Step away from the cake! 9 triggers of emotional eating + how to overcome them


It’s 7pm. You just got home from work and you sit down in front of the TV and inhale an entire family sized block of chocolate. You didn’t want to. You berate yourself afterwards. But the next day it happens again and it’s really starting to piss you off. And now you believe your problem is with food.

You’re on a diet. You’re trying to be good. Yeah, you’re losing weight and loving it. And then BAM out of left field you’re diving face first into a bucket of icecream with absolutely no idea why. What a failure. And now you believe your problem is with food.

Nope - none of that sounds like you. You’re quite controlled. You think white sugar is poison and carbs are the devil. You would never eat that garbage. But irritatingly, that’s the third Pritikin muffin you’ve eaten today. And now you believe your problem is with food.

I did too. For AGES! I kept thinking I was weak. That I had no willpower and self control when it came to diets. That I was fundamentally flawed because I at like a fatty fat fat fat.

Here’s the thing.

You DON’T have a problem with food. The underlying trigger that results in binges or overeating is an emotional one. You’re using food as a substitute for getting your emotional needs met. You are using food to self soothe.

Understanding what the underlying cause of your emotional eating is a crucial part of overcoming this debilitating issue. Then finding nurturing ways to get your needs met comes next.

So what could be your trigger?

1. Lack of calories

I know - technically not an “emotional” problem, but lack of calories can trigger a stress response in the body similar to famine. True story. Sometimes a binge is literally caused by your body saying “gimme gimme gimme” because you’ve ignored the soft whispers of hunger + satiety clues. Pay attention to your needs through Intuitive Eating. I’ve found this book really helpful.

2. Lack of control

No - not your lack of self control or willpower. Where else in life are you feeling powerless or overwhelmed? What do you need to start saying no to in order to say yes to yourself?

3. Lack of worthiness

Filling a gaping emotional void can be difficult, but you already know that food is not the answer. So how can you feel more worthy? Start here. You are more than your body, your thoughts, your career and your relationships. You are a grand total of a unique and incredible individual and we all need your brilliance. The unlikely arc of evolution that spans millennia has given birth to you. What a miracle! You are meant to be here. You belong here. And you were born worthy of love and belonging.

4. Lack of tools

Food has become your coping mechanism for self soothing. But now you get to pimp your toolkit with the most bombastic-super-fantastic nurturing tools you can find. Go on. Go all out. Brainstorm. Idea shower. List all the solutions you can think of that you can turn to when the going gets tough. Here, I’ll go first. An epsom salts bath, a massage, dancing to mah fave tunes, meditation, turn off my phone, watch a comedy, journal, call a trusted friend.

5. Lack of awareness

Dig deep here comrade. What is the underlying issue? When that urge to go hell for leather on baked goods hits, try to pause and witness with loving non-judgement why this has occured. Did someone cut you down to size? Are you physically exhausted? Do you just feel sad? No matter what the trigger was, when you  know what it is you can treat the cause not the symptoms. Much more holistically.

6. Lack of mindfulness

How can you “activate the pause” in order to be mindful? One way I quite like is “The Flash Diet” where you interrupt mindless eating by taking a photo of your meal. Sure, you can “tweet before you eat” if you like. But even if you don’t share your meal publicly, actually photographing every morsel of food before it enters your mouth is a fabulous way of pausing and asking yourself “Is this food really in alignment with my needs?” Photography not your style? Check out these other 21 ways to make your meal more mindful.

7. Lack of space

Do you have the energy to prepare a healthy, nourishing meal? Do you have time to sit mindfully and enjoy the pleasure of eating? Have you carved out a slot in your calendar for “me time”? Creating space in your life to eat well and chill out is vital for your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

8. Lack of transparency

Ouch. This one might hurt a little. I know that my disordered relationship to food and my body was a source of great shame. I hid a lot of my eating. I ate furtively and out of sight. I hid evidence of what I’d eaten but my body couldn’t. Many times I would try to fool myself that this pattern would stop tomorrow; or that this behaviour (even though it was hurting me) didn’t matter. I had to get radically honest with myself about my eating habits, which also meant opening up to friends about what was going on. It was scary, but really rewarding. Because when I did, I ended up getting professional help and began my journey of healing. Remember, an eating disorder isn’t just anorexia or bulimia. My kind of disorder is called EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) which can include symptoms of chronic dieting, excessively ruminating about food and exercise, and binge eating without purging.

9. Lack of self kindness

Has your Inner Bully been harshly critiquing your emotional eating? Or just bullying you around in general? This harsh inner voice is keeping you stuck in this vicious cycle. Forgive yourself, speak to yourself like you would your best friend, and give yourself permission to move on.


