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The 3 Woes of Emotional Eaters and How to Break the Cycle

By Marion Holt January 14, 2023 Health and Fitness

Emotional eating is a form of compulsive eating. We eat when not hungry, and we cannot stop. Emotional eating is also a coping mechanism. We eat in response to positive and negative emotions. Food is a mood regulator, and we increase what we eat to compensate for what we feel.

Eating is a refuge that allows us to avoid uncomfortable emotions. Yes, we do gain weight because we eat too much and don’t move enough. Every expert we meet logically tells us that the solution is to eat less and move more. Duh. Wow! Like we never thought about it. The thing is: we can’t.

So, what exactly creates the urge to eat for us, emotional eaters, and how do we prevent cravings from happening?

Emotional Eaters Put Others’ Needs Before Their Own

Emotional eaters tend to believe they need to earn love and respect from the people around them. whether at home or at work, they don’t believe they can be valued just for who they are.

Emotional eaters don’t express their needs and feelings because they feel that attitude would turn them into a liability, or a burden. People who eat their emotions believe others are not around them because they like them, but because of what they can do for them. To stay likable, emotional eaters believe they need to prioritize the satisfaction of those with whom they want to maintain a good relationship.

As emotional eaters don’t express how they feel, they bottle their emotions inside, and they get stuck with these feelings. The inner pressure gets more intense, and emotional eaters turn to food for relief.

As their emotions don’t come to the surface, people around them don’t know how emotional eaters truly feel. There’s no complaint, and everybody assumes it’s just business as usual. The same unfulfilling situations keep on repeating, and emotional eaters keep on eating.

Emotional Eaters Struggle to Set Boundaries

As a direct consequence for putting others’ needs before their own, emotional eaters don’t let people know when a request goes too far. They feel very uneasy saying “no.”

Whenever work piles up on their desk, and their boss expect total devotion, emotional eaters do not protest. When their significant other or friends put themselves and their own needs in the center of the picture and fail to realize they are asking more than someone can handle, emotional eaters do not speak up.

Emotional eaters believe they are not entitled to say “no,” they don’t deserve a “special treatment,” or they should be more generous with their loved ones. They simply do what is expected of them, quietly, whatever the personal or emotional cost to them. Then, they turn around and eat.

Emotional Eaters Believe Their Needs Are Not Important

Why would anybody accept such terms in a relationship? Why eating instead of speaking up?

Emotional eaters believe their needs do not matter. They believe there is no point in expressing how they feel and what they need, because they think they would not be heard, or it would create some major arguments.

Emotional eaters think so because at some point in their life, this is indeed what happened to them. They tried to speak up, but it resulted in their situation getting worse. So, they learned to keep their head down and find another way to deal with their feelings.

When this pattern is repeated long enough, emotional eaters start to believe they are not listened to because they are not important enough to have a voice, or because they don’t deserve it. So, they cope with their unfulfilled needs using food.

Raising Self-Awareness to Decrease Emotional Eating

How can you break the cycle when you are stuck in such a pattern, and you want to lose weight?

A good starting point consists in consciously shifting your attention toward what you feel, instead of immediately numbing any uncomfortable feeling that may arise. By raising self-awareness, and getting back in touch with what you really feel, you can get a better picture of what exactly bothers you in a situation and why. Where your boundaries have been crossed and what you would have needed instead.

From there, you can learn what needs to change for you to feel more fulfilled. You can also learn to decrease your sensitivity to rejection and assert yourself in a positive way, by reinforcing your self-esteem. In addition, you can replace your negative, limiting beliefs with new, positive ones, that will help you remember you are always entitled to what you feel.

Please remember: you deserve to be heard just as much as anyone else, and you don’t have to take care of everyone at the cost of your own inner balance.

When you turn to comfort food despite your best efforts, you are not weak, and you don’t lack willpower. You are just compensating some difficult emotions or unmet needs by using food. The more you learn to listen to yourself and fulfill your own needs, the less you will need to eat for comfort.

If you are not sure whether you are an emotional eater or not, you are welcome to take my quiz.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What is a situation when you put others’ needs before your own? And how do you cope with your own needs being unfulfilled? Let us know in the comments.

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Not able to subscribe to your monthly newsletter. Please advise. Thank you

Marion HOLT

Thank you for letting me know Risa! I will investigate the issue and get back to you once I know what is going on!


As my granddaughters say, “Nailed it” or even closer to the truth, “Busted!” As the oldest child in my family with an extremely stressful relationship with my mother (former beauty queen, fraternity sweetheart, sorority queen, head cheerleader, etc) I see clearly how this relationship to food began. Plus, as an extremely empathetic and responsible little girl, looking after others and not causing anyone any trouble, those were my only reasons for existing. This article broke my heart in some ways but really opened my eyes.

Marion HOLT

I am so sorry to read about your place in the family when you were a child, Jennifer. Emotional eating stems from repressed emotions. We repress them because we cannot address the situation that causes these emotions. Either because it is too painful, either because we are not allowed to, sometimes a mix of both.
Facing the root issues of our relationship with food is usually hurtful, as we are going beyond our coping mechanism and face our truth. But as we do so, we finally get some power back. Once we are aware of what is going on and the hurtful pattern we have been repeating throughout our life, we become able to make new decisions and to create a life where we don’t need the comfort of food anymore.
I am sending you warm thoughts.


Ouch! I took your quiz – broke out in a sweat and craved some candy! That says it all. LOL

Marion HOLT

I am sure that must not have been fun. But that extra level of self-awareness will help you: every time you find yourself craving candy, you can now step back and ask yourself what is currently happening in your life to create such an emotional state.

The Author

Certified professional coach Marion Holt has been an emotional eater since childhood. No longer. In her workbook series, Never Eat Your Emotions Again, she shares specific behavioral expertise and techniques for efficiently recovering from emotional eating. She’s helped many others going through their own journey to a healthier relationship with food – and a much more fulfilled life.

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