How to stop eating emotionally this Christmas

Image: Aaron Amat/

Does stress, sadness or anger drive you to reach for the cookie jar? Do you turn to food for comfort or when you’re feeling bored? It’s common and very much a human behaviour.

However, if you often eat for emotional reasons instead of because you’re feeling physically hungry, that can be a problem.

Christmas is a particularly risky time of year for emotional eaters, with plenty of stress and high emotions around the holiday season. So, if you think you might be turning to food for comfort, there here are some tips on how to change your eating style.

Why do we eat emotionally?

We’re taught to soothe our every emotion with food from a very young age. When babies cry, they get a bottle. If it’s your birthday, you celebrate with cake. Get a flu shot, here’s a lollypop. It’s almost conditioned in our brains, the same way we all finish everything on our plate so we don’t ‘waste food’.

Our brains are automated to choose food as the fastest and easiest way to bring comfort and joy. A lot of the time, this joy and satisfaction are fleeting, and soon you need to eat again. By the time you realise your mistake, the packet of chips is empty.

So what can you do about it? The first step is understanding your triggers.

What triggers emotionally eating?

The triggers for emotional eating can be very individual and sometimes complicated. Common things that cause people to go in search of comfort foods are stress, boredom, loneliness, frustration, anxiety or depression.

If you find it difficult to pinpoint your triggers, think about speaking with a dietitian, counsellor or psychologist to help you get in touch with your eating behaviours.

Your quick guide to stop eating your feelings

1. Stop and slow down

Eating quickly distracts from any accountability and awareness of your eating habits. You can also very easily eat beyond the point of feeling full. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to detect when you’ve had enough to eat, so slow down enough to help engage with these physical cues.

2. Acknowledge your triggers

Once you know what is likely causing your emotional eating habits, it’s then easier to find the right cure. For example, if you’re eating because of stress, instead, find something other than food which relaxes you such as a warm bubble bath, a massage or listening to some good music.

3. Practice mindfulness

Being present in the moment allows you to experience your feelings and gives you time to decide how to proceed, taking the emotion out of the equation. Even a small delay in eating when you feel the urge can give you enough time to choose an alternate response.

4. Find a distraction

Sometimes it’s very difficult to calm ourselves down in the moment. If this is you, find a distraction. Anything that helps to take your mind off the problem/feeling should help—for instance: reading a good book, knitting or doing Sudoku. Any distraction that removes you from the kitchen area is good. Less access to comfort foods means a much lower chance of emotional snacking.

4. Practise self-care

One of the best strategies to prevent emotional eating is to get on top of your emotions before they get on top of you. Indulge in some regular self-care practices.

These could be bigger things to look forward to like travel or a holiday or something practical, like de-cluttering a room in the house or calling to chat to a friend.

They might even be nurturing, like treating yourself to a facial, going for a picnic or taking a nap.

Whatever makes you feel good will help to prevent the buildup of emotions that end with you feeling overly stuffed, ashamed and guilty.

So, this Christmas we challenge everyone to eat with awareness and enjoy every bite! Happy Holidays!


Adapted, with permission, from Sue Radd’s Nutrition & Wellbeing Clinic e-newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

Sue Radd is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and one of Australia’s leading nutritionists and health communicators. Her most recent book Food as Medicine: Eating for Your Best Health received the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Health and Nutrition Book in the world for 2016.

Category: Emotional Health, Physical Health
Tags: christmas

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