Organic Melinda

healthy living with a Latin twist


The Causes of Emotional Eating and Tips to Stop

With commercials and advertisements constantly telling us to eat, eat, and eat some more, many of us feel hungry all of our waking hours. Yet, what often follows food advertisements is an onslaught of more advertisements about diet and weight loss.

We are constantly being told through media images that we must eat to enjoy life, to be cool, to hang out, BUT we must be fit, muscular, and thin while we do it.  These mixed messages often leave us in a state of confusion.  You add the fact that food is tied to so many of our identities and cultural memories, and eating can often become a blanket of comfort, a tool to deal with pain, and an escape from anxiety.

In this post, I will share information on the causes of emotional eating through my own experiences and those of Marriage and Family Therapist, Yaritza Zayas and Lori Brannen-Graham, a Personal Trainer and Holistic Nutritionist.

Defining Emotional Eating

Yartiza defines emotional eating as, “The use of food (any food) to cope with a feeling state that is overwhelming. This does include feelings that are categorized as “good” or “happy” (i.e. pride, excitement, etc) not limited to “negative” feelings (i.e. sad, upset, anger, etc).”

Lori states, “Emotional eating can be defined as using food to either comfort oneself in times of stress or ‘self-medicating’ through food.”

According to, “Eating to feed a feeling, and not a growling stomach, is emotional eating.”

Unpacking the Definition

In other words, we all experience emotional eating.

Emotional eating is not a problem that is only experienced by people who are characterized as over-weight. It is, also, not a problem that is only experienced by women.

Having a celebratory drink or slice of cake after running a marathon or getting a job promotion is a form of emotional eating; as is the stereotypical image of a girl downing a pint of ice-cream and a box of chocolate after a break-up.

Emotional eating can also be seen in fitness models and bodybuilders eating weekly “cheat meals” to deal with feelings of deprivation after a week of strict calorie-counting.

Many people eat when they are bored; this, too, is a form of emotional eating.

When Emotional Eating Becomes a Concern

Celebratory eating is, generally speaking, not a problem if it is not excessive.

The concern with emotional eating rises when it becomes a cycle that an individual cannot break him/herself out of or an individual feels like s/he has little to no control in stopping.

If you eat, and then experience feelings of guilt, anger, or frustration, it is a good idea to ask yourself why you just ate.  Were you hungry or did other emotions spark your desire to eat?

In our interview, Yaritza and I discussed food as an addiction.  Like any drug addiction, food can serve to mediate anxieties, fears, feelings of worthlessness, and can make you feel good.  It has been well-documented that sugar has addictive properties akin to cocaine.

Emotional eating can also be form of self-sabotage and an immediate outlet to cope with unwanted feelings. Survivors of physical and sexual abuse are known to resort to emotional eating as a way to make themselves what they perceive to be physically unattractive or as a way to cope with feelings of emptiness or pain.

So, if every time you are sad, anxious, or angry, you run to the refrigerator, you are probably an emotional eater.

 Causes of Emotional Eating

Emotional eating can start at a very young age, such as when children receive food as a reward for good behavior.  In my conversation with Yaritza, we discussed the prevalence of this behavior in the Latino community. While treats as rewards, in of themselves, are not a problem, they create a connection between good feelings and food, which can last a lifetime.

Here is a free-list of other factors that cause and/or contribute to emotional eating:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • a break-up
  • anger
  • sadness
  • lack of impulse control
  • wanting comfort
  • inability of coping with and handling difficult emotional states
  • feelings of deprivation
  • eating below caloric requirements
  • boredom
  • psychological difficulties or mental illness
  • having an eating disorder

Each of these factors can work together to create an environment conducive of emotional eating.

Personal Stories

Lori shares her difficulties with emotional eating when she was a bodybuilder a few years ago.

 “I had developed ritualistic eating habits and patterns that consequently led to some health issues and the feelings associated with emotional eating. I would restrict myself all week knowing that I had a planned ‘cheat’ on the weekend. During the week it’s all I could think about….I dreamt of chocolate. It was always the same disappointment each time, though. I would spend the following day lethargic and cranky, promising myself to not binge until the following weekend. I led this lifestyle for so long it just became normal to me.”   

