Emotional Eating / Food Addiction? Anyone ... - Weight Loss NHS

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Emotional Eating / Food Addiction? Anyone else think we need to take a different approach to weight loss?


I've reached midlife, still battling with my weight & self esteem as I have done my entire life. I've come to the conclusion that dieting/healthy eating along is not enough. I need additional support.

I was reading something recently about emotional eating & how the brain reacts in much the same way as addictions to nicotine, alcohol, gambling & other things which are bad for us, including foods we are allergic to. If someone is addicted to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs or gambling, we know that saying "don't do it!" simply isn't going to work - so why when we're trying to lose weight, all we seem to get is "don't eat it!" Really? If that worked we wouldn't all be here. So what's the answer? I know it won't be the same for everyone, but funding the weight loss industry (Slimming World/Weight Watchers) certainly isn't the answer. The biggest problem is that we need to eat in order to survive.

So, the reason I've posted this, I'm curious to get other people's opinions on whether we should be taking a different approach, treat it more like an addiction (particularly for emotional eating), whether anyone else feels they need a bit more than being told to keep a food diary, eat a salad or exercise (not always possible when you have a chronic pain condition). Have you tried other therapies & did they work?

37 Replies
YellowRose554st 7lbs

Hi gaynor_s

Welcome to the weight loss forum.

The forum is a friendly place to support you with your weight loss journey and to share any tips and experiences along the way. I follow the nhs 12 week plan which is not a diet but a healthy lifestyle change which works well for me and lots of members here. :)

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Slimming world for me was really good low fat/no fat advice. But you can have massive amounts of what you can have so never hungry. I lost 5st started in 2014, but it helped having my mind in the right zone to do it, hope this helps, it is like painting the Forth Bridge never ends, I say every mouthful every day for the rest of my life and that I am on a tightrope and can't step off. It is a hard job. I've had a period of really poor sleep lately and that makes me really hungry 24 hrs a day. Last couple of nights I took herbal sleeper had to do something it was like being really ill having no sleep. If you have poor sleep or a worry dieting is awful hard. In the last 9 months I had house move, poorly parrot that I really loved but the vet couldn't save him, so a pet bereavement and a new puppy - how hard is that I had forgotten how hard a puppy is, so all too much and I have put on a few pounds, but back in the saddle today, getting sleep helped. My very best wishes.

in reply to Hidden

Thank you for your reply. I lost over 2.5 stone with SW, but then I lost my way & couldn't get my head back into the right place & I'm now not sure how to. My main reason for losing weight was to stop the joint pain - I was then diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder, so no matter what I do the pain will never go away. I suppose if I'm totally honest, I've had low level depression ever since.

Active_43Healthy BMI

Hi gaynor_s , interesting post.

I think that food addiction is a 'thing' maybe not in the physical sense (although I am sure that some food/drink must be addictive) but using food to suppress emotions.

Just 'going on a diet' because you are overweight is not going to work if you use food as a coping strategy when things aren't going right.

I was very lucky to have had both private and NHS treatment for an eating disorder and this has really helped me to cope with how I look at food and the triggers that can cause the disorder.

The main thing that I have learnt for me is that no food is off limits. This means that I don't link eating say a biscuit with punishing myself or shutting out emotions. Talking to people about how I feel is also a great outlet and writing a thoughts diary to understand any swings that I have.

I have found that yoga and meditation really helps too with settling my mind and helping me cope with life. <3

in reply to Active_43

Hello, thank you for your candid reply, I appreciate that. I agree that "going on a diet" is not a useful strategy. I find it interesting that eating a biscuit could be a punishment, I'd never thought of it like that - something for me to think about. I definitely sabotage myself by binge eating & don't know why I do it or how to stop it. Perhaps I need to... I DO need to do something about it.

in reply to Active_43

HI Active_43

I too have had NHS treatment for the underlying causes of my binge eating disorder and I can highly recommend expert help. I have received 26 weeks of Cognitive Analytical Therapy (CAT) and its been life changing.

