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Beyond the Label: Understanding Emotional Eating and its Complexities.

By December 15, 2023No Comments

Emotional eating, once neatly categorized alongside external and restrained eating patterns, has emerged as a complex phenomenon deserving deeper scrutiny. Recent research challenges the oversimplified definitions, shedding light on the intricate relationship between emotions, food intake, and BMI.

Defining Emotional, External, and Restrained Eating:
Emotional eating pertains to consuming food in response to emotional triggers, such as stress, sadness, and even happiness! External eating involves eating in response to environmental cues like the sight or smell of food, while restrained eating refers to deliberate dietary restriction often driven by weight concerns or rigid dieting.

Re-evaluating Emotional Eating Patterns:
Contrary to the prior assumption that self-reported emotional eaters consistently exhibit increased food intake, studies conducted in real-life settings or laboratory environments don’t always support this belief. However, a notable correlation exists between higher BMI and a propensity for overeating, indicating a potential link between emotional eating and body weight.

While negative emotions were conventionally associated with overeating, studies indicate that individuals tend to consume more when experiencing positive emotions, such as happiness or joy. This intriguing finding challenges the simplistic view of emotional eating solely tied to negative moods.

Navigating Emotional Eating: Strategies for a Balanced Approach:
A crucial aspect of emotional eating involves the preference for hyperpalatable, energy-dense foods. To counteract this, individuals identifying as emotional eaters could benefit from stocking their households with high-quality, nutritionally dense foods. By reducing access to low-quality, highly processed foods, the risk of overeating can be mitigated, promoting healthier eating habits and improved overall well-being.

The landscape of emotional eating is far from straightforward. The interplay between emotions, food intake, and BMI is multifaceted, challenging preconceived notions and urging a more nuanced understanding. Strategies aimed at fostering a home environment stocked with wholesome, nutritious foods emerge as a potential way to navigate emotional eating tendencies, regardless of the emotional triggers.


(Bongers & Jansen, 2016; Braden et al., 2020; Fuente González et al., 2022)

Bongers, P., & Jansen, A. (2016). Emotional eating is not what you think it is and emotional eating scales do not measure what you think they measure. In Frontiers in Psychology (Vol. 7, Issue DEC).

Braden, A., Emley, E., Watford, T., Anderson, L. N., & Musher-Eizenman, D. (2020). Self-reported emotional eating is not related to greater food intake: results from two laboratory studies. Psychology and Health, 35(4).

Fuente González, C. E., Chávez-Servín, J. L., De La Torre-Carbot, K., Ronquillo González, D., Aguilera Barreiro, M. D. L. Á., & Ojeda Navarro, L. R. (2022). Relationship between Emotional Eating, Consumption of Hyperpalatable Energy-Dense Foods, and Indicators of Nutritional Status: A Systematic Review. In Journal of Obesity (Vol. 2022).

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