Sometimes we have to get back to the basics. I don’t think it’s that we lack knowledge when it comes down to “what to do” in regard to emotional eating. We have so much knowledge that we are in information overload. Therefore, let’s get back to the basics of healing with God. Let’s learn and understand why we are doing what we doing versus just learning what not to do.

emotional eating 101

What is Emotional Eating and Stress Eating

Stress eating happens when we become overwhelmed with specific feelings, and food becomes the outlet where we try to take away our emotional hunger. Therefore, stress eating is a response to an emotional trigger. (Learn more about this inside of my Biblical Framework to Overcome Emotional Eating course.) Here’s what I don’t want you to do when learning how to stop stress eating: I don’t want you to think all stress is bad.

Managing stress is key. Being in this world, we will encounter stress. (Remember that there are many forms of stress, such as environmental, physical, and emotional.) We just don’t have to live stressed and claim it as a badge of honor. 

Our beliefs form our stress. Stress is the perception of the situations before us and where our focus is. However we view stress will cause our stress eating. 

Emotionally eating is not bad in itself. We all have emotions and feelings and will celebrate with food or have a bad day and want to enjoy a nice treat.

How to Stop Emotional Eating

When we want to learn how to stop stress eating, sometimes we need to have a basic understanding of how our bodies are responding to stress causing us to stress eat.

If we are under stress, our brain instructs our adrenal glands to release a burst of adrenaline, which revs the heart rate and frees up stored energy (glucose and fat) that we can use to fight or flee.

During stressful times, cortisol tells our bodies to store any unburned calories as fat—typically belly fat. (Back in the day, these reserves would ensure we had a quick source of fuel to flee from danger or survive famine.)

Our adrenal glands release cortisol, which tells our bodies to replenish that energy by stimulating our appetite for high-calorie foods (unfortunately, our brains don’t know if we actually burned any calories). Cortisol can then stay in our system for hours. The result from this is that we feel hungry even if we sit most of the day.

Three things you can implement now on how to stop emotional eating are: (I go more in-depth with these in my Biblical Framework to Overcoming Emotional Eating course.)

  • Practice mindful eating
  • Know your stressors
  • Avoid highly restrictive diets

Therefore, some simple ways you begin to from emotional eating is:

  1. Don’t keep all of your favorite snacks out on the table or easily accessible in the pantry. Keep it out of the eyeline row.
  2. When you have salads, add protein, fats, and carbs to balance your energy levels until your next snack or meal. 
  3. Eat with no distractions like screens or electronics. 
  4. Carry water with your wherever you go. Make it easy for you to drink more water. 
  5. Learn ways to manage stress instead of ignoring it. 
  6. Prioritize sleep or even keep a sleep schedule so you can see when you are going to bed, if you are waking up at night, and how many hours you are getting. 
  7. Stop trying to find the next diet plan or way of eating that will be “the one.”
  8. Eat more calories during your meals throughout the day to keep you full to each meal. 

Many women believe they overeat or always eat emotionally because they love food too much or have a sweet tooth. There can be truth to that, but it’s not the whole truth. God made us a three-part being. We are a spirit, have a soul, and live in a body, meaning every part of our bodies work together in unison. To think you overeat or emotionally eat because you love food too much hinders us from seeing the whole picture and healing through it. 

Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger

Here are a few beliefs we carry about food when it comes to emotionally eating:

  • Food doesn’t talk back to you and tell you when you are right or wrong. 
  • Food just feels like it’s there for you. 
  • There is no threat to safety with food because it’s not talking back to you or manipulating you. 
  • It’s safe. 
  • It’s consistent. 
  • It doesn’t talk back. 
  • There is no opinion. 

I just want to remind you that it’s not that you lack discipline or willpower. It’s that you need to build the bridge between what you know to believe what you know. 

Learning to stop overeating also involves taking a deeper look at why we are overeating in the first place. 

What is emotional hunger versus physical hunger, then?


Emotional Hunger

  • Emotional hunger comes on suddenly
  • Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly
  • Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods
  • Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied with a full stomach.
  • Emotional eating triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and shame

Physical Hunger

  • Physical hunger comes on gradually
  • Physical hunger can wait
  • Physical hunger is open to options—lots of things sound good
  • Physical hunger stops when you’re full
  • Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself

We can honor the body God gave us and work through emotionally eating by recognizing the type of hunger we are experiencing. 