I am in the early stages of recovery but hope that my fledgling understanding of my thought patterns that drive my over eating will help with returning to a healthy weight in due course. I agree totally with what you have said, no food is off limits. Demonising food doesn't help regain a healthy relationship with food. I too keep a therapy diary and that has helped me enormously. I use my iphone notes and can add photos to support my diary being a really positive aspect of recovery. If I am a bit fed up I adda photo of my cat to cheer myself up!

Have a good day!

in reply to Clare59

Thank you very much for your reply. I take comfort that I am not alone in my thinking & feel that I've gained a slight amount of control by admitting it. Next time I visit my GP, I'll talk to her about it.

I think it's different for everyone. For some people food may be physically addictive, and perhaps not for others.

Even for me there are several reasons why I overeat. One of them I'm realising is because I'm a desperate rebel and I don't want to fit in exactly. It's odd and I don't understand why I feel like this but I'm trying to figure it out at the moment.

As mentioned I think a thought diary is a good idea.

Yes, I think a thought diary is a good idea. I like being a rebellion, I can't help it but quite enjoy it. I don't want to be conventional or predictable and often feel compelled to do the opposite of what I'm told to do. What complex people we are!

in reply to gaynor_s

So true!

Hi Gaynor,

I can relate a lot to your post. I have never really eaten properly. I know what to do and all what the experts would or have said to me but putting it in play was another thing altogether. I have zero confidence which people don't seem to notice as I pretty much reclused myself for years or managed to put on an act and be the social butterfly people seem to expect with bigger people.

I have gone on many 'diets' in my time and lasted a bit then I felt deprived. I am going to be totally honest and I know it will go down like a lead balloon but its my own battles. It was when I decided I needed to love myself, care for me that it all started kicking in. Its taken my mind to work on itself for 6 months before I started again. I honestly feel different this time but I haven't cracked it because I refuse this time to tell myself am on a diet...am not. I went on the nhs calculator to work out the kcals I needed which was 1730 to just over 2000 I think it was..i have kept to around 1760 daily and my weigh in again will be tomorrow and am hoping I have reached my first target which would be 1 st 6lbs in 7 weeks..(fingers crossed). However, this is my down fall. Most of that food being honest wasn't healthy, it might of been healthier but it just wasn't what I know I should be eating. I made soups which got me eating veg I never ate and am trying water. I know I have cut down on the rubbish but I know I have had a couple of days where I just ate junk (not promoting this at all) and it made me feel unwell which shows my body is trying to give me a kick too and wants good food. I have found eating smaller and often as helped and still working on my mind I am introducing foods each week that are better for me.

Keeping on the old plan I was obese (Still am but getting there), losing my hair, bones hurting, couldn't walk without feeling like I was going to have an heart attack, energy levels zero, anxiety high and self opinion LOW. Its took me a while but I actually see bits in the mirror (face) that I like and think I am attractive and am talking to myself better. The rest will come with lessons but I am sick of not living and I don't want to be stuck in the rut of basically feeling sorry for myself...because I must of been. As hard as it is some people can go cold turkey off the junk, some need a bit to keep going but ALL need self love and discipline and honestly if you give yourself the love the rest will follow.

Good luck on your journey, keep with positive souls and you will get there x


Thank you "always starting again" for such an open, honest and interesting post. I am in a similar position vis a vis poor eating habits and on and off dieting but thank goodness without the pain or medical condition. We must learn to love ourselves

This is my first time in an online community as I start again but being able to log on at anytime and get support will make a big difference to me. Trying to do it alone simply doesn't work for me . Will be watching out for you. Have a good day

in reply to Hidden

Any time you need a push or just some words of encouragement just mail me x

I agree with Pampotts - thank you for your open & honest post. I always feel encouraged & "normal", when I discover that other people feel the same as I do. I agree that the key not "going on a diet", but adopting a better way of eating. I'm changing little things at a time - I know it will take longer & I know I'll have bad days, but I just need to ensure I have more good days.

