4 Ways Your Nutrition Can Influence Your Emotional Eating

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Young man eating pizza, not realizing that nutrition can influence emotional eating.

When it comes to our biggest challenges around food and weight, emotional eating can be one of the most difficult to solve. Despite our best intentions, so many of us turn to food when we’re unhappy, anxious, bored, stressed, lonely, tired, depressed, and so much more.

A desire to regulate unwanted emotions can lead to emotional eating.

And even though emotional eating feels like a problem, it’s actually a solution. It can be a perfectly reasonable strategy to help us get out of our emotional discomfort, because eating instantly makes us feel better. (Except when we do it too often, or when we find that it leads to guilt, shame, digestive upset, brain fog, and worst of all – weight gain.)

But emotional regulation is not the only factor influencing our emotional eating. In this conversation, we’re going to look at a very different set of influences on this eating challenge:


Did you know, many of us have specific eating patterns and make certain nutritional choices that can also drive us to emotionally eat?

The good news is, when you become aware of these nutritional factors, you can help yourself overcome emotional eating with more ease than you might have thought possible. 

The 4 key nutritional influences on emotional eating:

  • Dieting
  • Macronutrient Imbalance
  • Poor Meal Timing
  • Excess Sugar

In addition, I’ll talk about:

  • How each of these nutritional influences can generate emotional eating
  • The simple science behind each nutritional influence
  • Practical steps you can take to go from nutrition-driven emotional eating to greater freedom and control with food 

Let’s dive in…

Key #1: The Impact of Dieting & Emotional Eating

We live in a world of dieting. It’s everywhere. It’s been estimated that almost half of all the adults on planet Earth at some point, are on a diet. Many people are introduced to dieting as early as age five.

Speak to anyone that you know and ask them how long they’ve been dieting. Many of us have been dieting for nearly our entire lifetime. 

There’s so much to say about dieting and what it does to body, mind and soul, but let’s focus for a moment on one very specific downside of dieting:

Dieting essentially teaches people how NOT to eat.

Meaning, for so many of us, dieting has the following impact:

  • Dieting asks us to undereat
  • Dieting trains us to see food as the enemy
  • Dieting requires that we suppress our natural appetite
  • Dieting can cause us to punish ourselves if we can’t follow our diet perfectly

So what does this have to do with emotional eating?

Well, when we underfeed our body – when we are deficient in our caloric energy requirement from food – the body takes notice.

In fact, the body views a consistent lack of calories as starvation conditions, which activates the emergency part of our brain: the sympathetic nervous system. 

When the brain interprets our nutritional status as life or death, it does something very wise:

It causes our appetite to scream – HUNGRY!

Our primal evolutionary hardwiring is all about survival. Life must continue. Our brain is doing its best to save us. So in times of low nutrition and low food intake, the human brain pushes our appetite pedal to the metal. 

And in this state, we are DRIVEN to eat.

The important lesson here is that dieting mimics the physiologic starvation response and can fool the brain into thinking that our life is in peril.

What’s fascinating is that most people will then interpret this “unwanted eating,” this ravenous appetite, this inability to control themselves with food as “emotional eating.”

The thing is, it’s a strange hybrid between emotional eating and a physiologically driven survival response.

To our mind, it FEELS like emotional eating because it occurs as an unstoppable ravenous sensation. But it’s all driven by our survival biology.  

What’s more, the stress of low-calorie weight loss dieting, the anxiety of constantly monitoring our food, and the negative self-talk that most often accompanies the dieting experience is enough by itself to make anyone want to emotionally eat. 

In other words:

We can easily turn to emotional eating to help relieve the stress of trying to lose weight.

Can you see the irony here?

So, here’s the most straightforward and honest remedy to help let go of the emotional eating that’s driven by low-calorie weight loss dieting:

  1. Stop dieting
  2. Stop seeing food as the enemy
  3. Stop trying to suppress your appetite
  4. Stop weighing yourself every day
  5. Stop hating on your body

Replace dieting with learning how to be an eater. 

