Although Renee Roge spent years trying numerous weight-loss plans and overhauling her food habits, nothing seemed to stick in a meaningful way until she had an aha moment that allowed her to pivot toward real change. She reflected on what was beneath her eating behavior—the "why" instead of just the "how much"—and discovered she's an emotional eater.
"I've always said that I wish I was the person that, when I'm stressed or feeling sad, that I couldn't eat," she says. "But I was totally the opposite. I always ate when I was feeling sad. That was how I dealt with different struggles and different emotional issues by eating."
This type of reaction is more physiological than most people realize. And it’s common enough that it's considered one of the four MetabolicPrint™ profiles, Mood Responses.™ The other three profiles in Found’s MetabolicPrint are connected to how the brain, gut, and metabolism operate. With emotional hunger, feelings trigger physiological responses that have a strong influence on appetite, cravings, and habits.
As Renee points out, feeling down or angry might prompt a strong pull toward eating in a certain way, even for those who've been diligent about following a specific plan for weeks or months. For those who have a Mood Responses profile, here's a look at what might be going on, along with how Found addresses emotional eating.
Losing weight isn’t just a matter of eating less and moving more. For many, cutting and burning calories alone doesn’t lead to long-term weight control. Other factors also influence weight, some of which are difficult to control. Someone who has a hard time losing weight might have a family history of excess weight and obesity, a condition like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or irregular hormone function like insulin resistance. Other things influence weight, too, including a pattern of poor sleep, stress, or depression. Even the environment can contribute to weight.
All these factors help explain why obesity is a complex chronic disease and why organizations like the American Medical Association agree that it requires medical treatment. Genetics can contribute to as much as 40% to 70% of obesity and over 400 different genes and markers are associated with it. And as complex as obesity is, only one percent of U.S. doctors are certified as obesity specialists.
To address obesity’s complexity, Found developed a proprietary metabolic health assessment engine, MetabolicPrint. Each person’s MetabolicPrint profile includes weight and medical history, family history, behavior, and other factors like sleep and stress. Using MetabolicPrint and their clinical expertise, Found-affiliated providers can identify what’s causing someone’s inability to lose weight. From there, they can create a tailored treatment plan that may include medicine and work with each person through their weight journey.
If food regularly comes into play when your body experiences emotional states like stress, boredom, anxiety, it’s likely there are physiological influences such as brain chemistry driving food decisions—not you—and you may not be aware of them. This is the definition of emotional eating or a mood response. According to Rekha Kumar, MD, an endocrinologist specializing in obesity medicine and chief medical officer at Found Health, people who have a Mood Responses profile as one of the dominant factors for obesity or being overweight typically eat in response to emotional triggers.
"It's so important to have this type of insight about yourself and what's driving your behavior because it can help determine next steps," says Dr. Kumar, a former medical director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. “Having the Mood Responses profile is not about a lack of willpower, but rather, involves the circuits in the brain tied to emotional responses. These circuits may be wired to be soothed by the consumption of food, which leads people to eat when they feel extremes of emotion.”
Research suggests that 60% or more of people with overweight or obesity may also be emotional eaters. And they’re half as likely to achieve the 10% weight loss goal of standard behavioral weight loss treatment compared to those who are not emotional eaters.
Although the Mood Responses profile is tied to different emotional responses, of course, it's possible to experience actual hunger and sadness or boredom at the same time. So, how do you tell the difference?
With the Mood Responses profile, emotions tend to drive food choices, explains Dr. Kumar. For instance, the more stressed you feel, the greater your desire to alleviate those feelings by eating.
Can your emotions affect what you eat?
Reaching for food when you're sad or stressed is not necessarily a concern. If you grab a healthy snack that you've prepped in advance because it falls in line with how you'd like to eat, that means you might be changing when you eat but not what you're eating.
However, those who fall into the Mood Responses profile often prefer food they find comforting when navigating through strong feelings. For many, that can mean reaching for comfort foods like pasta, bread, and cheesy or creamy things. Some people find themselves eating extra servings of food that’s considered healthy. And others are driven to convenient yet highly processed salty, fatty, and sugary foods.
A research and meta-analysis review in the journal Nutrients about ultra-processed food consumption, depression, and anxiety found a bi-directional relationship. This relationship suggests people who feel anxious or down are more likely to eat ultra-processed foods—and then those foods can prompt even more emotional health struggles.
How do Mood Responses lead to overeating?
The bi-directional relationship between less-than-healthy foods and complex moods can lead to an ugly cycle: You eat what you believe will make you feel better, but it actually contributes to feeling worse. Then you have more but don't get the comfort you sought in the first place. For many, this can lead to overeating because they may feel that if they have just a little bit more, it will ease their sadness, boredom, stress, or anxiety.
For Renee, Found gave her the tools she needed to recognize and address her emotional eating. Working with a Found-affiliated coach, she developed an awareness of when her moods might be driving her food decisions. And within the Found community she discovered support and encouragement.
Medication can play an important role as well, says Dr. Kumar. And specific medications can communicate fullness more effectively and in a way that doesn’t cross with emotional signals.
Renee discovered that when combined with other resources offered by Found, medication helped her feel more satisfied with her meals, allowing her to conquer mood-driven eating more effectively.
"With all the attention on certain weight-loss medications right now, I thought that's what I would need," she says. "But in talking with a Found clinician, it turns out I needed a different option, which has been very, very helpful in my journey."
Found is among the largest medically-supported telehealth weight care clinics in the country, having served more than 200,000 members to date. To discover your MetabolicPrint and start your journey with Found, take our quiz. *Individual results may vary.