How To Know If You Are An Emotional Eater

In my eBook, The Secret To Ending Overeating For Good, I explain why most overeEating disorderating is due to emotional eating.  In a recent blog the writer provides 11 signs that one is an emotional eater.

Check it out and see if you fit the profile.

“Overeating is emotional by nature. We simply aren’t programmed to eat more than our bodies require for no reason.  And we don’t keep doing the same thing over and over unless it’s serving us in some way.

“Emotional eaters eat to soothe negative feelings like stress, boredom, loneliness, anger, anxiety, and/or sadness.  Researchers estimate that 75% of “emotional eating” leads to overeating.  How do you know if you are an emotional eater?  Most people just *know* – but if you aren’t sure, here are 11 surefire signs.

“#1 – You eat without realizing you are even putting food into your mouth. This can happen almost unconsciously, especially after you have committed to swearing off a particular food.

“#2 – You feel stressed about an important project or emotionally-charged issue, but instead of dealing with it directly, you dive into a package of cookies.

“#3 – You feel guilty or ashamed after overeating and blowing your plan *again*.

“#4 – When you do something good, you feel like you *deserve* a treat. You eat to celebrate . . . anything.

“#5 – You don’t stick to a plan, and feel like your eating or your weight is spiraling “out of control.”

“#6 – You eat to procrastinate. You don’t want to do something that seems difficult or time consuming, so you eat before attempting it (if you get to it at all).

“#7 – Feeling full isn’t enough. You need to feel stuffed to feel satisfied.

“#8 – You tend to overeat when you are fatigued. It’s quick and easy, and feels like the only thing you have the energy to do.

“#9 – You tend to overeat when you are alone, bored and lonely to entertain yourself. It can even feel exciting at first, because you get to do exactly what you want with nobody watching.

“#10 – You crave certain foods and feel like you *have to* have them. While there are many factors that create food cravings, emotions are at the top of the list.

“#11 – You feel like you can’t get what you REALLY want, so you *settle* for food.”

For the full article, please go to:

If you fit the description of an emotional eater, remember that you can totally and permanently stop this problem when you eliminate the beliefs and conditionings that cause it.

For more details, please see my eBook, The Secret to Ending Overeating For Good, at  You also can get answers to specific questions at my office, 415-884-0552.

Copyright © 2011 Morty Lefkoe

Most Overeating Is Emotional Eating

Although the term “emotional eating” is still not in common usage, more and more people are realizing that overeating is almost always the result of eating for emotional reasons, as distinct from eating when hungry.

If you ask Google to notify you about every blog post or article published on the Internet on “emotional eating,” you will discover there are several everyday.

One such recent blog post had some excellent material on how to know if you are eating emotionally. I’d like to quote some excerpts from that post here and provide you with a link so you can read the rest of the post.

“Emotional eating can be said to occur when we eat to satisfy a desire other than physical hunger.    Emotional eating usually takes place when a person is depressed or angry, stressed or vulnerable. It can be triggered in response to some distressing news, an argument with a loved one or simply boredom. There are any numbers of reasons that can send us heading straight for the cookie jar.

“You may go to a movie and although it is only an hour or so since you ate a meal you sit and eat a large carton of popcorn, then a coke or perhaps an ice cream. Perhaps you do the same sort of thing most evenings at home in front of the TV, just steadily munching away at various foods although you are not really hungry at all.

How do I know when I am emotionally eating?

“You can tell emotional hunger because it usually comes on very quickly whereas physical hunger will build up gradually.

“Emotional hunger needs to be immediately satisfied and with whatever food you are craving, physical hunger will wait.

“Emotional hunger usually brings with it a desire for certain foods. You may have a burning desire to eat chocolate or cakes or ice cream, maybe only pizza will satisfy your craving. With physical hunger you are more adaptable with what you eat.

“You may not be able to stop overeating. The emotion that has caused you to begin eating may not be satisfied and you are unable to stop eating junk food.

“After emotional eating it is likely that there will be feelings of guilt, this does not occur with physical hunger.”

You can find the full post at–-stop-emotional-eating.

