Today my boss yelled at me and tonight I ate a quart of ice cream.

The message to self soothe with high fat, high carb comfort foods is everywhere.  On our way home from a weekend getaway today, my husband and I stopped in a lovely cafe in Boonville, CA.  We saw a card in their gift store that said, “I was sad ‘til I had Lauren’s fries!”

Experts believe 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.  People often eat in response to feelings of stress, depression, loneliness, boredom, anxiety, and anger.  Even happiness results in excess food celebrations.  Emotional overeating leads to weight gain which results in lowered self esteem.  Negative self image increases anxiety and depression leading to even more weight gain.  The downward spiral becomes a firmly entrenched habit that prevents you from learning effective skills to resolve your emotional distress. In the words of a report from the American Psychological Association, “Weight loss is never successful if you remain burdened by stress and other negative feelings.”

The triggers for emotional eating range from a fight with your boss, spouse, or child; a long commute; an overly scheduled lifestyle to a bout of depression that leaves one feeling hopeless and unmotivated.

The bottom line is you can’t use food to soothe your emotions AND lose weight.  Here are some simple, yet effective stress management tools to crawl out of the vicious cycle.

1) Diaphragmatic or belly breathing. Breathe in peace and calm; breathe out tensions and worries.
2) Listen to music and/or dance.
3) Tai chi
4) Yoga
5) Progressive muscle relaxation- Learn the difference between tense and relaxed muscles.
6) Meditation-Try a Jon Kabat Zinn or Pema Chodron CD.
7) Get involved in an art project.
8) Ride your bike.  (Take advantage of the remaining weeks of summer.)
9) Walk or jog.
10) Keep perspective.  Write down 3 things you’re grateful for daily.
11) Learn to identify, listen to, and change your negative self talk.

When in doubt about what to do, slow down your impulse to soothe with food by walking away from tbe kitchen and use the “pause technique”.  Gently grab the hand you eat with; take 3 calming breaths; and ask yourself the following questions:  “What am I thinking? What am I feeling, and what is it I REALLY need right now?”

If all else fails, try an anxiety reducing primal scream instead of reaching for the ice cream.

What tools do you use?

Check out HealthyWage, the incentive experts who pay you to be healthy.

Ellen is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco and Redwood City, California. She specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and incorporates the use of mindfulness into the treatment of depression, anxiety, and emotional overeating. She runs a holistic weight loss program called Center for Thoughtful Weight Loss,

Email Ellen at and learn what to do about What’s Eating You.

copyright © 2010 Ellen N. Resnick, LCSW

Reprinted with permission

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