Hypnotherapy for emotional eating

Many of us know to eat at least five vegetables or fruits per day, stick to lean or white meat, and avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar. Yet when it comes to emotional eating, it’s often only the naughty stuff that will do. 

Junk and comfort foods have the ability to make us feel better, even temporarily, but for some people, indulging in an occasional treat can develop into an unhealthy habit. 

Emotional or stress eating not only impacts your physical health, it can also lead to binge eating and other mental health complications. 

But why do we eat emotionally, is there a way to better control our food choices and can hypnotherapy break this unhealthy cycle? Let’s find out. 

What is emotional eating?

Many people have perfectly healthy relationships with food: they can take or leave what’s in their cupboards and if they decide to splurge on junk food, they’ll do so once every month as a treat. 

However, our traditional hunger cues can be knocked out of kilter when we’re faced with periods of stress or anxiety. The cravings hit and our caloric intake goes through the roof. 

It’s important to underscore at this point that emotional eating is not a sign of personal weakness, or proof of a lack of willpower. 

In many cases, it is a blend of our body’s biological pathways and a coping mechanism for negative emotions, such as isolation, boredom, stress and even anger.

Fight or flight 

The human body is an amazing machine, but in some ways it hasn’t moved with the times. Before we rose to the top of the food chain and faced a genuine threat from predators, our bodies would release cortisol, dubbed the ‘stress hormone’. 

It enables the ‘fight or flight’ response: an increase in blood pressure, pulse and breathing rates, as well as blood flow to the muscles, enabling us to physically escape the danger. 

In this modern age however, even the smallest issues can trigger the full fight or flight response, leaving us with chronic stress and high levels of circulating cortisol. 

It compels us to absorb the energy needed to make a quick getaway, but of course if the physical action does not follow, all that food is stored as visceral fat, which tends to collect around our organs. 

Even worse, many of the comfort foods we reach for during periods of stress have been created to target our brains’ pleasure receptors. That’s why sugary products, like ice cream and chocolate, make us feel good. 

Interestingly, scientific studies have shown women tend to use food as a coping mechanism more than men, who turn to alcohol and smoking. 

Developing bad habits 

Cortisol isn’t the only chemical signal our bodies send out that can prompt people to over eat. 

The pleasure we get from snacking on biscuits, sweets and treats releases dopamine, which helps prompt feelings of euphoria, bliss, motivation and pleasure. 

All the aforementioned refined, sugary treats have been shown to encourage dopamine signalling in the brain, and that ‘high’ can become addictive. 

So the next time we’re feeling stressed, anxious or even just a bit down, our brain remembers how sugary foods made us feel, prompting us to repeat the same behaviour for the same emotion.   

The difference between emotional and physical hunger

Many of us can tell the difference between when we’re genuinely hungry and when we’re craving certain foods for the sugar kick they provide. But it’s not the same for everyone. 

If you’re prone to emotional eating, distinguishing the two can be tricky if you’re not sure what to look for. 

Physical hunger 

  • comes on more slowly 
  • we are happier to eat more balanced meals 
  • we are more aware of what we’re eating 
  • easier to stop eating when we are full 
  • we can feel and hear when we are physically hungry
  • commonly no feelings of guilt or shame 

Emotional hunger 

  • comes on suddenly and can feel urgent and overwhelming
  • prompts immediate cravings for specific foods and only these will satisfy our hunger
  • Leads to mindless eating, without tasting or enjoying foods
  • can lead to ‘bingeing’ or eating beyond the point of fullness. It can be hard to stop
  • can be a craving that we can’t get out of our mind
  • often leads to unhealthy food choices that leave us guilty or ashamed

Common causes of emotional eating 

We’ve already established emotional eating can occur when we feel stressed or we’re unable to say no when the sugar cravings hit. 

Yet there are other reasons why we experience emotional hunger as well as physical hunger. 

Emotional eating is rarely mindful eating. Many people eat even though they are not hungry or are full. Some eat to soothe negative emotions of sadness or boredom, which can lead to feelings of guilt. 

But not all emotional eating is connected to negative emotions. As with so many learned behaviours, our childhood habits can shape our adult selves. 

It makes sense for young people who were rewarded with their favourite foods for good behaviour to continue this cycle when they grow up. 

There is an interesting contradiction for some people struggling with their eating behaviours and emotional cravings. On the one hand, food makes them feel safe, but on the other, they feel powerless or lack control around food. 