Unfortunately, despite the useful information about emotional eating, this post—like most other articles and books written on the subject—does not provide a workable solution.  I am convinced based on my experience with a number of clients who had this problem, that emotional eating is the result of two distinct processes:

First, eating has been conditioned to occur whenever certain triggers or the desire for specific rewards are present and,

Second, beliefs that have been formed about eating, food, and weight.

When you eliminate all the conditionings and beliefs, emotional eating will stop.

For more details, please see my eBook, The Secret to Ending Your Overeating For Good, at

Copyright © 2011 Morty Lefkoe

How “Non-eating” Beliefs Cause Emotional Eating

A session with an emotional eating client today made it very clear how beliefs that had nothing directly to do with eating, weight, or food ultimately could lead to an overeating problem.

The client had de-conditioned eating when any one of about 20 triggers were present and she had eliminated about 10 beliefs about eating and food.  And yet she still continued to eat when she wasn’t hungry.

I asked her to look carefully at the moment when she realizes she is no longer hungry (after eating) and tell me what she wants to get from eating more food. What does she really want when she thinks she wants to eat?

Eating to get intimacy

She was quiet for at least two full minutes and then she said, as she started to cry, “Two things.  First eating gives me a sense of being loved and a sense of intimacy.  I feel I need to connect with someone or something.  And, second, eating gives me a sense of security, reassurance, feeling safe and secure, a sense that it’s all okay.

She had told me earlier in the session that she was very unhappy and felt her life was not what she wanted it to be.  She spoke of frequently feeling depressed and anxious.

Can you see that she was eating solely for emotional reasons: to get the sense of love and connection and to get a sense everything is okay—as a way to make herself feel better and to distract herself from the constant feeling that her life is not okay?

So the first thing we did was de-condition eating as the vehicle she used to get a pleasurable distraction from the negative feelings that pervade her life.

At that point she said she could imagine finishing a meal, feeling full, and not still want to eat more—something she had said earlier in the session she couldn’t imagine at all.

“Food doesn’t reject me”

Then we took a look to see why she chose eating to get a sense of intimacy and connection and to get a sense of security, rather than relationships.  A comment she made earlier in the session was the clue: “Food doesn’t reject me.”

When I asked her what she meant by that, she came out with several beliefs without even realizing it: People can’t be trusted.  People will reject me.  My relationships won’t last.  People will abandon me. These beliefs had nothing directly to do with eating and food, but they were responsible for her not being able to have intimate relationships.  At which point eating appeared to be the only alternative.


Given those beliefs, she couldn’t turn to people to get what she needed, and because food seemed to give it to her, eating became a conditioned response whenever she wanted to numb her feelings of unhappiness and feel, instead, connected and secure.

In our next session I plan to help her eliminate these and any other beliefs that prevent her from using people to get the intimacy, connection, and security she needs.  Now that she is no longer conditioned to eat when she has those needs (which is almost all the time), eliminating the beliefs will open up the possibility for intimate relationships.

Then in later sessions we will find and eliminate the beliefs and conditionings that are causing the unhappiness, depression, and anxiety—which is the ultimate source of her emotional eating problem.

For my free eBook, The Secret to Ending Overeating For Good, go to

Copyright © Morty Lefkoe 2011

How Our Parents Can Unwittingly Cause Emotional Eating Problems

Most overeating is the result of emotional eating.  And a significant cause of all emotional eating is conditioning.  In other words, eating becomes a conditioned response to a number of triggers, such as loneliness, anxiety, depression, and feeling unlovable.  When those triggers appear in your life, you are conditioned to want to eat.

In addition, however, another important cause of overeating is beliefs, most of which were formed in childhood as a result of interactions with parents.

Here are just a few of the common things parents say and do that lead to beliefs that, in turn, lead to emotional eating.

  • “Finish everything on your plate (whether you are hungry or not).”
  • “It’s time to eat (whether you are hungry or not).”
  • “Don’t eat that or you’ll gain weight.”
  • “Good” foods and ”bad” foods.
  • “If you gain weight you won’t have any friends.”
  • “Shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” around food and eating.
  • Parents who are often on diets or who have an eating problem.

Which of these situations were present in your household?

Here are just a few of the possible beliefs that can result from this type of parental behavior and comment.

