Emotional Eating: What it is & What it isn't

I spent most of my adult life as an emotional eater and for the first half, I didn't even know it. I honestly had no idea. I just thought I liked food. I just liked to eat and loved the taste of all those highly-palatable foods we're told we're not supposed to be eating. That's what I honestly believed.

Then I started trying to train for a figure competition where I had no choice but to not touch those things and emotionally, I fell apart. I was struggling hard with all the cravings and obsessive thoughts about food (that ended up causing the binge eating) but what I didn't realize initially was that the new struggles I was experiencing to just be able to get through the day when I was "on track" and perfectly following what I was supposed to eat, were because I no longer had my go-to coping strategy to rely on.

I started noticing that the days that I was allowing myself to "cheat", emotionally, I felt way more like I had my shit together. The days I was "on track", I was a hot mess emotionally.

One. Big. Walking. Raw. Nerve.

I used to describe it as feeling "emotionally itchy". It was like having an itch I couldn't scratch - from way down deep within me.

After a few months, it finally occurred to me - I was an emotional eater.

Truly, I had no idea until then.

So of course, I did what any rational woman would do when trying to get lean and build a perfect body, I spent the next few years trying to ignore it and willpower my way through it! Hah.

That was cute. And doesn't work.

Eventually, and thankfully, I got to the point in my own journey that I decided enough was enough. In the same way I decided years earlier that I was changing my weight to "fix" my problems, this time I decided I was actually going to dig into the things causing the things I was struggling with and I was going to learn how to change those.

The mindless & emotional eating, the binge eating, the obsession with my body that was fueled by the belief that I was unlovable if I wasn't wrapped in the perfect package, the shame and self-loathing, the constant abusive inner dialogue that left me feeling like the inside of my head was a war-zone whenever I was awake - all of it.

I'll be honest, the emotional eating took the longest and only really stopped in the last year but it was a process that slowly just kept improving over time. The last couple years, I was still relying on food in times of extreme stress or distress and even when I would, it was such small amounts, that I didn't even care. It wasn't even something on my radar as needing to be "fixed" anymore.

But miraculously, as I kept working, growing, learning and healing, it just slowly kept improving until one day late last fall, I realized that I have survived some very painful and difficult things without relying on food at all and as a matter of fact, I couldn't remember the last time I fed emotions.

That's how this whole process of change works.

We're taught there's an end date - and therein lies the problem.

I knew going into my own efforts that there was no end date - only learning and intentionally practicing what I'd learned, one moment at a time, one hour at a time, one day at a time.

And change doesn't happen in one sweeping moment either. We don't wake up one day a different person, with all the things we're struggling with magically just gone.

We practice. Again, moment by moment, day by day, and slowly, over time, the trend moves towards struggling less and less and less. It's the "solution" everyone wants but the truth that most people won't tell you.

The upside is that every day, just slowly gets a little better and a little easier than the day before.

So with all that said, let's dive into more on emotional eating for you, specifically, what it is, what it isn't and what I did to stop.

What it is:

✔  A fairly normal coping strategy that almost everyone relies on at least a little bit at some point in their lives

✔ Just another way humans numb out - no different than relying on alcohol, drugs, shopping, or even mindlessly scrolling social media, or bingeing on Netflix

✔ Wiring in our brains that, over time, learned to associate food as the fix for non-hunger related discomforts (lack of love, fear, connection, uncomfortable emotions, etc)

What it isn't:

✖ A sign of weakness

✖ A character flaw

✖ Something to be ashamed of

✖ A pattern you have to be stuck in forever

As someone who spent most of her adult life as an emotional eater and has finally, successfully learned to change that too, it's really a glorious not feeling uncontrollably driven to reach for food all the time.

The first thing I did, to start learning how to stop? I gave myself permission to do it.

Why on earth would I do that when it sounds like the opposite of what we should do? Well, hating myself for it wasn't making it stop, it was only making it worse. Hating yourself is a pretty strong emotion. And what happens to emotions when you're an emotional eater? You feed them! So, permission was the first step to help stop that nasty little hating myself feeling that drove a lot of it.

Then, I got good at understanding my thoughts, and how they were impacting my emotions.

Then, I learned how to manage, or choose to ignore my thoughts.

And I learned how to manage and accept my emotions. I learned that I don't need to be afraid of them, I don't need to judge them or try to force them away, I can survive giving them space to just be and I have the power to choose to feel different ones when it's appropriate.

And I just kept practicing all those skills until... FREEDOM. I've built that entire process into cognitive eating. It doesn't just help you understand emotional eating, I gives you the tools you need to learn how to manage and live with emotions, without food.

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About The Author

Roni Davis
Cognitive Eating Founder

Writer, Producer, Host - It's All In Your Head Podcast

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Roni Davis spent over two decades struggling with weight, food (mindless, emotional and binge eating), an eating disorder, depression, panic attacks, and an anxiety disorder. She's also been a nationally qualified champion figure athlete, written for bodybuilding websites, was featured in a national fitness magazine, by Bodybuilding.com and spent almost a decade helping people transform their bodies as an award-winning personal trainer and nutrition and wellness coach.


After over two decades of her own personal weight & food struggles and almost a decade in the weight loss/fitness industry, Roni left the fitness industry and bundled everything she learned from her own recovery, from her time as a trainer & nutrition & wellness coach with everything she learned in her mindfulness-based cognitive behavior coach training, to create Cognitive Eating.  This allows her to guide and support people to live healthier lives through behavior and habit modification at the brain level, where it counts and will actually stick.

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NOTE: While counselors or therapists often use CBT to deal with mental illness or a patient’s mental/emotional conditions and/or processing trauma, MBCT & cognitive eating does not. My roll as a coach, in its most simple form, is to encourage, coach and/or act as a facilitator of a client’s self-reflection, decision making, planning for the future, and creating life changes. As an MBCT & cognitive eating coach, I am obligated to refer clients in need of mental or physical health therapy to an appropriate licensed professional.  

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