Why Emotional Eating is an Eating Disorder — And How to Stop

During the 20-plus years I spent trying to lose the same ten pounds, I resorted to some really desperate measures.

I took diet pills, I exercised for hours at a time, and I went for days without eating (only to spend the next day bingeing).

But the worst thing that I ever experienced was the eating disorder I developed as a result of my obsession to have the perfect body. For three years during college, I was bulimic.

I was so desperate to lose weight that I resorted to throwing up almost everything I ate to lose it. I would binge eat, make myself vomit, and do it all over again. It was physically very painful and it almost destroyed me emotionally.

You may never have had this experience. And if someone asked you if you’ve ever had an eating disorder, you would say no.

But just because you’ve never had an eating disorder doesn’t mean you don’t eat in a disordered way — which simply means that you have an unhealthy relationship with food.

If you are constantly focused on what you eat, how much you should or shouldn’t eat, or when you’re going to eat next, you have an unhealthy relationship with food. If you feel an uncontrollable urge to eat whenever you feel stressed, bored, or unhappy, you have an unhealthy relationship with food. If you consistently overeat or binge eat, you have an unhealthy relationship with food. If you are obsessed with how many calories or fat grams your food has, you have an unhealthy relationship with food.

And if you have spent the last ten or twenty years of your life on a diet — you have an unhealthy relationship with food.

Disordered Eating and Dieting Go Hand in Hand

If you eat in a disordered way — in other words, emotionally — the weight will keep showing up. And when it keeps showing up, you feel desperate to get rid of it, so you diet.

But dieting only addresses the symptom of the problem instead of solving the problem itself: it keeps you trying to get rid of the weight instead of changing the way you eat. So you never change your disordered eating, and you stay stuck in the cycle.

To make matters worse, you believe that losing weight will make you happy and that once you do lose it, you will be able to finally start living your life. Once I lose weight, then I’ll x, y, z . . . 

This is the lie that the dieting industry sells us — and it isn’t that you’ll lose ten pounds in two weeks with their magic eating plan. The lie they’re selling is the perfect life that’s waiting for you on the other side of the weight loss they promise.

But what happens once the weight is gone? The perfect life never materializes because the weight comes right back — because you never  changed the way that you eat. (And even if you did manage to lose it and keep it off, your life won’t be perfect.)

So, emotional eating is disordered eating. You’re eating to make yourself feel better. You’re eating in response to something other than true hunger.

Having a healthy relationship with food means that you enjoy eating for the experience of actually eating it, as opposed to using it as a way to feel better. It means that you eat to satisfy true hunger instead of eating anytime you feel the urge to. It means that you stop eating when you’re full instead of eating mindlessly and in a zoned-out state. Dieting addresses none of these issues.

Dieting focuses you on getting rid of the weight as fast as possible. So you restrict your intake, engage in all-or-nothing behaviors, and obsessively focus on what you look like — all of which ultimately send you right back into disordered eating.

How to Heal Your Relationship With Food

Dieting keeps you locked in a vicious cycle, one that’s hard to escape. Here’s a breakdown of it:

You use food to make yourself feel good.

The weight you gain makes you feel bad.

You diet to lose the weight so you can feel good.

You fail, the weight comes back, you feel bad again, and you eat to make yourself feel good.

And so on.

Not only does dieting not work, it adds another layer of suffering on top of the inner suffering that’s causing you to eat in a disordered way. Every time you fail on a diet, you deepen the feelings of unworthiness you have — feelings that are causing you to have an unhealthy relationship with food in the first place.

Start here: figure out what’s making you feel bad.

Go way, way back and figure out when you started eating in a disordered way and why you started doing it. What made you start using food as a means to cope and a way to feel better?

Once you get to the root of your emotional eating, you can get rid of the shame you feel about the way you eat. You can uncover the connection between what’s going on inside you and how it contributes to your disordered eating. You can heal yourself from the inside instead of attacking yourself from the outside.

Weight is showing up on your body as a result of your tendency to use food to fill a void. Fix what’s inside and the outside will adjust.

Eating for Pleasure Is Part of a Happy Life

Ultimately, you have to understand that you do in fact have an eating disorder — and it is just as damaging as starving yourself or making yourself throw up. Any kind of disordered eating will keep you trapped in a fear-based relationship with food, which is the opposite of what it should be.

Food doesn’t truly make you happy, eating won’t permanently fill an inner void, and losing weight won’t give you the magically happy life you dream of living.

But eating to enjoy your food is part of a happy life — the one you deserve to live.



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Camille Martin, RD

I wasted nearly 25 years of my life trying to lose weight. Now I spend my time running, juicing and "cooking" raw food, and laughing with my baby girls. I thoroughly enjoy growing Love To Lose, so I can teach you all I've learned along the way. I'm beyond excited to help you start your own journey, and I can't wait to meet you one day!
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  1. Amy Chandler on July 5, 2021 at 6:45 am

    Great post! So many young people (especially )need to read this! Thank you Camille!

    • Camille Martin on July 5, 2021 at 9:27 am

      I agree! I never want my daughters to go through that Love you!

  2. Lisa Menninger on July 5, 2021 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you for posting this Camille. Your willingness to share your story gave me the courage to open up about my own struggles with eating disorders. I still eat emotionally at times, but I’m getting better everyday. Thanks for sharing the truth about food and dieting. You’re helping so many people, including myself!

    • Camille Martin on July 5, 2021 at 3:01 pm

      Thank you Lisa! It’s so important for all of us as women to be vulnerable and share our struggles to help each other. Love you!

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