All of these factors can contribute to emotional eating. 

Binge eating disorder (BED) 

It’s important at this stage to differentiate between occasional over-indulgence and binge eating disorder (BED), which is a severe mental illness. 

It is characterised by people who regularly eat large amounts of food in one sitting, often when they are not hungry. 

They exhibit a loss of control during a binge and are overwhelmed with feelings of shame or guilt afterward, which has a hugely negative impact on their mental health.

BED is almost three times more common than Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, while 40% of BED sufferers are male. 

The emotional eating cycle 

People who are affected by emotional eating are often caught in a negative cycle. 

They can’t always distinguish between emotional and physical hunger, which makes it hard to overcome food cravings and practise mindful eating. 

For an emotional eater the cycle can look something like this: 

  • Something happens that upsets/excites them
  • They are compelled to eat emotionally 
  • They consume more than they know they should 
  • They feel guilty and/or powerless about their food intake

The problems of disordered eating are then made worse by several knock-on effects, which can be both physical and mental.  

The impact of unhealthy eating habits

The most obvious side-effect of emotional eating or binge eating junk foods is the impact on our bodies in the form of weight gain. 

Eating our favourite foods, rather than healthier options, when we respond to emotional hunger is more likely to see those pounds pile on. 

That can make it harder to stay in shape, leaving us feeling stressed, and could lead to longer-term health issues, such as heart disease or diabetes. 

The physical results of our poor eating habits can also give our mental health a pounding too. 

We may not feel guilty about the occasional burger or biscuit while watching TV, but as we struggle to distinguish physical hunger from emotional hunger, our food intake rises and our waistlines expand. 

That could trigger emotional eating that leads to a drop in self esteem and mental health conditions such as depression, creating another negative cycle for the mental health of people struggling with their eating behaviours. 

In the worst cases, it could even become a full-blown eating disorder.   

How to stop emotional eating  

There are several ways we can improve our eating habits and, where needed, begin the journey to weight loss. The first order of business is to identify and separate physical hunger from emotional hunger, and there are two ways you can do this: 

Plan your weekly meals

An emotional eater is likely to make more mindful food choices if they plan a week’s meals in advance, rather than reacting to emotional hunger. 

Eat when you’re hungry

Responding to hunger cues is good for your mental health. Making time to eat food when you’re hungry is mindful, don’t wait until you are ravenous and listen to your body’s fullness cues.

Focus on your feelings

We don’t always know exactly what feelings drive us to emotionally eat. Sometimes it’s stress, other times boredom, or perhaps you feel you deserve a little reward. 

Try to find time every day to reflect on your emotional state and determine whether it’s driving an unhelpful or negative eating behaviour. Will eating that slice of pizza make you feel satisfied, or sad? 

Identify emotional eating patterns

Paying attention to when you’re eating and also when you choose not to is incredibly important. 

Try to identify which situations prompt bouts of emotional eating and what comfort food you crave at those times. 

Eating deliberately

Removing the emotional reasons behind what we eat, especially our favourite food, can help with disordered eating and avoid triggers. 

Instead, make the conscious decision about eating, and lay out exactly what you’re planning on eating and when. Ask yourself if you are actively choosing to consume a particular comfort food, and if not, why not? 

Stay connected

The pandemic was incredibly disruptive for millions of people, whose daily lives and routines were thrown into complete disarray. 

It demonstrated on a global scale what we already knew: isolation from our day-to-day rhythms, communities and social networks can lead to an increase in stress levels and a rise in emotional eating. 

Staying in touch with friends, family and work colleagues, even remotely, helps bring down our stress and anxiety levels, and reduce our reliance on emotional eating. 

That important peer support can help people cope with difficult emotions and enhance eating behaviours.

Be kind to yourself 

It can be easy to fall into a negative cycle when we’re under pressure emotionally, but it’s important to maintain those positive emotions. 

Don’t let an emotional eating slip-up or a downbeat food moment overshadow your weight loss goal or any other personal targets. 

Practise deep breathing and use it to reset from the moment you fell back into emotional eating, before starting over. 

Alongside regular physical activity and eating healthy food, being kind and compassionate with yourself are among the most important tools for managing emotional eating.  

Put a note on the fridge 

Some people tape a photograph to their fridge as a reminder to stop eating naughty food, but this could prompt negative thoughts about self image in emotional eating types.  

