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The Missing Link to Manage Emotional Eating

Learning self-awareness to control what's truly eating at you.

Key points

  • Willing yourself to stop emotional overeating will likely not help you in the long run.
  • Your dysfunctional eating may be due to causes that lurk below your immediate awareness.
  • The more you connect your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, the more successful you should be in managing emotional eating.

Even though there is so much accessible nutrition and exercise information in this day and age, child and adult obesity rates have soared. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers.

At the end of the day, no matter how much we tell people to "get more active and watch what you eat," while there is validity to this statement, this just does not really help when our emotions get the best of us. Nor does it seem to help when someone or some program gives them answers on eating "do's and don'ts," when they have not first asked themselves why they want to manage their eating more healthily/lose weight and what they are truly willing to do to succeed.

I am not saying commercial weight loss programs across the board are not valuable. Years ago, in fact, I worked as a behavioral consultant for a hospital-based weight loss program. What I am saying is that true self-awareness must come from asking ourselves powerful questions and answering them for ourselves.

The Case of Kim

Kim was a 37-year-old woman who came to see me a few months after being on a commercial weight loss program. She shared how she was so pumped up months earlier after the initial bloodwork was done to "tailor the program to my metabolic needs." Yes, Kim had lost a lot of weight for the first few months in her program. But then she began to stray from the recommended program diet and her body fat-related weight came back even more rapidly than when she had lost it.

A "Yes-Lose" Proposition

You have heard of the phrase "no-lose proposition," so how about a "yes-lose proposition" for managing emotional eating and promoting healthy weight loss, which is driven by self-awareness?

This one simple word, lose, can help you stop the insanity of overeating. L-O-S-E can inspire you or someone you know to begin asking empowering questions instead of searching for easy answers that don't help you in the long run to manage the emotions that are "eating at you."

When I coach clients for weight loss-related concerns, it is all about helping them discover the valuable "why and how" to manage emotional eating patterns. Make no mistake, my weight loss coaching model is not a silver bullet, "lose body fat while you sleep, and wake up 20 years younger and 20 pounds lighter" fantasy gimmicky plan. Rather, these questions represent a sample of the many motivating questions I use with my coaching clients. They are designed to help you capture the mindset you need to make healthy decisions and do healthy behaviors.

Note: I suggest seeing a physician and nutritionist for questions about your physical health or dietary issues. Group support such as Overeaters Anonymous can also be helpful. You may also want to seek out a qualified mental health professional if you suspect you are suffering from any significant mental health concerns or eating disorders.

3 Questions To Ask Yourself

All that said, to employ my LOSE approach, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions below if you have a problem losing weight and a strong tendency to emotionally overeat.

  • The L in L-O-S-E stands for letting go. What thoughts and behaviors do you need to let go of the most to stop overeating and abusing food?
  • The O represents options for accountability. How can you start to become more accountable to yourself in your relationship with food?
  • The S is about setting goals. What small and larger weight goals can you set for yourself to capture your own motivation?
  • The E represents engaging in new thoughts and behaviors. What new thoughts and behaviors can you "own" to help you reach your goals?

The Case of Ally

As an example, let's look at how a 29-year-old weight loss coaching client of mine, Ally (not her real name), used these questions to help her lose 20 pounds in seven weeks. Our coaching sessions went from weekly to now once a month and she has kept her weight in a manageable range for 16 months and counting.

Amongst some other conflicts, Ally realized that she had to let go of her guilt of emotionally "leaving behind" her best friend and boyfriend who she tended to overeat with. Of course, she could remain in these relationships, and she did, but she had to let go of her need to conform and participate in their spontaneous food feasts.

Next, Ally became aware of options when I questioned her about what she wanted to do differently. The first option she pursued was to download a food management app on her smartphone and use it to become more mindful of her daily food choices. She also started requesting a takeout container right away when she went to a restaurant with her boyfriend or friend. This helped her to not be a victim of restaurant "portion distortion." She also opted to "retire" from the need to justify to her boyfriend and friend why or what she was doing concerning her becoming more accountable to herself about her eating.

Ally set attainable goals for her weight loss. Most excitingly, she also set a goal to call me when she hit her first inevitable weight loss plateau rather than sabotage any further progress as she had in the past.

Ally engaged her health-conscious friends, engaged in joining a yoga class, and engaged me as her coach to help her stay consistent in two essential skills all along the way: self-soothing and problem-solving.

Final Thoughts

Emotional eating can feel demoralizing and create significant health problems for many people. The LOSE model is a tool to empower you to ask questions that can raise your self-awareness and promote more healthy eating-related behaviors. Try it if it sounds appealing to you. After all, what do you really have to LOSE?

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


van Strien, T. (2018). Causes of Emotional Eating and Matched Treatment of Obesity, Curr Diab Rep. 2018; 18(6): 35. Published online doi: 10.1007/s11892-018-1000-x PMCID: PMC5918520