Good luck with your journey too.

I think its addiction because its a way we have learnt to cope with it, good mood, bad mood, stressed, happy I have always done with food. Now I see it for what it is I am changing. I have continued to punish myself and that's how I look on it. Changing is the only way it can happen and no one can tell us anything we don't know, eating that way is slowing killing us and stopping us from living. Once we decide to change, as hard as it is to do so...it can be done. Am sending everything positive your way to succeed and I have no doubt you will x

Morgancando1st 7lbs

What an inspirational post alwaysstartingagain. I'm so glad you've stopped `dieting` and are now trying to eat more healthily one day at a time. Ditching the junk will take time but introducing new healthier foods will become second nature to you in time. I agree, loving yourself is so important for your self esteem and you've already begun to see the difference in your face.

If I were you I'd try eating at an even hire calorie limit recommended on the BMI ratio. I was eating at the lower range and was struggling to lose but since I upped my calories the weight seems to be moving again. I weigh in on Fridays so I'll be looking out for you.

Very best wishes and good luck.

Be kind to yourself

Thank you Morgancando :) I have been luckly so far with the weight loss, its coming off and I pretty much got to my first goal so now onto my second...but I will look at the kcals again and see if a little more works x

DartmoorDumplingSuper Trier

It is interesting that you are investigating the reasons behind your overeating. I have always found this a fascinating subject, and am convinced that I have addictive tendencies for sugars and carbohydrates. Alcohol doesn't lift me like chocolate can.

I had a successful year last year losing weight because I was excited and happy at getting back into my horse-riding and planning the purchase of our eventual retirement home. I was busy and out of the house more, and well motivated which made the whole thing easier.

This year has been harder since having to give up the horse I had on loan (due to her age) and we have been struggling with various problems at home, not to mention working hard, all of which makes comfort eating much more likely! However, we all have good days and bad days and I am the absolute best at making excuses!

The "pleasure" we find in eating has to be replaced by an alternative; a new hobby or sport perhaps, writing a book, painting a picture, even chatting to new friends on a weight loss forum....

One day at a time...lets make tomorrow a good one!

Thank you. I definitely turn to food when I'm stressed or bored (mostly at work) & I need to find another outlet, a new job & things to look forward to - I've lost interest in a few hobbies; photography & walking, but after going for a walk with a friend yesterday, I feel motivated to go walking again this weekend... quite literally changing my life, one step at a time :-)


I do agree with you when you mention how the brain reacts to food. Im an emotional eater and I know it's an addiction. And the problem is: you can live without álcohol, you can live without drugs, you can live without nicotine but you always have to eat. So, it's impossible to do abstinence all together!!

I know of some psychologists specialised in weight gain/loss and on emotional eating. I've considered but never been. The one time I reached a psychologist for help, I had a bad experience. I know it's unhealthy but now I believe I have the will and power to change my life and my way of living..

So, I have to say, I do believe that with strong will and lots of perservearence you can change the way you approach and live with food.

I do use meditation to help with that and I try to evaluate what exactly is happening in my life when I have urges. A lot of introspection definetly helps... So I think I deal with my issues in a way.

There are guided meditations on YouTube directed to weight loss and i believe it's a good option for those with anxiety and emotional eating like me..

Thank you for your post. For the last couple of days I've used a Guided Meditation by Thomas Hall for Binge Eating, now I have accepted/admitted that's what I do. I've denied it in the past... but I eat when other people can't see me, I eat with distractions & as a result eat too much... so there is a bare naked truth! I believe that making any positive step can help as cope. So listening to YouTube Hypnosis videos, whether they work or act as a placebo, is a positive step & that's where it begins.