Breaking Free from Emotional Eating

One is that we try to approach our pain with what I call toxic positivity or blind optimism. This is where we don’t even name the pain or specifically name what hurts.  However, we expect what is good in life to cancel what is hard. It doesn’t tolerate pain and joy sitting together in the same room. 

On the other extreme, we take our painful emotional experiences and treat our feelings like they are the most real part of us. As my friend Nicole likes to say, “There’s a difference between feelings being real and feelings being true.

We get to choose how we steward our pain and the kinds of things that we gently say to our pain. Sometimes we need to slow down and learn how to rest.

Since we can not solve emotional hunger with food, one of the first steps to begin breaking free from emotional eating is naming your pain. Unless you know what pain you’re speaking to, you can’t speak the truth to it. So a common mistake we do is that we tend to speak in the language of identity a lot more than we speak in terms of our circumstances. If you are feeling powerless, helpless, or disempowered to change how you feel and interact with your life, the common mistake is to say:  I’m loved. 

As people, we have inherent value. But if the pain that we or somebody else is feeling is disempowered, helpless, or out of control, it’s not going to speak to the heart of that emotional experience. So you have to specifically name either:  How am I feeling about myself? Or how am I feeling about my circumstances?  in order to be able to speak a truth that actually addresses that pain. I would say that is the first practical step to breaking free from emotional eating.

How to Deal with Emotions Biblically

1. Acknowledge the emotion

When we begin to feel anxious, take a moment to acknowledge that our bodies are communicating something with us by responding to a current situation with past information. We are being kind to ourselves and those around us when we take a moment to pause and reflect.

 2. Identify the emotion

Are fear, anger, or envy present? Once we acknowledge something isn’t right, we can give ourselves permission to explore what we are feeling. Identifying the emotion is the trigger that allows us to begin to feel so we can move toward God’s truth about what we are experiencing.

Even when we feel, we have the power to put what we feel into submission.

3. Accept the emotion

We are run by our emotions when we run away from them. Acceptance allows us to feel without being run by what we are experiencing. When we refuse to run, we can evaluate why we are experiencing what we are feeling without internalizing it as part of our identity.

4. Determine what the emotion is telling you 

There are stories surrounding what we believe, so we must ask ourselves, “What is this emotion trying to communicate to us about who we are?  

5. Have a conversation with God

I know this might sound hard, uncomfortable, and awkward, but interrupting our normal thought patterns to create new ones is how we renew our minds. Change happens in tension. We will have tension when we think a new thought in opposition to what we are used to thinking, but to change the way we think, we must challenge the way we think. 

To learn more about this, read my book Face Off with Your Feelings.

How to Not Let Your Emotions Control You

Our relationship with God is only as strong as our understanding of Him. So when we start to emotionally eat from stress or when our feelings come in like a flood, our understanding of God’s nature grounds us in the truth. We can put things into place so our emotions don’t control us, but when we know God is good despite what feels good.

Here are a few things to help not let your emotions control you:

Boundaries. Learn to ask for what you need, paying attention to what you don’t need. Be mindful of what makes you feel alive, energized, or shrink back. Asking for what you need is not selfish. 
Know what you believe and stick to those beliefs (with humility).

Be willing to continue to grow and mature. There is a lot of noise and distraction out there. Stay focused on God’s word. Don’t back down from the Truth. It is okay to have an opinion that differs from someone else.

Create space for healing. To love deeply means that you will experience pain deeply. However, to say you will never allow yourself to get hurt again is saying that you will not welcome love. Take breaks from the places you can, ask for help, and know God is waiting for you. 

Think about what you are thinking. Watch the words and phrases coming out of your mouth.
Phrases like “Move on” and “Get over it” don’t allow you to honor the present emotion to move through it without it being dumbed down or swept under the rug. 

Move your body. Even moderate physical activity can reduce feelings of depression and stress and significantly improve emotional well-being levels. 

Prioritize sleep. Sometimes it’s not the workout, the food, or the next coffee you have that will help. The quality of your sleep dramatically impacts emotional health.

Books About Emotional Eating

Resources for Emotional Eating

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