Emotional and Binge Eating

Emotional and Binge Eating
On his way home from work, my husband called and asked if I needed anything.

“Do not dare walk through this door without you know what.”

He knew what.

When he stepped over the threshold, I handed him a baby, and he handed me a bag of chocolate.

Emotional Eating

Friends, this is called emotional eating. Not everyone does it. But I do sometimes, and if you do too, read on.

First, emotional eating must be clarified. It is not the same as mindless eating, nor is it enjoyment eating. If you graze throughout the day without paying attention to your food choices, or if you sit down in front of the TV with a bowl of snack food you don’t even like that much, you are eating mindlessly.

Conversely, if you find great pleasure in a big piece of chocolate cake and eat it with gustatory delight, you are eating for enjoyment. Eating for pleasure is valid and fun. However, eating as a stress or sadness antidote is counterproductive.

As opposed to mindless or hedonistic eating, emotional and/or binge eating is characterized by feeling out of control. Often, emotional eaters “check out” while eating. Not all emotional eating is binge eating, and not all binge eating is emotional eating. However, the crossover is large.


If you are an emotional or binge eater, examine your food journal from the last week. Pick 2 times you ate to de-stress and/or felt out of control while eating.

You wrote down these episodes, right? Some of you might have “forgotten” to actually record excessive eating. I get it. I did that too. However, a food journal isn’t meant to record perfect habits. If our habits were perfect, we wouldn’t need to food journal. Instead, think of the food journal as an objective, non-judgmental gathering of data. You ate too much. Okay, no biggie. Write it down and then move on. Analyzing these episodes at a later time is helpful. Beating yourself up for them is not. Therefore, if you didn’t write down any episodes, but you definitely had episodes, start writing them down, then come back to this exercise later.

Next, pinpoint the approximate time the emotional or binge eating episode started and the approximate time it stopped.

Don’t immediately try to figure out why you binge ate. I realize this advice is counterintuitive, but you may not find the “real reason” and it may not even matter. Instead, answer “How did I stop?” Your answers will help you write “If…Then” statements.


For example, when I tried the Program on myself, on Day 3 I ate “a lot of cookies” as a late afternoon snack. I didn’t count them, but I wrote A LOT in capital letters. I didn’t want to count them because I was afraid of the number. Why did I eat them? Oh, I don’t know. I probably felt stressed about something or other. At that time in my life, the sleep deprivation fatigue would overcome me in the mid-afternoon. The reason doesn’t matter.

How did I stop? I got a headache from all the sugar. In other words, my body made me stop. I answered the question with “I listened to my body.” Sure, I could have listened to my body sooner, but I did eventually, so I am capable of stopping. Good to know.

Another mom answered this question by saying “I ran out of chips.” Honest. The key is understanding the episodes do have ends. If we can pinpoint how it ended, hopefully in the future, we can move our endings to the beginnings.

For example, I stopped when the excess sugar gave me energy and then gave me a headache. Clearly, I need energy in the late afternoon. If I feel like reaching for the junk food, I shouldn’t rely on willpower to stop myself from eating. I should swap the junk for a different food (not necessarily carrots, just a different, yet still satisfying, food).

Therefore, to ingrain a new strategy, I created an “If…Then” statement to help future episodes.[1]

If I have an urge to binge eat sugary foods, I will stop and fix myself a snack.

When I remember to follow this “If…Then” statement, I move my ending — the energy and fullness from food — to my beginning. I do this by eating BEFORE I want to raid the cabinets.

The mom who ran out of chips naturally stops when she doesn’t have the junk around. Personally, I probably would have moved onto another food, but she isn’t me, so her method of moving her ending to the beginning starts in the grocery store where she will not buy the chips. And if she catches herself in an episode, she can walk the chips to the garbage can. Her “If…Then” statement might be the following:

If I’m in the grocery store and start to grab the chips, I will stop and will not put them in my cart. And, if I start binge eating chips in the house, I will stop and walk them to the garbage can.

Each answer to “How did I stop?” will highlight different ways to move your ending to your beginning.

(I’m not suggesting we all need to rid our houses of chips and chocolate. Rather, we should examine our own endings and figure out what works for us. If deprivation prompts emotional eating, then I highly recommend an “If…Then” statement that substitutes rather than eliminates. Nonetheless, some women do best without certain trigger foods in the house. To each their own.)

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  1. “If…Then” statements are adapted from Gabriele Oettingen’s Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.  ↩

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