Campus News

Dietetics director discusses emotional eating

Emma Laing, clinical professor and director of dietetics in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, spoke with Everyday Health about emotional eating.

Emotional eating occurs when a person leans heavily on eating as a coping mechanism for negative emotions. While it is not a clinical diagnosis or a term with a clinical definition that all experts agree on, many experts agree that it is problematic.

“When emotional eating is accompanied by feelings of shame or numbness, an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, or a loss of control, you could be developing a negative relationship with food, a pattern of restrictive eating, or other disordered eating behavior,” Laing said.

Experts explained signs that emotional eating may be a problem including sudden cravings for specific, high-fat foods, mindless stress eating, eating when you’re not hungry or to cope, and feelings of guilt or shame about eating.

Laing noted that while emotive eating is a normal reaction to being bored or anxious, if eating is the only way that you cope, it may be a sign of a bigger issue.

She also explained that it’s normal to have feelings about what you eat.

“When we limit our view of food to merely a source of fuel, a mechanism to curb hunger, or a tool to change our body size, we minimize its other important roles that also support health,” Laing said. “Food unites us with others, satisfies our taste buds, celebrates our cultures and traditions, and reconnects us with treasured memories.”

However, a tell that something more is going on is if eating always evokes feelings of shame or weakness.

Laing suggests speaking with your primary care doctor, a mental health professional or a registered dietitian for more resources.