A feeling is an emotional state or disposition. Your emotions are the part of your consciousness which involves feeling or sensibility (Websters New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984). They’re your natural and instinctive responses to your circumstances, mood, or relationships. Currently, there’s no scientific consensus on one all encompassing, always correct definition of our emotions. We just know they exist, they inform our decisions, and can affect our circumstances by toggling our moods and feelings.

Emotions v. Feelings

The difference between feelings and emotions is a small one, and it can best be described by using Joy and Happiness as an example. Happiness is a feeling derived from a specific situation you might be in. It can occur in a vaccum or be the consequence of a collective set of circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, is an emotion. It involves a cognitive choice and is the consequence of collective circumstances. Joy does not exist in a vaccum.

Like happiness, feelings are event driven. You can have an underlying emotional sensation of Joy and wake up with a migraine on the day you are supposed to start on a large project. In this situation, your emotional gauge is at joy because you do what you love for a living. In contrast but not contradiction, your feeling gauge is at pain and stress because you have a lot of work to do and a migraine to push through.

See the difference?

How does this apply to Food Feelings?

On some level, everything we do involves our emotions. There is a whole field which focuses on regulating emotions for this exact reason. How well you can regulate your emotions in a high-pressure situation often affects how you respond externally. Given the right set of circumstances, the incorrect or overactive response can cost you greatly.

This is one area of interest to those of us who are looking to lose more than just a few vanity pounds of extra weight. We know that our emotions, and feelings affect our eating habits. The first place our minds, and Google’s search engine tend to drift toward when emotions and feelings are brought up in the same context with food, dieting, weightless, and eating is emotional eating.

Thanks to a lot of focus in this area, we all know that the term “emotional eating” is often used to refer to eating food for the purpose of making yourself feel better. This implies that all emotional eating has a basis in a depressive or negative feeling or underlying emotion which our body wants to lift up from. It’s well known, and documented that depressive feelings encourage us to reach for sugary snacks (James-Enger, K. (2016, November 9). Emotional Eating: Food vs. Feelings. Retrieved from bphope: https://www.bphope.com/emotional-eating-food-vs-feelings/).


Like all emotional responses, eating has a hormonal element which is linked to our event driven and situational feelings. A broader, and more applicable definition, of “emotional eating” can be outlined as eating, or the desire to eat, in response to an emotional need as opposed to a physiological one. Sometimes, this form of eating provides a distraction, a break from boredom, or it’s our body’s way of changing our mood.

Food, for many of us, has a cultural component. We celebrate with food, we commiserate with food, and we eat food to survive. Unlike the first generations of our kind, however, we’re not seeking out food simply to avoid death by starvation. So, many feelings will encourage us to seek food for different reasons. Emotional eating isn’t just about being depressed, low on self-esteem, or sad. Sometimes, it’s also about our situationally dependent feelings of:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Neutrality in a situation
  • Fear
  • Joy
  • Bitterness
  • Regret
  • Uncertainty

Any one of these feeling can spark a desire to eat. Having birthday cake at your nephew’s birthday party, some hot wings at the Super Bowl party, that extra roll at Thanksgiving, or the entire tub of ice-cream after a break-up or in celebration of some great news are all encouraged by situationally dependent feelings and developed cultural mores.

To get a better idea of what you’re eating, when, and why, or how your eating is affected by, or associated with, your feelings, you can start a journal. It’s very simple. Start with a single day. In that day, every time you eat make a note of the following.

  • The time
  • Your feelings before you ate
  • Level of actual hunger from 1 to 10
  • Your eventual food choices
  • Your fullness after consuming your food on a level of 1 to 10
  • Your feelings after you ate


Your 1 to 10 scale should be something like the table below. (https://intermountainhealthcare.org/ext/Dcmnt?ncid=522597201)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


Very hungry Generally hungry Starting to feel hungry Satisfied First feelings of fullness Full to the point of feeling uncomfortable Stuffed Uncomfortable enough that I can’t sit comfortably Full enough that I feel sick


In describing your feelings associated with when you’re hungry, or after you’ve eaten, it’s okay to use words like amazed, delighted, disapproving, foolish, empty, exasperated, numb, fearful, lethargic, hesitant, suspicious, stubborn, timid, free, happy, hopeful, calm, amused, etc.…

Once completed, go back and review what you wrote. Don’t edit your journal as you go. Just review it at the end of the day. It’ll help you to visually see what feelings and situations are encouraging you to eat more. This will identify your actual food feelings beyond that superficial definition of emotional eating.