Direct questions, sent via smartphone, may be more helpful. It’s worth asking whether the latest trip to the fridge is because you are physically hungry, or if you have an emotional need you are looking to satisfy through eating junk food. 

You can also ask if the food you’re eating would be what you would serve to a family member. 

It’s all part of the wider concept of mindful eating. You can do this by: 

Involving your five senses before eating your meal: consider the size and colour of the food. 

Paying attention to your sense of hunger: where is it in your body? Does it have a shape or colour? Is it sharp and defined or more of an ache? Can you define it in other ways? 

Trying to focus on the texture, taste and smell of the food you’re eating. If you’re a fast eater, put down your cutlery between mouthfuls and pinpoint the exact moment where you want to swallow. Repeat these steps until you have finished all your food.

Can hypnotherapy help me lose weight?

The short answer is yes, hypnotherapy can be effective for people struggling with emotional eating who want to lose weight. 

As a Solution Focused clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapist, I believe we all possess an inner strength and resource to achieve our goals. 

However, sometimes people just need a little help or guidance, and I offer this in a compassionate and non-judgmental way. 

So, how can hypnotherapy help people deal with their food cravings and emotional eating behaviours, and help achieve weight loss? 

Breaking negative behaviours

Hypnotherapy works to end the negative behaviours and food thought patterns underpinning emotional eating.

The techniques I use help soothe negative emotions linked to your food intake, whether that’s anxiety, boredom or feeling lonely and isolated. 

Hypnotherapy also helps identify and find ways to overcome triggers for cravings, bolstering measures such as regular weekly meal planning or keeping a food diary, and supporting weight loss efforts. 

What to expect during a hypnotherapy session 

First of all, forget everything you’ve ever seen or read about hypnosis in the entertainment world. You won’t be asked to do anything embarrassing or silly. 

During my hypnotherapy sessions, patients are gently eased into a state similar to daydreaming or how you feel when you’re watching TV. 

This natural, relaxed state allows their mind to fully focus on the thoughts or suggestions I give them to overcome their poor eating habits, and that will bring about positive change when it comes to food.  

As well as helping stop emotional eating in its tracks, hypnotherapy can also ensure you won’t pay attention to emotional hunger: no more turning to food when you feel stressed, anxious or bored. That’s how it can help people lose weight. 

Benefits of hypnotherapy for emotional eating

The benefits to our bodies of ditching emotional eating and embracing better eating habits and good food are obvious. 

Alongside weight loss, improved physical health also reduces the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes or cancer. 

Of course our physical health correlates with our mental health too. Clients who are better able to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger are less likely to resort to stress eating bad food. 

No more guilt or shame associated with emotional eating. The risk of developing full-blown eating disorders is significantly reduced. They can even celebrate any weight loss by eating their favourite food, knowing it’s not the start of a slippery slope. 

All of which leads to a vast drop in emotional distress, potential weight loss, a boost in positive feelings about yourself and the food you eat, as well as greater self-confidence. 


Hypnotherapy has helped so many of my clients, some of whom have issues linked to food and eating, see themselves in a whole new light. One patient said my sessions helped them gain confidence and overcome certain life stresses. 

“I am always happy and relaxed during my visits and I feel that my quality of life has significantly improved since attending hypnotherapy,” they said. 

Another told me how hypnotherapy has improved their confidence and ability to deal with stress. 

They said my explanation of how our minds work gave them a much better understanding of what is going on when they get very anxious and that in itself has been very helpful.

Book your free initial consultation 

If you’re having difficulty separating emotional and physical hunger, or want to get healthy by losing weight, my hypnotherapy sessions can help. 

It all starts with a free Zoom call, during which I’ll find out what you hope to achieve with hypnotherapy for emotional eating, and how many sessions you might need.

Contact me and let’s get started

Are you ready to take control of your weight management, ditch the mindless eating and get back to enjoying food? Fantastic!

You can find me every Thursday at Salus Wellness Clinics Norman House in Cambridge Place, Cambridge, on Fridays at Coach House Health Care in Trumpington, and every Wednesday at Integrity Centre Moorgate in London.
To check my availability for hypnotherapy sessions and book your free initial consultation, visit my free consultation diary or email me at sevarin@lifeflowhypnotherapy.co.uk.

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