  • If I don’t control my eating I’ll put on weight.
  • The way to stay thin is to control my food and exercise a lot.
  • If I’m heavy I’ll be rejected.
  • I can’t trust my body (to tell me when to eat or stop eating).
  • I can’t trust myself to know how much to eat and when to eat.
  • The only way to know what and when to eat is to keep things the same.
  • If I look fat I’ll be rejected.
  • If I gain a few pounds it means I’m out of control.
  • My body is revolting. (One woman with this belief is 5’9” and weighs 110 pounds)
  • I need to exercise to deserve food.
  • I’m not deserving.
  • I have to be deserving to eat.
  • I’m a fake.
  • Sense of self: big, chunky, uncoordinated.
  • If I can’t eat “bad” foods, I’m missing out.
  • Bad” foods make you fat.
  • To lose weight you can’t eat anything “bad.”
  • The way to keep food from running my life (like it did my mom’s) is to eat whatever I want to eat.
  • If I don’t eat when there’s food around there won’t be any later.
  • The way to be in control is to eat what I want, when I want.
  • The way to keep from being hungry is to have a lot of food in the house.

Which of these beliefs did you form?

It is possible to permanently stop emotional eating by de-conditioning eating as the response to triggers and the desire for certain rewards, and by eliminating all the relevant beliefs.

For more details, please see my eBook, The Secret to Ending Your Overeating For Good, at

Copyright © 2011 Morty Lefkoe

Why Do People Gain All Their Weight Back After A Diet?

It isn’t that difficult to lose weight on a diet.  There are many diets that will produce a weight loss if followed rigorously.  The problem, as people with an emotional eating problem know all too well, is that when you stop dieting, the weight usually comes back even faster than it left.

Why? When you stop a diet—which is eating food you normally wouldn’t eat, in quantities you normally wouldn’t eat—you start eating the way you had before the diet.

But there is another very important reason for gaining all the weight back.

Many people who obsess about their weight believe that if only they could weigh what they wanted (which is much less than they currently weigh), their life would be perfect.  In other words, they attribute most of what doesn’t work in their life to their excess weight.

After people get down to the weight they thought would make them happy and it doesn’t, they would have to acknowledge that weight was not the real cause of their unhappiness, because they are still unhappy despite being at their “target” weight. For some people, it is too difficult to acknowledge this. So they gain back all the weight they lost so they can continue to blame their unhappiness on the number of pounds they weigh.

For such people, it is important to deal with the emotional aspects of their eating problem before they lose weight.  If they can take responsibility for what isn’t working in their lives and do something about it, they will be able to lose weight and not need to gain it all back.

For more details on emotional eating, please see my eBook, The Secret to Ending Your Overeating For Good, at

Copyright © Morty Lefkoe 2010

I Am Someone With A Weight Problem


Many people with an emotional eating problem can’t even imagine themselves not obsessing about food and eating all the time.  It has become a part of their identity.

As Geneen Roth put it in her book, Women, Food and God, as long as you have an eating problem, “you always have something to do.  As long as you are striving and pushing and trying hard to do something that can never be done, you know who you are: someone with a weight problem who is working hard to be slim.  You don’t have to feel lost or helpless because you have a goal and that goal can never be reached.”

I suspect that if you consciously identify yourself as someone with a weight problem long enough, you will ultimately create an unconscious sense of yourself as someone with a weight problem regardless of how much you actually weigh.

Check it out for yourself.  Close your eyes and look inside and ask yourself: What is my sense of myself?

Some people will have positive sense: I’m someone who is okay with myself; I’m fine just the way I am.  Others might have a negative sense: I’m someone who doesn’t feel good about myself.  There’s something basically wrong with me.  And others might have a sense of themselves as: I am someone with a weight problem.  I will never be okay until I reach a weight where I really look good.

Eating when we are not hungry is an attempt to not experience the “bad” person we mistakenly think we are. These negative feelings about ourselves are more than we think we can handle.  So in an attempt to go unconscious and not experience those feelings, we eat.

In fact we are not the terrible person many of us think we are.  Those negative feelings are nothing more than the feelings that come from negative beliefs about yourself, beliefs that have never been really the truth.  Beliefs like I’m not good enough.  I’m not important.  I’m not worthy or deserving.  I’m not loveable.

