emotional eating trigger

emotional eating | what’s your trigger?

One year in, the pandemic has a lot of us groaning about “the Quarantine 15” or even “the Covid 19″—those pounds, where did they come from?!?

For many of us, it could be due to emotional eating.

Just about every client I speak with these days mutters something about not being able to go to the gym, about being stuck at home with a house full of people and a kitchen full of food (and more food at a moment’s notice on speed dial). There are whispers about lack of will-power and self-discipline.

And there are some who confess outright that they have been stress eating/emotional eating. Emotions have been running high ever since the beginning of 2020—or earlier if you were paying attention to Covid-19’s debut in Asia.

Last week, I started this blog series on emotional eating by defining it as “using food for a purpose other than nourishment or satiation,” meaning that:

  • Food can become a coping mechanism for emotions you don’t want to feel.
  • You might employ food to feel better, self-soothe, numb, or fill a void.
  • You might restrict your food to feel some sense of control.

The first step in finding a way out of emotional eating involves figuring out whether we’re hunger on a physical level or an emotional one.

If your hunger is an emotional one and you want to quit eating in response to this cue, the next step is to figure out what your triggers are.

what’s your trigger?

The factors that lead us to eat emotionally are—naturally—emotions. Although some of us certainly (over)eat when we’re happy, the emotions that can drive us to eat are usually what we consider negative.

There are two simple acronyms that I offer clients when they’re trying to identify what emotion they are feeling as they are reaching for food:

  • HALT: Are you hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?
  • BLAST: are you bored, lonely, angry, stressed, or tired?

And those emotions normally arise from external situations and cues—our triggers. Let’s take a look at a few of them:


Certain places can affect how much and what we eat—and like smells, they’re often tied to memories.

  • Do you tend to eat more at your parents’ house than you do at your own?
  • How about on the couch in front of the TV or at the dinner table?
  • In a restaurant (if you remember what that is) or at home?


  • Are you “hungry” because it’s breakfast (or lunch or dinner) time?
  • Do you eat on a schedule rather than because you are physically hungry?
  • Do you tend to eat more at dinner than at breakfast?
  • Do you eat “preventively” because you know you get “hangry”—a combination of hungry and angry experienced by those who let their blood sugar drop just a little too low? (New word alert! I recently heard about a new emotion: “pangry:” angry because of what the pandemic is doing to us.)

sleep (as in lack of)

  • Have you ever noticed that you eat more (especially more refined carbohydrates) after a poor night’s sleep?

other people

  • Do you find yourself eating out of obligation? (She cooked this for me, it would be rude not to….)
  • How about due to peer pressure? (Everyone else is getting a burger. I was going to have a salad, but….)

cultural messages

  • It’s the holidays—time to splurge!
  • We’re eating at a fancy restaurant—we’re expected to have all the courses!
  • In our culture, we celebrate with food.

preceding events

  • Did you just have an uncomfortable conversation at work?
  • Were you relieved to have survived a presentation you were dreading?
  • Did your teenager just have a meltdown?
  • Did you just narrowly avoid an accident?

track your triggers

Once you have begun to notice when you are eating due to emotional hunger, start tracking two more patterns:

  1. What’s the emotion you’re feeling as you reach for that food?
  2. What triggered that emotion?

I know, it feels like a lot of work, all this tracking! And if you are trying to get a handle on your emotional eating tendencies, you won’t get there through self-discipline and will-power: that’s like trying to close a gaping wound in need of stitches with a bandaid.

We need to figure out what the root cause is (the emotion) and not just the symptom (the eating)—in the same way functional medicine and other alternative practitioners treat the cause of an illness, not just the symptoms.

That’s definitely enough homework for this week—start naming the emotions you’re feeling as you reach for food and try to figure out what triggered that emotion. Next week we’ll dig into what to do about those emotions.

make the connection

The topic of emotional eating is closely linked with stress, and it comes up constantly in my EAT™ group coaching program—so much so that I’m starting to think about offering a separate program on the topic later this spring.

Interested? Send me an email and let me know—you’ll be the first to get details!

[Photo by David Garrison from Pexels]