Is It Food, Or Just A Bad Mood: Untangling The Food-mood Connection

Ok, girls, let’s take a quick poll.

How many of you eat when you’re not hungry?

You know what I’m talking about.

Maybe you’re bored. Maybe you’re stressed out of your mind. Maybe you had a blow up with your husband over the Visa bill (am I the only one?), mother-in-law, or kids. Maybe you had possibly the worst day at work, ever.

The reason is unimportant.

I’m willing to bet there isn’t a dieter alive who hasn’t fallen victim to mood eating. I know I’ve been victimized so many times I stopped counting. This is why I refer to mood eating as the “big white elephant in the room.”

Mood or emotional eating is the #1 most common issue I see with clients, and a leading cause of diet failure, but never does it have anything to do with food. Rather than feel our uncomfortable feelings or emotions, or find a constructive outlet for our boredom, most of us would rather hide in a dish of ice cream, a bag of potato chips, or a slice of pizza.

Bottom line: Mood eating is about seeking comfort in all the wrong places when “emotional” hunger strikes.




Mood eating is all about immediacy. It’s not about finding what tastes unbelievable, but rather what can be quickly and easily popped into our mouths. Mood foods are designed for instant gratification.


But judgment does come. Not from your BFF or even your spouse. Judgment comes from your pants.


Mood eating calories add up quickly, often without notice. The temporary reward we receive from a cookie, a handful of chips, or bite-sized chocolates is soon replaced by extra pounds, a larger clothing size, and tons of self-loathing and remorse.





Often I’m asked where mood eating originates. For sure, there’s a definite, reasonably consistent connection between negative emotions and high calorie foods. After 20 years and hundreds of clients, I still haven’t seen a SINGLE mood eater reach for an apple, or kale salad. Once in the mood, people’s hands ALWAYS reach for the cookie jar, the candy bag, or the ‘kids’ snack drawer.





One of the things I love about my work is that there’s a solution for every problem, even for mood eating. Below are SIX favorite strategies for avoiding the food-mood trap.


  1. AWARENESS IS KEY—Awareness is the first step to overcoming emotional eating. It may seem obvious, but many mood eaters don’t even recognize when they’re eating out of anger or boredom. In all likelihood, this is a behavior that started in childhood and has been reinforced over time. The source isn’t as important as knowing the difference between eating when you’re hungry or angry. And here’s the cool thing- you don’t need to fix it. You just need to be aware of it. To name what you are feeling in the moment.
  2. DON’T BRING YOUR MOOD FOODS INTO YOUR HOUSE—Stop bringing those mood foods home. Seriously, this is a top strategy to end emotional eating. You can’t eat what’s not there. Remember, mood eaters want convenience and immediacy. They’re interested in foods that can be popped into their mouths quickly and easily; they’re not going to sit down to a four-course gourmet meal or spend hours preparing an elaborate dessert. Protecting your home environment is a key step to putting an end to emotional eating. It’s that simple.
  3. DON’T GO HUNGRY—You’re less likely to reach for a mood food or other bad boyfriend, if you’re not hungry. Along with your regular meals, pencil in two or three snacks of no more than 150 calories each. Many dieters find that light midafternoon snacks help stave off hunger. Just make sure your choice of snack isn’t a bad boyfriend. And don’t worry if you feel the need to have one of these snacks late at night. Though some ‘expert’s may tell that eating at night is worse for your waistline, calories consumed after dark are no more detrimental to your weight than those eaten during the day. Calories are calories. It doesn’t matter what time you eat them. What matters is the number of calories you consume!
  4. CLOSE THE KITCHEN—Your kitchen isn’t a 24-hour diner. Set a time when you’re going to clean up, turn off the lights, and announce that the kitchen is closed for business. I have a client who shuts down her kitchen every night at 8:00 P.M. without fail. If her husband happens to come home late from work and hasn’t eaten dinner, he knows he has to pick up his own dinner. My client tells him, “Hi, honey, you are on your own.” Remember, a lot of mood eating takes place at night; so the earlier you do this the skinnier you’re going to be.
  5. KEEP A FOOD DIARY—Every girl needs a little black book or two. A Personal food record is vital to staying organized and on top of their game. You can’t undo what you’ve done, but you can certainly shift your perspective. If you blow it one day, consider why that happened. My clients find that keeping a record of their daily food intake or writing down a detailed food plan helps them stay on track, whether they’re trying to lose weight or maintain their weight and activity levels.
  6. HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE SOOTHING ACTIVITY YOU ENJOY—Find an activity you enjoy that truly soothes you. But it must be quick, easy and accessible, the way the carton of Edy’s Light ice cream is. I love to watch Bravo TV, read a book with a gripping story, or online shop (I don’t even press the buy button half the time. Remember, the Visa bill battle from the intro). Anything that will distract you until you’ve gone from a 10 on the “need to numb out scale” to around a 7.

Ok, ladies, time for a reality check. And please remember I am just the messenger. Your mostly fabulous LIFE WON’T ALWAYS BE FABULOUS. IN FACT, IT’S GOING TO SUCK sometimes. Uncomfortable emotions, vexing problems, and untenable situations are a part of the human condition—we must get used to them. They’ll be there whether you’re living on carrot sticks and kale or drowning your sorrows in a vat of Oreos. You can handle life’s challenges fat, or you can handle them thin. I’ve done both, and I can say with confidence that thin is better. You run your household, small business and children’s schedules. Food shouldn’t get in the way of all you need to do.

How long are you going to let a cookie be your boss, judge, savior, or executioner?

Until we ‘eat’ again.



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