While Lori struggled with feelings of self-deprivation and extreme calorie-counting to maintain a competition-ready physique, Yartiza shared her emotional triggers.

“I have battled with overeating and my trigger was anger. I have a quick temper and to avoid getting violent or to calm the anger feelings I’d overindulge to get so stuffed that I couldn’t move and essentially  become helpless and a non-threat.”

I have also struggled with emotional eating as a way to mediate anxiety, stress, and even as a way to stake claim over my body.  Perhaps, the last part was more triggered by anger.  In a previous post, I shared my struggles with having a positive view of my body.  I discussed some of the difficulties that arose from constant name calling, and my mother policing everything that I ate.  At times, I would eat just to defy her.

Anxious and stress-related eating began when I was in college. I had to work multiple part-time jobs while going to college full-time and maintaining a high GPA.  During mid-terms and final exams, I would sit down with a giant bag of chips, a large container of salsa, and a jug of purple soda.  All of the junk food would provide me with a sugar rush that would keep me awake long enough to study and finish papers. However, I would feel the damaging effects of eating so much and so unhealthy for days after these events, especially when I would binge eat to stay awake for 3-4 days straight.  

Dangers of Emotional Eating

Emotional eating, for many, is a coping mechanism to deal with difficult times, but it can actually cause further difficulties.

Certified Personal Trainer & Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Lori explains, “There are many dangers associated with emotional eating, including (but not limited to) many psychological troubles such as self-loathing, guilt, frustration, disappointment, shame, and/or feelings of failure. These feelings can perpetuate stress and keep the cycle on-going. Emotional eating can be habit forming and long term can cause metabolic damage. It can also lead to yo-yo dieting (to compensate for an emotional food binge) and lead to major body weight fluctuations. “

Family Therapist, Yaritza asserts that emotional eating can lead to “lifestyle diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. [and it can be] linked to other addictive behaviors (not limited to high risk behaviors like drug use, for example).”

Another danger of emotional eating is that individuals might not learn other ways to cope with difficult emotions or times.  It is important to have healthy ways of coping with life’s difficulties and celebrating good times without turning to food.

Tips on How to Stop

Now, that we have an understanding of the factors that lead to emotional eating and the potential dangers, here are 8 tips shared by Lori, Yaritza, and I on how to overcome emotional eating.

1. Practice Mindful Eating

“Use hunger as your guide and eat until you are comfortably full. Practicing mindful eating can bring your focus and awareness to the food directly in front of you. If mindful eating becomes a habit it will become harder to revert back to emotional eating,” advises Lori.

2. Stay Hydrated

In our phone interview, Yaritza explained to me that our body signals are the same for thirst and hunger. Many times people confuse the two sensations.  If you have eaten in the past hour or so, and, all of the sudden, you are very hungry, drink some water.  If it satiates your desire to eat, then you were thirsty, not hungry.  Staying hydrated also helps you to feel fuller longer.  Most people require their weigh divided by 2 in ounces of water per day.  For example, I weight 129 lbs, so I would need at least 65 oz of water a day.

3. Recognize  Your Triggers

It is important to figure out what triggers your desire to eat or over-eat when you are not hungry.  Once you figure out what is causing you to eat when you are not hungry, then you can begin to stop.

Lori states, “When you are in a moment of wanting to soothe yourself with food, find something else to do. Replace that habit with something new.”

4. Keep a Journal

It is good to keep a journal of your feelings and a log of your food.  By keeping track of your feelings, you can begin to identify the emotions that trigger binging, explained Yaritza.  Keeping a food log makes you accountable to what you are putting into your body.  Keeping a journal has helped me a lot in my own battle against emotional eating.

5. Exercise

Yaritza and Lori are very physically active women.  They exercise almost every day and both commented on the importance of exercise as a tool to cope with stress, anxiety, and other emotions that lead to emotional eating.  Exercise, also, releases feel good hormones into your bloodstream, which can curb negative emotions which may trigger food cravings.

6. Eat Enough

It might seem ironic to suggest that you eat more food when you are struggling with emotional eating, but I found that feelings of deprivation are a major factor in emotional eating.  Make sure to eat high quality, healthy food, and keep healthy snacks around you.  If you are not eating enough to sustain your body and activity level, you will definitely feel unwell, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

7. Switch Out Sweet Treats for Healthier Ones

When I find myself wanting to eat because I feel stressed or anxious, it is hard for me to find junk food in my household.  I really avoid it like the plague, because I know that the momentary feeling of goodness and satisfaction will soon give way to my stomach hurting and feelings of regrets and anger towards myself.

