Wednesday 13 November 2019

What are the ‘emotional eating triggers’ stopping you from losing weight?

Freya Drohan

According to a leading weight management expert, tackling your feelings about food is key to weight loss success.

When you sit down to eat a meal or grab a snack, are you really hungry, or are you eating as a result of stress, boredom, tiredness or another emotion?

For most of us, food is intrinsically related to feelings, or events, and is not just designed to satisfy our hunger.

Nadine Mulligan of states that this “emotional eating” is one of the main reasons for weight gain.

However, Nadine, who helps individuals manage their diet and healthy eating regime in her Swords, North County Dublin based weight loss clinic, is adamant that by becoming aware of why we eat and taking control of the urges that drive us to seek comfort in the kitchen, we can regain control.


Here, Nadine lends her top four tips on how to break the habit of mindless eating.

1. Identify your triggers

We need to understand what fuels your emotional eating, says Nadine. She cites the below as the five most common causes:

Unhappiness or anxiety:

We often turn to things we know we ‘shouldn’t’ have in the hope they’ll make us feel better. Yet polishing off a packet of crisps or bingeing on biscuits will never hit the spot. Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved. Confide in a friend or seek help if necessary to deal with the source of your unhappiness rather than using food as an escape mechanism.

Refined carbohydrates hit your bloodstream quickly

Boredom or loneliness:

“I eat for something to do, especially when I’m on my own in the evenings,” a client who travels a lot for work might say. Rather than enjoy the hotel facilities such as the gym or swimming pool, or even distracting himself with a walk or a good book, he is in danger of making food his new best friend.

Relationship problems:

Some of us try to find solace in the fridge when a relationship goes through a rocky patch, or splits up altogether. Yet no amount of chips or ice cream will heal a broken heart. They just make things worse by adding weight, literally, to an existing problem.

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Just how healthy is your choice of snack? Photo: Getty Images.

Happy days:

Do you automatically think of cake when there’s something to celebrate, or reward yourself with a bar of chocolate for a job well done? How about non-edible reward instead? Just a suggestion.


People deal with stress in different ways. Some reach for food without even realising what they’re doing. “I kept a bag of sweets in my desk as a kind of soother when I was under pressure at work,” say some of my clients. “Before I knew it, the packet was empty by mid-afternoon.” Like many emotional eaters, they were blissfully unaware of what was going into his mouth.      

2. What can I do about it?

Nadine insists that overcoming emotional eating doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy food.


"It’s about breaking the habit of trying to feed your feelings instead of your appetite. We are emotional beings, but we have to separate our physical hunger from matters of the heart by finding alternative ways of expressing emotions other than through food."

"The first thing to do before taking a bite is to think about what you’re about to eat and why. Are you really hungry? Try drinking a glass of water before you eat. Thirst is often misinterpreted as hunger. If after a few minutes, your stomach still feels hungry, go ahead and eat. Enjoy what you eat and stop when you feel full. You don’t have to clean your plate."

3. Keep track

Keep an ‘emotional record’ of what you eat, advises Nadine.

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Roz Purcell Cooks Up a Storm with Florette!

"Write down how you feel before every meal or snack throughout the day, describe what you are about to eat – and then write down how you feel afterwards. Are you glad you ate, or do you feel guilty or dissatisfied? Be honest. You need to find out exactly what your emotional triggers are and be aware of the kinds of food you’re drawn to. Could you prepare healthier alternatives to hand to satisfy your cravings?"

4. Get active

Nadine urges clients to exercise every day.

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Retro running is great for the 'glutes'

"Not only will this help keep your body in shape, it’s good for your emotions too. Studies show that people who exercise regularly have fewer food cravings than those who don’t."

A professional weight management adviser can offer invaluable support and expertise in helping you to identify and control your emotional eating triggers, giving you lifelong tools to lose weight, keep it off and feel better about yourself.

Example - client Aisling Ryan before and after help from the team at Motivation:


Nadine Mulligan is the proprietor of  Motivation, Weight Loss Management Clinic. The Clinic is hosting its re-opening launch night on Friday October 2nd at 7.30pm, with special offers, nibbles and prizes available on the night.

Location: Second floor, Archway House, The Plaza, Swords, Co Dublin.

See for more information.

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