Emotional Eating: Questions to Ask When The Urge Hits


When you are looking for help to stop emotional eating, realize you can respond to upset or distress by mindlessly eating.  Or the eating can become habituated without you realizing it. If you find yourself sitting in your favorite chair with the remote and you are prompted to get the food, hungry or not, it’s a habit.

Charles Duhigg, author of  “The Power of Habit” discusses how to recognize and get to know your habits and the cues that prompt them. He says:

Every habit has a cue, and experiments have shown that almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories:

  • Location
  • Time
  • Emotional State
  • Other People
  • Immediately preceding action

So, if you’re trying to figure out the cue for the ‘going to the cafeteria and buying a chocolate chip cookie’ habit, you write down five things the moment the urge hits (these are my actual notes from when I was trying to diagnose my habit):

  • Where are you? (sitting at my desk)
  • What time is it? (3:36 pm)
  • What’s your emotional state? (bored)
  • Who else is around? (no one)
  • What action preceded the urge? (answered an email)

After just a few days, it was pretty clear which cue was triggering my cookie habit — I felt an urge to get a snack at a certain time of day. The habit, I had figured out, was triggered between 3:00 and 4:00.

So looking at your habits and learning about your patterns can allow you to get to know them.  By moving from mindless eating to curiosity you can gather information and start the process of awareness.

What place(s) prompt you to eat habitually?  Do you know when that behavior started?

3 responses to “Emotional Eating: Questions to Ask When The Urge Hits”

  1. Kim says:

    My family used food to celebrate, to console and to comfort. I still have the urge to use it in the same way even now. Allowing myself some down time and “me” time always triggers the craving for some food. Sitting down relaxing in front of the TV always starts the urge to get something to munch on. My whole family gathered at the end of the day and my Mom would make homemade goodies to pass out while we watched TV before bedtime. Limiting eating to the kitchen table has help a great deal in controlling that, but in times of stress I have to admit that checking out mentally and eating mindlessly in front of the TV is still a strong compulsion that is difficult to circumvent.

  2. Taking a few breaths when I arrive home (whether I am hungry or not) helps me bring some calm into my life & think more clearly about how I want to feel after I eat.

  3. I agree. Such thing as an easy solution is not possible when it comes to emotionel eating. It all about changing your mindset controlling your habits

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

Marsha has been a guiding force at Green Mountain at Fox Run since 1986. In addition to overseeing a professional program that helps women establish sustainable approaches to healthy living, she is a respected thought leader when it comes to managing eating, emotions and weight. She has been a voice of reason for the last three decades in helping people move away from diets, an area in which she is personally as well as professionally versed. An accomplished writer and speaker, Marsha is the author of six books, including the online course Disordered Eating in Active and Sedentary Individuals (co-authored by Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, Human Kinetics), What You Need to Know about Carbohydrates (Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics [The Academy]), What You Need to Know about Vitamin and Mineral Supplements (The Academy), and The Pregnancy Cookbook (co-authored by Donna Shields, RD, Berkeley Publishing). She has worked extensively on a national basis to educate the public about nutrition and the impact of dieting on eating behaviors, including binge eating and emotional eating. Active in many organizations helping to further the cause of health and wellness, Marsha currently serves as vice chair of the Binge Eating Disorder Association and vice president of The Center for Mindful Eating and has been active in the Association for Size Diversity and Health in support of Health at Every Size(R) principles.

View Author Page