So, instead of feeding my emotions cupcakes and cookies, all I can find in my refrigerator are carrots, hummus, and fruits and vegetables. While this does not directly solve the problem of emotional eating, it serves as a baby-step in the process.

8. Seek Professional Help

It is always a good idea to speak to a therapist or psychologist when you are an emotional eater.  Therapy can provide you with a tool-kit in order to better manage your triggers.


If you have any more questions on this post or any of my previous posts, please send an email to

To learn more about emotional eating and how to cope, click the links below.

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Farm to People: Buying Locally Grown Food – Review of Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market

Many of the supermarkets in Newark do not have a large supply of fresh fruits and veggies. Instead, most of the supermarkets are full of processed and packaged foods. Access to healthy and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables is one of my main concerns when it comes to food justice, and programs like Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market exist to address this concern.


Figure 1

While walking to Question Mart a few weeks ago, I noticed what appeared to be a festival in Washington Park (across the street from the Main Public Library in Washington Street, Newark, NJ). It was not a festival at all; it was the Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market. I felt like I hit a gold mine. I really, really love fresh foods, and it does not get much fresher than a Farmers’ Market when you don’t own your own garden.

photo     image

  Figure 2                                                                        Figure  3


Figure 4

I walked into the park seduced by the live Jazz music, and immediately noticed the large crates of romaine lettuce, garlic, potatoes, watermelon, corn, peppers, herbs, tomatoes, zucchinis, and various greens (See Figures 1-4). The farmers’ market had all of the fresh veggies that Question Mart was lacking on my visit there. I, immediately, noticed a white sign that read “No GMOs” (See Figure 5) on the Matarazzo Farms stand. Before purchasing food, I walked around and spoke to the various stand employees, but most of the employees did not have opinions on GM foods. When I asked an employee of one stand where he sourced his seeds, he said, “I don’t know. The regular way?” Unconvinced by this response, I went back to the Matarazzo Farms stand.

nongmo sign

Figure 5

The employees at the Matarazzo Farms stand had a lot to say about GMO foods, the politics of USDA Organic labeling, and the need for people to buy locally grown food. I was told that Matarazzo Farms has been run by the same family for almost 100 years. The current head farmer is Jim Matarazzo, who I met on a subsequent trip to the Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market. Jim is very knowledgeable on the food industry and the infiltration of GM foods into supermarkets. He was very patient with my many questions and provided me with a list of organizations that I should research in order to have a deeper understanding of USDA Organic labeling, which I was informed is very expensive in New Jersey. Many New Jersey farmers grow foods in a way that would be considered organic, but they cannot afford the certification of USDA Organic labeling. In other words, many farms in New Jersey are GMO-free and pesticide-free even though their foods are NOT labeled USDA Organic.

Not only were the employees of Matarazzo Farms well informed on the issues that interest Organic Melinda and my readers, their prices were significantly cheaper than what I have been paying at Whole Foods Market, Pathmark, and Trader Joe’s. It appears that one of the main reasons organic food is more expensive than non-labeled food is to cover the costs associated with Organic Certification. On a Wednesday trip to the Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market, I spent only $10.00 on a nice amount of produce (See Figure 6). On a Thursday trip, I bought some fresh fruits and vegetables for only $18.50 (See Figure 7). I have paid upwards of $50.00 for the same amount of produce. I am, now, exclusively, buying produce in the Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market until it ends for the season. The market is inspiring quite a few of the recipes for my upcoming cookbook.

10$      image_1

Figure 6                                                                             Figure 7

The Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market is available in Newark three times a week. I attend on Wednesdays or Thursdays before 3:00 p.m EST. The Wednesday market is located at Washington Park across the street from the Newark Main Public Library. On Thursdays, the market is located on the corner of Raymond Blvd and Broad Street in the PSEG Plaza.

On my visits, I find that the Wednesday market is smaller than the Thursday market. On Wednesday, I only saw 2 farm stands, a smoothie stand, a honey stand, and a snack stand. On Thursday there were three farm stands and various stands of cooked food and desserts. Both days feature live music.