Enjoy your meals. Make friends with food. Celebrate the body you have right now. Be grateful you have an appetite – it means you’re alive. Practice speaking kindly to your body. Treat your body as if it were your special loved one or your child. Let go of dieting for several months and live life as if this is the body you’ll have forever. See what it’s like to stop bullying your body into losing weight and instead, enjoy it while you can.

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Discover how to drop the shame, guilt, and struggle from your relationship with food.

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Key #2: How Macronutrient Imbalance Drives Emotional Eating

Macronutrient imbalance is another powerful nutritional influence on emotional eating that should not be underestimated. For our purposes here, let’s consider these three macronutrients: protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

We call these macronutrients because they are biochemicals that we require and consume in larger quantities, as compared to micronutrients – vitamins, minerals, and other substances – that we consume and require in much smaller amounts.

So here’s the thing:

The amount and approximate proportions of these three macronutrients – protein, fats, and carbohydrates – in our diet can have a powerful impact on health, energy, appetite, and weight. 

So many of the diets and nutritional systems you may have learned about over the years can be defined, in part, by how they emphasize these various macronutrients and their proportions.

Some diets emphasize high protein. Others are higher in fat. Some focus on low or even very low carbohydrates. Others tout a higher carbohydrate approach.

Each of these diets will impact the person who follows them in ways that are unique to their own physiology and genetics.

But here’s the important point:

When we are low in any one macronutrient, we can find ourselves emotionally eating.

  • A low fat diet invariably leads to fat cravings
  • A low carbohydrate diet most often leads to carb or sugar cravings
  • A low protein diet often leads to overall hunger and cravings of different types

Perhaps you’ve had one of these experiences yourself. Have you ever gone on a low sugar diet for example, and found yourself hungering for sweets? Or have you ever tried a diet low in breads, grains, and all kinds of carbs, only to find yourself craving pasta?

The important point here is that when we are “imbalanced” in one or more of these three macronutrients – protein, fat, and carbohydrates – then we can find ourselves in a state of agitation and craving.

We will be seemingly driven against our will to eat the very foods we have chosen to avoid.

This emotional eating experience is fueled, in part, by our simple desire for the foods we have been limiting.

And, it’s most often driven as well by a nutritional deficiency


The human body cannot stay healthy if we are too low in essential fats, too low in protein, or even too low in carbohydrates.

So when the brain senses a nutritional lack, it once again does the wisest thing:

It screams HUNGRY.

So here’s the remedy if you notice this phenomenon in your own life, or if you work with patients or clients:

  • Unless you have a specific medical condition, consider avoiding diets or nutritional approaches that intensely limit a particular macronutrient.
  • Find a middle way to eat, a sustainable way to eat.
  • If you’re limiting one of the macronutrients, don’t be surprised when you crave it, and don’t waste any time beating yourself up for it.

It’s fine to be a nutritional explorer. It’s a great practice to experiment with different kinds of dietary approaches. Just notice that when you find yourself emotionally eating on such a diet, it may very well be a signal that this particular dietary experiment isn’t something you want to do long term.

Key #3: Emotional Eating is Catalyzed by Poor Meal Timing

We live in a world that’s defined by timing. By rhythm. By bio circadian cycles. 

Your heart beat is an essential rhythm. Your lungs breathing is a rhythm. Your brain wave patterns are a rhythm. Our sleeping and waking cycles are an essential rhythm, as is a woman’s monthly cycle. 

This is all part of the beauty and magic of life.

If we interfere with any of  these rhythms, things can go south pretty fast.

What most people don’t realize though, is this:

When it comes to good nutrition and a healthy relationship with food, eating rhythm is supremely important.

We are designed to digest, assimilate and calorie burn in a very rhythmic way. When we look at the little-known field of Bio-Circadian Nutrition, we learn that when we eat is often as important as what we eat.

For example, did you know that:

  • The body digests, assimilates, and burns calories most efficiently when the sun is highest in the sky.
  • The body has its lowest capacity to do these things in the late evening and early morning hours.
  • When we skip meals or don’t eat when we’re truly hungry, the body responds by intensifying our appetite and driving us to eat.

