Food Addiction, Emotional Eating, Or Both?

“A food addiction is when you regularly eat foods you know aren’t good for you, but you do so for the short term energy lift or comfort they provide.”



My life has been VERY stressful over the past few months… again. I’ve been working overtime for the past year juggling to balance work with being the sole caregiver for my elderly mom. Then in mid-June we began a “month from hell” with mom going by ambulance to the ER 4 times and a total of 20 days in the hospital. After each discharge she needed 24/7 care. It was a very intense time. After a long couple of months, we just celebrated her 97th birthday at our favorite local restaurant - her first social outing since it all happened. I breathed a small sigh of relief - YAY! However, two days later my son was in a motorcycle accident… and here I go again!

I really have tried to eat healthy during this time, but that’s just plain difficult to do when running from one thing to the next all day. Grabbing a sandwich or my nemesis, a latte and muffin became my frequent go to items. Still, as my son always says, “my “bad” diet is better than most people’s “good” one. But that, along with the stress, does what it always does - wreaks havoc with my gut. And for the past month or so, I’ve been experiencing a lot of pain and discomfort after eating and lack of sleep as a result. After a particularly bad episode that led to me having to take a sick day, I knew I NEEDED to make some drastic changes.

I’m now on day 3 of an elimination diet, and actually haven’t had any pain for 1 1/2 days. What a relief! I’ve been most diligent in not only abstaining from all of the nutritional “bandits”, but also preparing 3 perfectly balanced simple meals each day. So, I’m constantly finding myself at the grocery store or local produce stand and tempted to slip “just this once”. So far, so good…sigh…

I also feel amazing… so empowered. It feels like forever since I cleaned up my diet and I REALLY want to stay with it. One of the ways I support myself is to immerse myself in information about what I’m going through and, of course, share it with you!


Sugar has been found to be more addictive than cocaine, and coffee, wheat, and dairy are also foods that I return to. While I find myself craving these foods for energy or to make myself feel better (even if only briefly), I’m beginning to think that the “addiction” isn’t so much about the nature of the food, but rather my addiction to “over-doing”. Here’s why…

Research now shows that rats who have been in isolation and compulsive users of addictive drugs (like morphine and cocaine) stopped their heavy use when taken out of isolation and put into a “rat park” with colored balls, tunnels to play in, great food, and plenty of other rats. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy drug users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did. These studies suggest that a very large factor in addiction is lack of emotional connection and pleasure. Both of these tend to take a back seat when I have an over-whelming to-do list! Anybody with me?

Dietician Lauren Fowler in her article, Why Emotional Eating Is Often A Cry For Pleasure, shares that with a packed day of clients she took only a quick break to grab some lunch and check email rather than taking the time for her usual walk outside. While she loves working with people, as an introvert, her energy was drained at the end of the day. She stopped by the store on the way home to pick up a few groceries and ended up buying a bad of chocolate covered almonds and ate the whole thing.

This story really resonates with me…only for me it’s working on massage clients, caring for my mom, or spending hours working on the computer or a project without stopping. I KNOW I need to support myself with regular balanced nutrition and regular breaks to exercise, connect with family and friends, play with my kitty, or even just breathe…but I let that slide too often because of all there is I “need” to get done.


“Emotional eating is a response to something missing in our lives. You fill yourself up with food because you’re bored, lonely, sad, guilty, feeling shame, or even happy. When you don’t allow yourself enough pleasure or connection in your life, your body reacts. It knows it’s missing something, so it pops the chocolate craving. Or shopping. Or alcohol. It’s not always food. We all have our own way of dealing with things.”

– Lauren Fowler


Fowler suggests that rather than judging or shaming ourselves (which I often find myself doing), that we explore the situation – to get curious about what need or desire we’re trying to fill and address it. For me, I find my triggers are wanting short term energy to keep going, dealing with stress, or just feeling like I deserve a “treat”.  Going forward, I am committed to take time to check in and ask myself what I REALLY want and need in this moment. Wish my luck!


Happy, Healthy Living!



JoAnn Newton is a Holistic Nutrition Educator and Master Massage Therapist with a private practice in Graton, CA.

Passionate about helping people transform their health through holistic nutrition, she facilitates a 23 day online Nutritional E-Cleanse Program with coaching, compassion, and humor.