I am very happy to report that Nourishing Newark Farmers’ Market is available to Newark residents. They accept SNAP/Food Stamp benefits, WIC benefits, and, of course, cash, debit and credit. The Farmers’ Market most definitely received the Organic Melinda stamp of approval!

For more information and to locate a Farmers’ Market near you, visit:

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Where Can I buy Organic in Newark, NJ? – Review of Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart

Living in an inner city with a limited income can create many barriers to accessing affordable organic food options. If you don’t own a vehicle, it becomes extra difficult.  In Newark, NJ, which is where I was born, raised and currently live, Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart has opened to fulfill the need for local access to organic products.

I discovered Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart after launching a complaint on my personal Facebook page about the lack of organic foods in the city.  Stop & Shop was two bus rides away from me, and the local Pathmark only carries very limited organic produce, which is very over-priced.  I, often, had to call in a favor to get a ride to the nearest supermarket with ample organic produce, which is a 25-30 minute drive from my house.  I was super excited when a friend mentioned Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart, and I decided to talk a walk from my house in the Ironbound section of Newark to Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart.  It was a nice, warm day and a great opportunity to take my daughter for a walk in her stroller, get some light exercise, and see what Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart had to offer my taste buds.

Located at 392 Broad Street near the heart of Newark’s business district, Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart is easily accessible by walking. You can also take the Newark Light Rail to the location from Newark Penn Station and get off near the Newark Main Library.  The market is located near the entrance/exit for route 280 on Broad Street by the Newark Bears’ Stadium. It is also easily accessible by bus since many lines run on Broad Street.  The hours of operation are 8:00 am to 7:00 pm Eastern Time on Monday thru Friday, 9:00 am to 7:00 pm on Saturday, and 9:00 am to 6:00 pm on Sunday.

When I first walked in to Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart, the first thing I noticed was a single step to get into the supermarket, which I required that I lift up my daughter’s stroller.  It was easy enough for me to do so, but I imagine this could pose a problem for someone in a wheelchair or with a disability.  I would recommend that the owners put a ramp where the step is to make it wheelchair accessible.

Personally, I judge a market by its availability of produce.  I prefer to eat fresh produce in every one of my meals.  I do eat some grains, but I avoid boxed, packaged, and canned food.  I do consume them on occasion, but I try to eat food as close to its natural state as possible.    Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart’s produce section was very small for my preferences (see Figure 1), but it did carry some staple items.  There were broccoli, carrots, corn, nectarines, apples, pears, watermelon, and a few other items. Not all items, however, were organic, which is not necessarily a problem on its own.  I will talk more about the politics of organic labeling in a future post.  There were quite a few locally sourced produce items, but all in all, the produce section was quite small for my taste.  It lacked ample greens, which are my favorite thing in a market.  However, with a farmers’ market located a short walk away during the summer months, this is not a real problem for me.


Figure 1

I was very excited to see environmentally friendly household and personal products (see Figure 2) at Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart, which are things I usually have to travel 20+ minutes away to get, as well.  I will definitely consider going to Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart when I need to restock on household products.

Figure 2

There is no shortage of packaged organic goods, which I know many people are a fan of for reasons of convenience.  I purchased a package of flour to bake vegetable bread for my daughter.  I noticed that Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart carries a mix of both organic and conventional products.  You will see Eden Organics side by side with Goya products (see Figure 3).

Figure 3

The freezer section (see Figure 4) also has a mixture of organic and conventional products.  As a vegan, it was great to see that the store carried vegan items as there tends to be a shortage of vegan options in Newark.    There were also quite a few drinks in the refrigerator, including one of my favorite coconut waters by Harmless Harvest (see Figure 5).


Figure 4


Figure 5

While I wish that Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart had a much larger produce section for the winter months and for days when the farmers’ markets are not in Newark, it is definitely a step forward in this wonderful Renaissance City.  Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart gets the Organic Melinda stamp of approval for being one of the first markets to actively promote organic produce in Newark, NJ and for carrying affordable options that are easily accessible to the Newark population as well as the wonderful and friendly customer service that I received.  Thank you Question Mart/ ?uestion Mart for doing your part to end food insecurity in our great city.

All photos taken by Organic Melinda (Melinda Gonzalez).