I have tried Weight Watchers as it is very local to me, but found it a total waste of time and money. Paying £5 per session for someone to weigh me, who to be honest didn't appear that interested, was not good. The 'talks' afterwards were rubbish I have to say - I was very disappointed, expecting it to be motivational, and only managed 4 sessions. I had been using their website for listing foods, but now find MyFitnessPal much more user friendly and free!!

I bought Michael Moseley's book 'The 8 week blood sugar diet', and although it says 'diet' in the title, it is far from that as he mentions several times. It is a new way of looking at food and eating. Although it is primarily aimed at people who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (or about to be) , I feel it can apply to us all wishing to loose those pounds. I have found it a very interesting book to read and also to follow, with very interesting and good recipes at the back.

I live alone and in a town I have recently moved to, so no close friends for support, and I do find this hard. I watched a Rosemary Connelly clip from one of her recent classes, and it was what I would love. Weigh in with advice, then a really good talk about recipes and food, and then a simple exercise class at the end. I had half expected this from Weight Watchers or Slimming World, but all they seem to want to do is sell you their products at meetings.

I hope you find something for you, and if it is good please share it as I am sure we could all do with a little extra help!


in reply to Hidden

I couldn't agree with you more... the after weigh in talks - clapping at other people for achieving what I felt I was failing to. A big problem was that I found it so terribly boring. I'd like a group with advice, maybe cooking demonstrations, different ways of thinking about food & scenarios. A group that actually deals with a psychological side of weight loss, not just "you shouldn't have eaten that" and helps us to examine why we gained weight in the first place, how to improve our self esteem & help us to cope with stresses & strains in life without turning to food.

I'll have a look for that book - sounds like it could be an interesting read. I haven't read a "diet" book since The False Fat Diet, which was related to food allergies & the effects it has on the body eg. If I eat tomato, I can gain 6-10lbs in fluid & feel dreadful both physically and emotionally - it triggers a whole load of symptoms you'd never guess was caused by food, including depression.

in reply to gaynor_s

This is exactly the type of class that would be brilliant for us all, as it can be tailored to specific things weekly maybe. Think this would have to be run by local groups of people as the 'big boys', Weight Watchers, Slimming World and the like are only out to make money I feel and have no real concern for the individual.

I have acne rosacea and know what foods affect me, but I really like them. Tomatoes and cheese are the worst, also bread. My favourite things to eat is cheese sandwiches or cheese on toast! Would be wouldn't it. I don't buy cheese any longer as I keep eating a piece whenever I pass the fridge.

Hope you enjoy the book, it has helped me.

Hi Gaynor. I'm a hypnotherapist and I see lots of people for weight loss. In my experience people fall into two camps; the ones who just need the discipline of a system, meal planners and some information about calories and nutrition. The other camp is the people who have an emotional link to eating.

Perhaps food was scarce when they were growing up, or there was some guilt attached to it, or perhaps food was the go-to response for their parent - in times of celebration or upset. Some people grew up with rowing and arguments at meal times. All of these events would have an effecton the young brain as the chemicals being pumped around and the thoughts and feelings at the time would actually shape the brain - creating particular neural pathways. A one-off eventcould also cause a strong reaction... think about a time you've eaten something and been very sick. You dont fancy it again because your brain 'learns' that the food could make you sick again.

We know about the plasticity of the brain, which tells us that we can re-learn and create new neural pathways and ways of responding. For some as I said, a new regime and some will power wll work. For others, they need to get to the route of the emotion behind the low self-esteem or feelings about food or eating (usually formedin childhood) and remove that block, and changehow they feel about it through some kind of therapy work. Hypnotherapy works well for this.

As you rightly said, dopamine is released in the brain when we enjoy something - the same chemical when we eat, drink, gamble, smoke, have sex, take drugs. We know how addictive these things are to some people. The difference is, we all HAVE to eat.

Also, despite helping many other people lose weight successfully, I am struggling myself. It's like I know too much about how it works. So that's why I'm here, looking for another support system and to learn from those who are managing to lose weight using practical ideas.