What about you? Have you noticed any other triggers in your journey? Share them in the comments below.

Also, do you have a friend that suffers from emotional eating? Share these tips with them. You could be liberating them from a frustrating problem.


Found this post helpful? Sign up to receive more just like it each fortnight.


, ,

7 Responses to Step away from the cake! 9 triggers of emotional eating + how to overcome them

  1. dawn March 5, 2020 at 8:23 am #

    There is a book called “Intuitive Eating” that was written by two registered dieticians who are very familiar with disordered eating and eating disorders. This book is used by various eating disorder programs as well as numerous nutritionists and therapists. I felt a little uncomfortable reading the titles of the books that are being promoted on your website. Some of them tend to cater to the weight-loss industry. I would strongly recommend that you consider referencing “Intuitive Eating” or at least giving it a read. Although I “….don’t know the authors from Adam…” as the saying goes, their book has really made a difference in my life.

    • Tahlee March 5, 2020 at 2:01 pm #

      Hey Dawn!
      Thanks for the reference, I’m always up for some more reading and I’m really glad it’s made a positive difference for you. I’ll be sure to check it out.
      I’m sorry that you feel uncomfortable about the books I recommend, althought I don’t think they are specifically about weight loss. The book “The Don’t Go Hungry Diet” is an unfortunate name as it’s acutally not a diet book at all. The author does talk about her weight loss journey, but it’s more in the framework of understanding the complex wonder of our bodies, self kindness, intuitive eating and body accpetance.
      Also, I don’t think that wanting to lose weight is necessarily a bad thing. As long as it’s framed in the right context of pursuing health in a holistic way, including positive mental health + emotional wellbeing.
      You are right though - the weight loss industry has a heavily vested interest in people’s despair. I gave them a serve in a previous post here. :)

  2. dominique March 7, 2020 at 1:27 pm #

    “You DON’T have a problem with food. The underlying trigger that results in binges or overeating is an emotional one. You’re using food as a substitute for getting your emotional needs met. You are using food to self soothe.”

    I’ve been kicking these words around for the past two days. When I first read them I shed several tears and think that tonight, as I do some soul-searching journaling, I will shed a bazillion more. Today was a rough day but I’m looking for the positives. I made dinner in a fog - go figure, I ended up making my favorite comfort food: pasta and cheese. I added ground turkey and broccoli so it was a step in the right direction… As I found myself scarfing the yummy cheesy goodness my mind returned to this post. I was able to recognize that since I was a pre-teen this was my go-to meal when I felt scared, alone, lost, and unloved. Both of my parents were pretty unavailable to my emotional needs at that time and I resorted to bulimia and then drugs and alcohol. I gave them all up at 20 when I entered rehab but I always thought that the drugs and alcohol were the problem…

    I was able to put down the bowl and spoon and come in here to write. The screen’s getting blurry with tears of gratitude for your words that are shining a light into what has been such a difficult journey; I’ve never been able to get past the compulsive eating and the shame behind what it’s done to my body.

    I thank you for walking your journey and sharing it with others.


    • Tahlee March 7, 2020 at 4:07 pm #

      Oh Dominique! Now you’ve got me going. Thank you honey, these shifts can be painful but they’re so liberating. Big teary hug to you my darling. xxx

  3. BellwetherGal March 16, 2020 at 3:38 pm #

    Tahlee - I too have an eating disorder (bulimia) and a food addiction. Much like alcoholism and drug addiction it is something I will have to be mindful about for the rest of my life.
    I got to my heaviest (over 200 hundred pounds; I’m 5’2″) the summer of 2011 and through WW I have gotten down to 118 lbs. Losing the weight seemed like a cake walk compared to the maintenance part of this journey. Maintenance has brought up so much stuff and the bulimia has reared its ugly head again (after being “dormant” for over 10 years). I found your blog in the perfect time and it has really helped me to put down the shame and to become mindful… These 9 steps are perfect. I am going to print them out and read them before each meal as part of my journey to having a healthier relationship to food.
    I just wanted you to know that I really enjoy the “you-ness” that shows up in your blog…your honesty…humor…compassion…wisdom…kindness as well as all of the tools you make available to your readers.
    I am grateful for you.
    ~ Deborah

    • Tahlee March 16, 2020 at 3:50 pm #

      Oh honey, thank you for your beautiful words. I’m so grateful for YOU. So glad to have you here.

      Keep going Deborah! You’ve started the journey of really healing yourself. At times it sure as hell feels much harder than losing pounds, but it’s so so worth it.

      Big squishy hug. x

  4. Me September 12, 2020 at 10:00 am #

    Thanks for the reference x

Leave a Reply