, Silva MN, Coutinho SR, Palmeira AL, Mata J, Vieira PN, Carraça EV, Santos TC, Sardinha LB. Mediators of weight loss and weight loss maintenance in middle-aged women Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Apr;18(4):725-35.