These beliefs were formed as a result of the meaning we gave to childhood interactions with our parents.  If the beliefs were eliminated, the negative sense of we have of ourselves would disappear.

We might experience ourselves in a negative way.  Yet it is not who we really are.  We have that sense as a result of beliefs and conditions.  And we might experience ourselves as someone with an eating problem.  That also is not who we really are.

For more information about overeating and weight, please see my eBook, The Secret to Ending Overeating For Good, at

Unconsciousness Is What’s Important, Not The Food

Most people who overeat claim that they eat because “it just tastes good.”  But food tastes good to everyone, not just people with an emotional eating problem.  So that can’t really be the reason.

Geneen Roth, in her best-selling book, Women, Food and God, perceptively points out the real underlying issue in all cases of overeating.

“The bottom line, whether you weigh 340 pounds or 150 pounds, is that when you eat when you are not hungry, you are using food as a drug, grappling with boredom or illness or loss or grief or emptiness or loneliness or rejection.  Food is only the middleman, the means to the end.  Of altering your emotions.  Or making yourself numb.  Of creating a secondary problem when the original problem becomes too uncomfortable.  Of dying slowly rather than coming to terms with your messy, magnificent and very, very short—even at a hundred years old—life.   The means to these ends happens to be food, but it could be alcohol, it could be work, it could be sex, it could be cocaine.  Surfing the Internet.  Talking on the phone.

“For a variety of reasons we don’t fully understand (genetics, temperament, environment), those of us who are compulsive eaters choose food.  Not because of its taste.  Not because of its texture or its color.  We want quantity, volume, bulk.  We need it—a lot of it—to go unconscious.  To wipe out what’s going on.  The unconsciousness is what’s important, not the food.”

Copyright © Morty Lefkoe 2010

Why Has It Been So Difficult To Stop Emotional Eating?

So many people with an emotional eating problem have tried so many
diets and pills and eating programs that they are now skeptical that anything
can help them stop emotional eating for good. That conclusion is understandable. They have been disappointed so many times. It would make sense to now believe that anyone’s claims about emotional eating solutions couldn’t possibly be true.

But if you understand the role of conditioning, you understand that
diets—which consist of eating something different and eating less than you
normally would eat—work only to the extent you are using will power to
overcome the compulsion to eat more than the diets permit, whenever
triggers or the desire for rewards are present.

And even though pills can affect your appetite or change how you
process food internally, they cannot stop the compulsion to eat more than
you are hungry for in response to triggers and rewards.

Only de-conditioning can do that permanently.

What Role Do Beliefs Play In Emotional Eating?

Originally I had thought, because getting rid of beliefs never stopped
emotional eating and because de-conditioning did with most clients, beliefs
had nothing to do with emotional eating. That was a logical fallacy on my
part. Just because beliefs are not the sole cause of emotional eating doesn’t
necessarily mean they can’t be a partial cause for some people.

I now think that conditioning is almost always involved in emotional eating, but beliefs also can be involved for some people.

Here’s the way it looks to me now. Most people with an emotional
eating problem have been conditioned to eat in response to various triggers
and rewards. This is true regardless of the client’s environment as a child.

However, if someone has grown up in an environment in which one’s
parents have an eating problem and they talk frequently about dieting, losing
weight, being too heavy, being “good” on days they stay on their diet and
“bad” on days when they do not, and “good” foods and “bad” foods, then
such people are likely to form a bunch of beliefs that result in food and
eating being a constant issue in their lives … in addition to the conditioning.

Here is a list of a few of the beliefs one of my clients identified and
eliminated: If I can’t eat “bad” foods, I’m missing out. “Bad” foods make
you fat. To lose weight you can’t eat anything “bad.” The way to keep food
from running my life (like it did my mom’s) is to eat whatever I want to eat.
Can you see how such beliefs probably would lead to emotional eating?

Beliefs like these would have to be eliminated before one’s emotional eating
would stop completely. I’ve been able to help clients with this type of belief
eliminate their relevant eating beliefs using the Lefkoe Belief Process.

