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Different Types of Dysregulated Eaters

  • Eating

While talking to a client about her dysregulated eating, it struck me how many ways we can get into trouble with food. Here are three categories I came up with. Of course, you may not engage with just one but two or all three. Not to worry, each has solutions.

Emotional Eating: This type of eating may be intentional or unconscious. You may have a fight with your boss/friend/child/partner/parent/neighbor/colleague and be so irate that you feel justified in food-seeking because you tell yourself you can’t stand how you feel or think you’re entitled to a treat because you’ve been wronged. Alternately, you may not realize how much someone or a situation upset you and think you’re fine, but still be food-seeking to avoid or lessen your distress. Two ways to avoid emotional eating are to stay connected to your feelings and to find effective ways to comfort and cope.

Mindless Eating: This happens when you’re not present in your mind or body. You’re on autopilot and focused on other things but end up eating. Maybe whenever you walk through the kitchen on the way to the bathroom, you don’t realize that you always open the refrigerator door and take a peek inside. Maybe you automatically stop by Wendy’s on your drive home from work, not because you’re hungry or make a deliberate decision to do so, but, well, just because. Mindless eating also may occur when you eat past full or stop when you’re full and resume eating. Two ways to avoid mindless eating are by practicing staying conscious all the time (except when you decide you need to give your mind a rest) and by paying special attention to what you’re eating with an eye toward hunger, pleasure, satisfaction, and fullness.

Overeating: This is caused by being out of touch with appetite signals. It can happen because you’re not all that hungry and fill up very quickly. It can happen when you: tell yourself you must finish all the food on your plate; insist that something tastes so good that you absolutely must eat more of it; see others eating a lot and feel justified to eat more, though you’re already full; are starved so that you eat too quickly; or have ordered or made too much food and feel obligated to get your money’s worth. Three ways to avoid overeating are to make sure you’re sufficiently hungry to eat before you start, not wait until you’re famished to seek food, and pay attention to how hungry you are throughout the eating process.

Consider which kind of problem you have and tailor your solutions accordingly. Stay curious rather than judgmental and focused on making slow progress. And remember to ditch perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking. They are not your friends.



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