Here’s the challenge. Many people find themselves doing any one of the following:

  • We skip breakfast. 
  • We breeze past lunch. 
  • We don’t eat because we’re so busy.
  • We have a work schedule that forces us to go through long periods of time with no food. 
  • Or we try to hold off from eating for as long as possible because we’re secretly trying to diet and lose weight.

When this happens, the body takes notice.

We are out of accord with the natural rhythms of our nutritional needs.

And the net result is that we’re driven to eat.

This is a physiologically driven hunger that’s immediate, powerful, and is characterized by a state of agitation.

It’s a form of emotional eating that’s catalyzed by our biology.

So if you want to maximize your metabolism, and have your most easy-to-control and natural appetite, then you have to pay attention.

Our job is to track our body, our hunger, and learn to nourish it in a more rhythmic way. 

So, if you find that you’re emotionally eating, just ask yourself:

  • Do I skip meals?
  • Do I force myself not to eat because I want to lose weight?
  • Do I go for artificially long periods of time without eating, and when I finally do eat, I don’t want to stop?

If you answered yes to any of these, then the adjustments your body is asking you to make are straightforward. By eating in a more regular and rhythmic way, you’ll notice the benefits of more energy, more brain power, less food cravings, less emotional eating, and for many people, less weight.

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Discover how to drop the shame, guilt, and struggle from your relationship with food.

Learn more about our new course, The Emotional Eating Breakthrough.

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Key #4: The Impact of Excess Sugar on Emotional Eating

For those who are challenged with emotional eating, sugar can feel like Kryptonite. 

When talking about sugar, it’s helpful to remember that we have essentially 5 kinds of taste buds: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory. We have quite a good amount of sweet taste buds, and most of them are in the middle and towards the front of the tongue, which is where a majority of our food will land. 

And what are those sweet taste buds doing on our tongues? 

Well, they’re basically sitting there, waiting for something sweet. 

The wisdom of life didn’t give you sweet taste buds to torture you

They are there to provide sensation, pleasure, and to let us know that when you have found something sweet, it can’t kill you. That’s because there are no poisonous sweet foods in nature.

The wisdom of life has also programmed the mammalian brain to respond to the presence of sweet foods in the environment by driving us to eat more.

That’s because from an evolutionary perspective, sweet foods are available in summer and fall, which means winter is around the corner, which means we should eat as much of the sweet stuff as we can because we’re about to enter lean times. We need to fatten up.  

Simply put, sugar is designed to make you want to eat more.

So it makes biological sense as to why it can be so problematic for so many people. On the one hand, sugar gives us a profound pleasure chemistry release that’s virtually instantaneous. And on the other hand, our DNA demands that we eat more whenever the brain senses it on the tongue.

So, if you find yourself turning to sugar for emotional satisfaction and relief, consider these suggestions:

  • Stop any self-attack, self-judgment, or self-hate. All of these will cause a stress response which will drive you to emotionally eat even more.
  • If you do eat something sweet, eat it slowly, sensuously, and extract as much pleasure as you can. Be present. Get what you want. Relax. Eating in this way will help you naturally limit the amount of sugar that you consume.
  • Make sure you’re not eating a low protein or low fat diet. This can oddly lead to sugar cravings.
  • If you crave something sweet, try drinking some vegetable broth or bone broth or miso broth right as your craving arises. The mineral and electrolyte content in these broths will often help cravings subside.
  • However much sugar you consume, forgive yourself. Punishing yourself will only make the cravings stronger the next time. And we’ll often crave something sweet when we’re feeling guilty or shameful.

By now, I trust that you’re beginning to see how our nutrition and eating style can drive our emotional eating.

The key to transforming emotional eating is to be willing to hear what it’s trying to teach you. 

Sometimes emotional eating is asking us to learn new ways to regulate our emotions other than turning to food. Sometimes emotional eating is asking us to take a closer look at what and how we eat.

If you want to work even more deeply and successfully with emotional eating and put yourself on the road to finding a lasting peace and freedom with food, please consider the transformational course I’ve created: The Emotional Eating Breakthrough Program

I hope this has been helpful for you. We’d love to hear how these strategies help you better understand and manage your emotional eating challenges – please drop us a line in the comments below!

Young man eating pizza, not realizing that nutrition can influence emotional eating.

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