Hi Zeenat,

Funnily enough I am a qualified counsellor and hypnotherapist and yet am here struggling on too. I agree with your post but the point of being sick and not fancying it again I wished was me, because I would eat junk to a point of feeling sick (Sometimes being sick) yet it never put me off.

I think I helped myself via re training my brain with NLP and then putting it into practise. The when I am deeply relaxed I replay all the words over and over in my head, I guess self hypnosis. I believe positive overcomes negative and slowly we can change. I think its great we are all hearing supporting each other and that's what will be the difference of another failed attempt or actually succeeding.

Good luck x

in reply to Zebedee319

Thank you. I have been considered hypnotherapy, as I've had low self esteem all my life & will sabotage my healthy eating with eating too much of something I know I shouldn't. I lack motivation because I believe I'll fail... because no matter how much weight I lose, I will always consider myself ugly & unattractive, still have fatigue & painful joints (fibromyalgia). I'm hoping that hypnotherapy will help me overcome these obstacles & improve myself.

My brother & father are prone to addictive behaviour, prescription drugs, gambling, alcohol, nicotine etc. so perhaps there is, to an extent, is a genetic tendency.

Anneke26914 stone

I often see very overweight people as I go about my life. I think to my self they are wearing their pain! Some of us have fallen into the trap of eating when we hurt and it's a hard thing to break. I think having the right help can make a difference someone to talk about our problems with rather than eat when difficulties overwhelm us. However it is a day by day battle to change.I have found swapping high calorie treats to something that's still nice but lower in calories helpful. A two bar kit Kat for instance has a 105 calories but I have to insure I only have 1. I don't have food in the house which is high in calories and complete junk. I do allow myself a real treat once a week. I love cake so once a week I treat my self to a piece. Inbetween when I feel tempted I remind myself I can have my treat at the weekend. That has really helped. I have looked at my bad habits and tried to change things one at a time.

I have lost weight many times it's keeping it of that is difficult. When I become I'll it's so hard. During those times I plan to just maintain rather than diet.

Don't give up! Take it one day at a time.


Brilliant and spot on, that's how its working for me...not buying in bulk packets and working out how many kcals is in what. Some days I do just blow out but am learning and at least its not everyday. Its great reading other peoples honest responses x

in reply to Anneke2691

A weekly treat - yes :-) something you've reminded me I used to do... not unhealthy or high calories, but time for me - poached egg on toast, with spinach & lean bacon... taking the time to prepare it & enjoying eating it, during a peaceful time on a Sunday morning, with no distractions. It's not what I eat, but how I eat... something for me to think about. Thank you for the idea :-)

I personally find that for me my poor eating is habitual rather than emotional. I'm trying really hard to break those habits and replace them with better ones. For example, as a child we were always given something sweet after every lunch and every dinner. Now when I finish eating I get sugar cravings. They're slowly going away over time but its getting better :)

in reply to 8stonetogo

I think a lot of us got something sweet after a main meal as children. I remember my mum cut it back to Sundays, or special occasions, which we thought was very unfair, but I will still often crave something sweet after dinner.

Anneke26914 stone
in reply to gaynor_s

Sometimes I have a mint after my main meal that solves the problem.

I totally sympathize with the food addiction view. I feel like I have developed a food addiction from dieting. I have struggled with other addictions like smoking but the solution has simply been abstinence, moderation never worked for me. Food abstinence doesn't seem practical for me for the time being. Although it worked for this guy

in reply to mfbx9da4

Hi, I see you've replied to an old post so may not get any responses.

I've replied to your other post and have another couple of links that might interest you.



Plenty of reading for the weekend :)

in reply to BridgeGirl

Thanks BridgeGirl, I'm a little dubious about the LCHF as it takes away many of the things I love but also I have done LCHF and just binged on super high fat things like nuts and butter. Maybe I'll give it another try...

in reply to mfbx9da4

You need to find a balance that is right for you :)

I think it's worthwhile taking on board, though, that it's carbs that do us the real damage.

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