At the core of every emotional eating trigger is a feeling. These vary between boredom, stress, exhaustion, anger, sadness or loneliness. We associate these types of feelings as being bad and negative and although we would prefer not to have to deal with them, they are actually really important. They are your body’s way of telling you something isn’t quite as it should be.

If we learn to listen and understand them, we are then able to act on the feeling and therefore lead ourselves to a happier, less stressful and more mindful life.

Below Nutritional Health Coach Holly Zoccolan, Founder of The Health Zoc explains what emotional eating is and how you can overcome those habits.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is a response to a feeling rather than that of true hunger. Emotional Eating is used as a way of dealing with certain emotions rather than allowing ourselves to feel those emotions. Most people are unable to differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger and therefore have weight issues as a result.

In general, when you crave sugary foods it is due to either:

1) A lack of carbohydrates in your diet and a calorie-restricted diet. When you cut out a high percentage of calories from your diet with the hope of losing weight, you will more often than not end up binge eating and becoming more obsessed with food than you ever have! This is your body’s way of telling you that you aren’t eating enough.

2) Something else is going on in your life on a much deeper level than just the food. This is where the emotional eating triggers come into play.

We use emotional eating as a way of dealing with emotions rather than feeling them. We are all human, we all experience these emotions for a reason. We need to learn to be in touch with ourselves, our emotions and FEEL them!

What to do when the triggers strike?


The Fool-Proof Way to Lose Weight & Stop Emotional Eating! If I could give anyone a tip on how to be accountable for what they are eating during the day; whether they are wanting to lose weight or start to eat a healthier diet, it would be to start a food journal.

An honest food journal; emphasis on honesty here. There’s no point in being dishonest about what you are eating. You are only being dishonest to yourself and therefore how do you expect to evolve if you aren’t being honest with yourself?

Start to input your food into a food journal and you may be surprised about how many of those ‘little snacks’ actually add up! There are so many excellent free apps which allow you to input your food in throughout the day. I recommend my clients use MyFitnessPal or Life Sum.

Once you get the hang of inputting your food into your journal, I would also suggest carrying a small notebook in your handbag for you to write down when you are starting to crave the sugary foods and are reaching for the snacks when you aren’t actually hungry.

Ask yourself, how am I feeling in this exact moment? Maybe you are feeling stressed at work, maybe you are bored, maybe you feel lonely? Write down the answer to this question. Notice what types of food you are craving in this exact moment. Notice how you aren’t actually hungry right now. Notice that it’s your emotions that you are feeding. Take 5 deep breaths and walk away from these foods and leave your trigger with them. You don’t need to take this trigger back with you to your desk or wherever you are heading next. Another way for us to work through these emotional eating triggers using your food journal is to practice dealing with the emotion at hand by yourself. Without any distractions. Without any food. Once you have started writing down the triggers and what foods you were craving as discussed above, start to take a moment and deal with the emotion at hand.


Starting to become more present enables us to become more in-tune with our emotions and feelings. Practicing mindfulness allows us to spot our triggers when they strike and show us exactly what has caused us that specific trigger. You may notice that after your afternoon meeting you crave chocolate and as you become more mindful you become aware that the reason you are craving this chocolate is because the meeting was stressful and you now feel like you have a million things to do at once!

So, in this instance, you may start to become aware of this and instead of reaching for a bar of chocolate to satisfy that Emotional Eating Trigger, having a cup of chamomile tea (for example) would be a much better way of dealing with this emotion of stress as it will enable you to feel calm and collected as opposed to getting the sugar rush from the chocolate bar which will spike your blood sugar then cause a sugar crash and will leave you craving even more sugary foods as your trigger is still very much active!

By practicing mindfulness you also reduce the risk of mindLESS eating. MindLESS eating comes off the back of giving in to the Emotional Eating Triggers. When you give in to the trigger, you become totally unaware of what you are actually eating as your trigger tells you that this food is what you need right now, regardless of how unhealthy the food is. Becoming aware of the triggers, when they strike and what the emotion is that is attached to the trigger, you become more mindful of not choosing the unhealthy foods and shifting your mindset to actually understand what is going on rather than mindlessly consuming these foods which will just continue the Emotional Eating cycle over and over again.


We are all constantly stimulated. Every minute of every day we can find stimulation. We are rarely ever bored. And if we are, we usually delve into mindless eating and we search for stimulation.

Boredom is the most common reason why we turn to Emotional Eating. I’m here to tell you to enjoy and make the most of being bored! Yes, really. We are only on this beautiful planet in this incredible physical body once. Why not make the most of it? Boredom gives you the opportunity to explore, learn, grow and find a new hobby which will uplift you. Instead of reaching for the packet of crisps, chocolate, sweets to occupy your time and to satisfy your trigger, why not create a list of activities of things you may be interested in doing? You could learn about a new topic on the internet / YouTube, expand your knowledge and try something new!

Boredom is also a way to get more self-care into your routine. If you find yourself bored at home, why not treat yourself to a relaxing long hot bath or shower, a face mask, body scrub, a lit candle and some relaxing music. Other self-care activities you could do at home are Guide Meditations or Yoga, go out for a walk and listen to your favourite podcast or perhaps take a nap!

‘Time’ is the most precious gift we have been given on this earth. Use your precious time wisely and to your benefit rather than punish yourself by gorging on unhealthy foods as a way to waste time and stimulate yourself during boredom.


Lowering your stress levels will lower the frequency of your Emotional Eating Triggers. Stress causes a huge amount of emotion within our minds and our bodies. Learning strategies to reduce your stress levels will help you to notice your emotions more clearly and distinguish emotional hunger from physical hunger.

Tips to reduce stress levels:

Get Better Sleep – Lack of sleep causes severe stress on your body and mind. You can’t function properly, you get brain fog and you crave those sugary foods. We are already too stressed in our regular day-to-day lives, never mind adding these added stressors into the equation! Try taking a hot shower or bath before bed, practice a short 10-minute meditation and get an earlier night than usual. Once you sleep better you may soon notice you feel like a different person!

Practice Deep Breathing – It’s no secret that deep breathing assists with reducing stress levels, yet we tend to ignore it. If you suddenly feel stressed throughout the day maybe after your morning commute, after a work meeting or maybe your car broke down (ugh!) take 5 deep breaths, close your eyes and pause for a moment. Taking deep breaths reduces your stress levels and can help you deal with the stressful situation at hand with a clearer mind.

Switch Coffee for Herbal Tea – Switching your regular afternoon coffee for herbal tea instead will not only decrease your cortisol levels (the hormone which is amplified by stress), tea also enables a steadier energy level throughout the day and doesn’t disrupt your sleep like caffeine in coffee does. Also, herbal teas contain higher antioxidants, assist with boosting the metabolism and therefore could be said to increase weight loss! Definitely worth the switch.

words Holly Zoccolan