Emotional Eating vs. Eating in Moderation

I shared a post on social media a few days ago with some pictures of what I ate in the day for a ‘meal check in‘ if you will.

Only, this check in was different than your typical meal share that most coaches do.

No, this check in included things like A+W fries, ice tea, ice cream, and a BBQ dinner. All things I ate that day- but are also things that I do not regularly eat.

I shared this in hopes to inspire you as women to take an alternate approach to your nutrition. One where there is no shame, no guilt, no second guessing, no restriction, no ‘saving calories’ and no turning to food for comfort.

In todays post we are taking a deeper look into this and discussing the difference between emotional eating and eating in moderation.

Let’s dive in!

What does eating in moderation mean?

I am a big believer in everything in moderation– but what does that mean exactly? Well, simply put, it means eating certain foods in moderation. Seriously… that’s it!

However, the secret is that there is no emotion tied to this way of eating, and the ‘treats’ we have are not meant to be something we have every single day.

There are different combinations of this way of eating- and there is no right or wrong way.

For me, and what I typically recommend for my clients, is a 90/10 lifestyle. This means eating healthy, nutritious, whole foods 90% of the time, and the other 10% of the time enjoying life fully.

Some days I might have a small treat, other times it might be a few treats in one day- which is what I like to call my 10% days (kind of like what I shared on social media this past weekend).

However, the occurrence of these treats aren’t a daily thing. Sometimes it might be a couple times a week, once a week, or sometimes only a couple times a month. I don’t plan them out- but I do listen to my body and choose what feels in alignment with me.

When choosing to enjoy these treats, it’s not because I am overwhelmed, stressed out, or turning to food for comfort. I am also not experiencing feelings of guilt, shame, or thinking/saying anything along the lines of “I’ll have to work this off later”.

No- instead I am enjoying those treats fully because that what eating in moderation means.

How is that different from emotional eating?

Eating in moderation differs from emotional eating, mainly because there is no emotion tied to it.

In emotional eating, we are not merely enjoying a food- rather, we are instead turning to food for comfort or to cope with whatever we are currently facing in our lives.

Let’s be real- stress can come in all forms. It could be related to financials, work, family- even something as small as being caught in traffic. This stress in turn can cause a change in our emotions where we feel the need to cope with it in (often) a negative way.

Have you ever been consumed by an emotion and tried to distract yourself from it? Perhaps sitting down on the couch with a bag of chips and suddenly the bag is empty and you don’t remember even tasting it?

That’s a form of emotional eating.

It comes on sudden, we tend to crave a specific food, and it often disables our ‘full’ cue- meaning we can eat, eat and eat, without even realizing we are full. 

Does it involve physical hunger cues?

A big thing to note, is emotional eating usually does NOT involve actual hunger cues.

Instead, it’s actually the opposite. When we become hungry, it builds with time. We slowly become hungrier and hungrier, until we feel the actual signs of hunger.

Emotional eating is not like that. As I mentioned above, it comes on sudden- a rapid sensation that causes us to decide we want something for comfort and we want it now.

Similarly, when we are actually hungry, we will be open to a variety of foods. We could eat a selection of different foods and they would all serve the purpose we are after- to fill our belly and cure our hunger, stopping when we are full.

However, when we are emotional eating we tend to crave one or two very specific foods, rather than being open to a variety of things. In addition, we tend to experience ‘binging’ behaviour, where we do not sense when we are full and we continue to eat, gorging ourselves.

Finally, as I mentioned above, physical hunger does not have an emotion tied to it- but emotional eating always does.

What are some ways to stop or improve it?

Now you might be thinking, this is great and all… but how do I actually stop or improve this behaviour? Perhaps you’ve realized you have been or are prone to emotional eating, and in that case, don’t worry!

This is not only common, it is also a challenge that can be easily corrected with a little time, some good steps and more awareness.

The first thing I recommend if you are interested in creating more awareness around your way of eating, is to begin food charting for a short period of time. This does not have to be complicated or in depth, but it can provide some incredible insight into your current habits and triggers.

I recommend simply charting the time that you ate or drank something, with a brief description of that food or drink, and how you were feeling before, during or after that intake. For best results avoid counting calories, measuring food or any other restrictive action here.

Your goal is to simply create awarenessnot deepen the shame or guilt spiral.

Try doing this for a week or two, and then look back on what you wrote down with an open mind and a nonjudgmental heart. Were there certain things that seemed to be a common problem? Was it the same trigger or multiple things that lead to certain foods? Did it happen daily, frequently or once and a while?

This will be the best way to determine what steps you can put in place to improve your current habits, as you will be able to use this to your advantage moving forward.

Outside of that, here are two of my biggest hacks for improving or eliminating emotional eating:

1. Keep the main culprits out of your home.

I bet if I asked you right now, you could tell me what your biggest weakness is when it comes to food. I know personally, mine is chips. They are my nemesis! I could easily sit there and inhale an entire bag without breathing.

Is it also chips for you? Or maybe chocolate? Candy?

Truthfully, it doesn’t matter what it is. But knowing what it is CAN make a huge difference for you.

I’ll be the first to tell you that eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to mean eliminating your favourite treats. I personally, still eat chips and other things too!

But here’s my secret: when grocery shopping and making the decision that I want to enjoy chips as a treat, I don’t buy six bags to bring home. Instead I buy one, small bag to enjoy fully.

This way, it is remaining as a treat in moderation, and the temptation to ‘binge’ on ALL the chips has been drastically reduced (meaning I’d have to drive to the store to get more if I really wanted them).

This is a great way to stick to your goals and improve your emotional eating habits. Plus, you still get to enjoy your favourite things then!

2. Pre-portion snacks out.

This is my other BIG tip. Often times we are distracted when eating- and especially when emotionally eating. We don’t have a couple of chips and think ‘this is a full serving so I’m going to stop now’. 

No, rather we tend to eat straight from the package and whether we intend to or not, suddenly we are 25 cookies down in a 30 pack. Yikes!

Help yourself instead and prevent this from happening.

As soon as you bring an item home from the grocery store, repack it into smaller, snack pack sizes that equal a serving size. You can do this with little containers or baggies. There are lots of reusable options available online!

Simply repack that snack, and then, when emotional eating begins to strike, you will have a visual representation of just how much you are eatingwhich will ‘hopefully’ signal you to stop after one or two.

If not, at least you have the ability to measure your intake and create awareness around that for the future!

Outside of these tips, of course, creating mindfulness is always a great idea and can be done simply either through casual ways or more formal practices like meditation. Either way, I hope this helps you understand emotional eating on a deeper level and gives you some tips to improve your own eating patterns.


You can also check out my video HERE that I made to explain this subject as well.

Best of luck babe!



Brianne xx

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Hi, I’m Brianne

Here at The Holistic RN you’ll find a place where holistic healing and western medicine come together to create a brand new way of looking at your health- including real food recipes, easy to understand information and overflowing inspiration. Let’s get started!

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