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

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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