Emotional Eating Part 2

Emotional Eating/Non-Hunger Eating: Ways to Cope Part #2

By Heather Mackie MS, Rd, LD


Many patients struggle with emotional eating or what some have termed “mindless eating.”  Whatever you want to call it, the behavior involves eating when you are not physically hungry.  Immediately after surgery, bariatric surgery prevents non-hunger eating for many patients by making them feel sick if they eat when they are not physically hungry.  However, not all patients experience this same side effect.  As we know, long-term success is the goal and the key to long-term success involves changing behavior.  Learning new ways to cope with previous habits is the beginning of that behavior change.

In the previous installment of learning ways to cope with emotional eating or non-hunger eating, a hunger-fullness scale was discussed.  Please revisit “Emotional Eating/Non-Hunger Eating; Ways to Cope” for more information (available at: https://www.celebratevitamins.com/education/articles/emotional-eating-non-hunger-eating.html).  In this segment we will review ways to redirect activity when you feel the urge to eat when you are not physically hungry.

Redirecting Activity

Redirecting activity can be quite instrumental for long-term success.  This is especially true when it comes to nighttime mindless eating.  For example, say you normally eat dinner, watch television, and then eventually find yourself in the pantry or refrigerator looking for something sweet or salty, even though you are not physically experiencing hunger.  

It may be beneficial to make a list of non-food related activities (discussed in more detail in the next paragraph).  Some individuals prefer to take each idea and put them on a small strip of paper and then place them in an envelope on the pantry or refrigerator door.  One patient even shared they put a stop sign on the front of the envelope.  Then at night (or whenever you find yourself eating, but you are not physically hungry), go to the envelope and pull out a strip of paper and complete the activity listed.  Do that activity for at least 15-20 minutes.  If you notice you are hungry at the completion of that activity, then allow yourself one of your pre-planned, structured snacks.  If not, then note the emotion that might be driving the eating and work to combat that emotion to ensure your long-term success.  For example, your eating could be out of boredom, stress, sadness, etc.  

Examples of Redirecting Activity

Some examples of non-food related activities might include painting your fingernails, walking for 15 minutes, reading a book or magazine, calling a friend, playing a board game with your child, playing with your pet (if you have one), etc.  Some people choose to make their list of non-food related activities fun activities or time with family, while others choose to include a few household chores on their list.  You have to find what works for you and include those items on your list.  Whatever you choose to put on your list, be sure to actually write it down on paper.  Then cut each idea out as a strip of paper and put it into your envelope and place the envelope on the refrigerator or pantry door.  

It is NOT recommended to include activities that typically lead to eating.  For example, watching television, watching movies, and for some people, reading can all lead to eating or even worse, mindless eating.  

Including the Hunger-Fullness Scale

Some patients may choose to include a diagram of the hunger-fullness scale below the stop sign on the envelope so it reminds you to ask yourself if you are truly physically hungry. 

Bariatric Vitamins and Minerals

It is also important to discuss the importance of taking your bariatric surgery vitamins and minerals as directed by your bariatric surgery team.*  For example, some patients that are craving chocolate may actually be low in magnesium.  Be sure to follow-up with your bariatric surgery healthcare team to get updated, personalized recommendations in regards to bariatric vitamin supplementation, your healthy eating plan, and when to get your bariatric vitamin and mineral lab work testing.


* The vitamin and mineral regimen should be viewed as an individualized supplement plan based upon each patient’s individual medical history, laboratory studies, fitness regimen, eating plan, and current weight goals.  Patients should follow the instructions of their bariatric surgery team, including their bariatric surgeon and bariatric dietitian.