I want to distinguish between beliefs that directly lead to emotional
eating (like those just discussed) and those that lead to triggers that lead
to emotional eating. The beliefs listed above would directly lead to
emotional eating. Beliefs also can lead to negative feelings (such as anxiety,
anger and upset), feeling sorry for oneself (a sense of victimization), feeling
unlovable, etc. These conditions then can become triggers for emotional
eating. But these beliefs do not have to be eliminated before emotional
eating can be totally stopped.

Why Are These Beliefs So Different?

Because if the Lefkoe De-conditioning Process unhooks these triggers
from emotional eating, it becomes possible to deal with the triggers with
behaviors other than emotional eating—such as talking to friends, listening to
music, exercising, reading a book, or any activity one truly enjoys.

Although these activities have always existed as possible ways to deal
with the triggers that emotional eaters have, they are rarely chosen as
alternatives because eating already has been conditioned to occur
immediately (unless stopped by will power) following the presence of the
trigger. Once eating has become de-conditioned and is no longer a
compulsive behavior, you then have the time to calmly find another activity
that will provide a “pleasurable distraction.”

Why Do Most People Fail At Ending Their Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is a problem that keeps many people from enjoying vibrant health and causes anguish and feelings of helplessness for many. As a result, therapists, coaches, and self-help authors have tried to
help emotional eaters stop overeating in response to emotions. And
unfortunately all of them have failed you.


Because they didn’t fully understand the true cause of most
emotional eating.

After 25 years and about 13,000 clients, I finally figured out what causes
emotional eating. Although beliefs are, in fact, responsible for most of the
problems that plague us—such as anxiety, the fear of rejection, worrying
what others think of us, anger, lack of confidence, and most relationship
issues—they are not the primary cause of emotional eating.

Over the years I tried to help some people with emotional eating by
helping them eliminate the beliefs that seemed to cause the problem.
Unfortunately, the results weren’t great. We worked on belief after belief
and many aspects of their lives improved significantly. But one thing didn’t
change—their eating habits.

But because I knew from years of experience that change can be easy
and lasting, when presented with a behavior I couldn’t change by eliminating
beliefs (like eating), I didn’t conclude it couldn’t be done. Instead, I decided
there must be a way to help people like you, and I just hadn’t figured it out

The Turning Point

I started figuring out a solution to emotional eating in August 2009, when
a close friend of mine asked me to help him with his emotional eating

Because I had realized that beliefs have little to do with emotional
eating in most cases, I looked elsewhere. Here’s what I discovered in the
process of working with my friend and other emotional eating clients since

Emotional eating has just one primary cause: a unique type of
conditioning that appears to only apply to eating. In addition to this
conditioning, some emotional eating can also be traced to a few beliefs.

Conditioning of eating happens in one of two ways. The first and most
common is when you have some negative feeling or experience and then just
happen to eat and experience a “pleasurable distraction.” In other words,
when you eat you experience a pleasurable feeling instead of a negative
feeling and you also have a distraction from the negative feeling.

After (unconsciously) noticing many times that eating provides a
pleasurable distraction in that situation, you get conditioned to eat
whenever that situation occurs in the future.

The second way conditioning happens is when you want a “reward,” such
as wanting to feel good or comfortable, or to celebrate. You eat and then
discover that you are experiencing the reward you want; after numerous
connections between eating and the “reward,” eating gets conditioned to
occur whenever you desire one of the rewards.

In a blog post I wrote about eating in October 2009, I pointed out:
…if your parents continually rewarded you for special things you
did as a child by giving you a special meal with the food you really
liked, you could get conditioned to eat whenever you wanted to feel
acknowledged for something you did.

I call this process “conditioning” because the behavior (eating) is
experienced as compulsive, as driven. Eating happens automatically and
requires considerable will power to stop.

This conditioning is the emotional equivalent of a belief: You have the
emotional sense that the behavior in question is the best way to get what you
want. In the case of emotional eating, it feels as if eating is the best way to
give yourself pleasure, to reward yourself, to provide a pleasurable
distraction from something negative, etc. It’s like an emotional, rather than
a cognitive, conclusion.

At that point I realized that one way to describe emotional eating is
that, for the most part, it’s “set off” both by “triggers” and “rewards.”
Eating to achieve a reward is when you eat when you want to get a
positive feeling or to celebrate. Triggered eating is eating that provides a
pleasurable distraction from negative feelings or events. So the eating is
“triggered” by these negative experiences.