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Name & Love Your Feelings to End Emotional Eating

Think back to the last time you overate—not because you were hungry—but because your feelings got the best of you.

Maybe you impulsively grabbed something from your pantry, binged after work by dashing through the fast food drive-thru or got up in the middle of the night to raid the fridge. Got the image in your mind? Okay, now… ask yourself:

What feeling was I trying to avoid? 

When I ask my clients this question, I typically hear, “I felt overwhelmed,” “I was stressed,” “I felt bad,” or “I’m not sure.” They know they felt something intense but can’t always pinpoint it. When we explore it further they sometimes can name it, but more often than not—at least in our beginning work together—they don’t know how they felt.

That’s because emotional eating—like any compulsive behavior or addiction—comes from the struggle to know and be with what you feel.

What you do know is you’re in distress and want to feel better—fast.

When you push your feelings away with food—or alcohol, cigarettes, shopping—you dismiss and deny parts of yourself.

They might be uncomfortable and it might feel easier to push them away, but think of your feelings as little children calling for your attention. You wouldn’t push away a crying child, would you?

Our lives work better when we feel whole. And feeling whole comes from embracing all our feelings in a loving way. And that starts with knowing what they are.

Name It

Feelings can be identified within four broad categories. When you feel triggered to eat and you know you’re not hungry, ask yourself: “Am I sad, mad, glad or scared?” Then review the following list of feelings associated with that category. From the list, notice which word or words best reflect how you feel. Download this Feelings List and tuck it in your purse or pocket to keep it handy.


Lonely, disappointed, glum, blue, unhappy, dissatisfied, dejected, guilty, ashamed, hurt, isolated, miserable, depressed, heartbroken, gloomy, despairing, grief, lonesome, melancholic, hopeless, helpless, rejected, distressed, abandoned, alone, powerless, empty.


Angry, frustrated, bitter, annoyed, resentful, irritated, exasperated, loathing, disgusted, hostile, hateful, aggravated, defensive, enraged, livid, infuriated, irate, outraged, antagonistic, mean, aggressive, furious.

Happy, thankful, elated, delighted, cheerful, loving, hopeful, relief, appreciative, satisfied, excited, peaceful, enthusiastic, proud, pleased, caring, grateful, carefree, joyful, confident, secure, nurturing, content, blissful, ecstatic.


Anxious, nervous, panicky, afraid, worried, frightened, terrified, fearful, apprehensive, uneasy, concerned, insecure, vulnerable, weak, unsettled, tense, confused, upset, shocked, overwhelmed, suspicious, pressured, unsure, trapped, cautious.

You may wonder how a category like “glad” relates to emotional eating. People sometimes overeat not only when they’re upset but also when they feel anything strongly. They feel moments of happiness—real and authentic—but those moments are fleeting because they lack a deep inner peace. Glad, sad, mad or scared, they reach for food just the same.

Say It

Once you discover what you’re feeling, say it out loud and tell yourself, “It’s okay.” For example:

“I feel lonely… and it’s okay.”
“I feel annoyed… and it’s okay.”
“I feel vulnerable… and it’s okay.”

So often we’re given suggestions of what to “do” with our feelings to feel better. While that’s important—I’ve offered that advice myself—sometimes we don’t need to “do” anything but give ourselves permission to feel.

Your feelings cannot hurt you. It’s what you do with them that either helps you or hurts you. And sometimes the best thing to do… is nothing.

Love It

Giving your feelings a name—and saying them out loud—is like a loving, attentive mother reflecting back to her crying child, “You look sad.” That validation helps the child feel safe. Someone understands.

That same sense of validation, safety and love is what you get when you name what you feel and tell yourself, “… and that’s okay.”

So the next time you feel that impulse to grab food, remember to stop, look at your list and name what you’re feeling. Then, say it out loud, reassuring yourself that—no matter what you’re feeling—it’s okay and you are, too.

The intensity of the feeling will lessen. Then, do your best to use whatever coping tools have worked in the past—tapping, writing down your feelings, breathing—until the urge to eat passes.

Identifying what you feel and learning to comfort yourself with your own words, empowers you. And the more powerful you feel, the easier it is to overcome emotional eating and release weight… forever.

Try this and let me know how it goes, okay?

Photo Credit: Gisela Giardino




12 Responses

  1. Debbie

    This article was spot on. I’ve never seen this written and explained this way. I was able to recognize the feelings that I’ve had when I’ve recently out of anger and frustration reached for food. Thank you for the printout.

  2. Mel

    Just had a aha moment over here. I’ve too said I’m emotionally eating before but never really sure what that meant. Thank you for shedding some light on this.

  3. Illania

    What a great idea – thanks for the list. I often feel I am so “out of touch” with what I am feeling that I will eat before I identify. I think I can take this one step further and use applied kinesiology to quickly narrow down the feeling.

  4. Pam

    It’s all so true but not easy to accept the feelings even though I know what is bothering me but don’t know how to solve it.

    1. Hi Pam, I know… it’s not always easy but practice this approach. Over time it will become easier to accept and just “be with” your feelings. And whatever problems you face become less overwhelming when you’re not gripped by those feelings. Wishing you all the best. Love & peace to you.

  5. AC

    I so appreciate this article. I’ve started acknowledging and owning my feelings and that has helped guide me to greater freedom. However, I was unaware of the coping mechanisms presented in the end. I believe I will make better choices and have greater triumph over these moments of weakness in my emotions. Thanks for this!

  6. Cricket

    I had a small out if control eating moment a few days ago after a 45 minute run. I was hungry, but then couldn’t stop. I have tried to apply the feeling I had, happy, sad etc but I still don’t know the answer, I’m in a good place right now, and not sure what came over me. I recently lost 7 lbs by watching my intake and portions and wonder if that has anything to do with it. I also saw pic of me 5 years ago where I was about the same weight but in better shape. A tad depressing. Am I trying too hard ? Is this why? I have no idea. But thank you- I will be working out these feelings each time I encounter a chaotic meeting of the foods. 😉

    1. Cricket… If in the moment you’re not sure what you’re feeling and cannot identify it, use this same approach. For example, “I’m confused and don’t know what I feel… and that’s okay.”Reassurance and acceptance is key.

      To your health and happiness.

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