Emotional Eating (part 2)


Following on from Emotional Eating Part 1 (Emotional Eating - Part 1 - FBF Collective (fitbyflocollective.com)), this article explains the difference between physical and emotional hunger, and some coping mechanisms to help if you’re struggling with emotional eating and feel that it is affecting your day-to-day life.

Physical vs Emotional Hunger 



Physical and emotional hunger may be easily confused. Growing up, you most likely relied on external cues to let you know you were finished eating. An external cue might be if you’re eating a plate of food, when your plate is empty, you’re done.

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Or if a parent/carer said to you, “You need to finish your plate, then you’re done”, that would be another example of an external cue. This would be instead of using your internal cues of paying attention to feelings of fullness that your body sends you.


With emotional eating, you often have trouble telling the difference between these internal cues — which signify physical hunger, and emotional hunger. There are some key differences between the two, as shown in the table below.


Physical hunger

Emotional hunger

It develops slowly over time.

It comes about suddenly or abruptly.

You desire a variety of food groups.

You crave only certain foods.

You feel the sensation of fullness and take it as a cue to stop eating.

You may binge on food and not feel a sensation of fullness.

You have no negative feelings about eating.

You feel guilt or shame about eating.


Pay attention to how and when your hunger starts as well as how you feel after eating (this is where journaling or writing down your thoughts and feelings around food can really be useful).

“If hunger isn’t the problem, food may not be the solution”



Coping Mechanisms

When you next experience boredom or a difficult emotion or situation, and want to reach for food, consider the following:

  1. Become familiar with your boredom cues – it can be difficult to distinguish between true and emotional hunger, but by identifying triggers that lead to emotional eating you can build awareness and space between your thoughts, feelings and subsequent actions.

    2. Get moving – take a walk or stretch with some yoga to help clear your head of scrambling thoughts and help diffuse emotional states such as anxiety.


    3. Don’t have temptation in the house - if you don’t have a giant bag of salty crisps at your fingertips, you can’t eat the whole bag. If a salty snack is what you really want and need, stock popcorn for example.

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  3. Make nutrition food/snack options a priority – if you’re prone to emotion-related snacking, prepare for it. Pre-portion snacks such as nuts, popcorn, or sliced veggies and hummus into baggies or containers.

*NB - We're living in a time where more and more people are experiencing bouts of depression, anxiety and extreme stress, but this does not mean you should accept this as normal and should not address it. If you are having these feelings daily or you do feel completely overwhelmed then do reach out to a qualified nutritionist, therapist or psychologist - there is no reason for you to be struggling alone!*

Written by Abigail Attenborough (ANutr)

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