Sustainable Fat Loss Part 1: Biohacking for Emotional Eating

It’s really all about the neurotransmitters.

Alright, here’s the challenge: create sustainable, effective, enjoyable fat loss for virtually any reader in no more than 3 articles. (Article 2 can be found here, and article 3 can be found here.) Contact me here with any complaints or questions. This is article 1 of 3.

The first thing we’re going to do is use powerful tools to quickly and effectively tackle emotional eating.

“Emotional eating” occurs anytime someone uses an unhealthy “treat” food, not because they are hungry, but rather to improve their mood.

(By this definition, I suspect most all of us eat emotionally at times.)

When someone eats due to their emotions, what they’re really doing is using food to create more “happy” neurotransmitters.

And you know what? It’s an effective strategy.

That’s because treating yourself to tasty food will certainly have a rapid effect on your neurotransmitters and make you feel good.

I don’t know you, and I don’t know your particular struggles or overall mental health level. Coping with stress through food may be the best strategy you currently have access to. So I’m not going to tell you to stop – because I don’t know specifically what this coping mechanism is accomplishing for you.

I will however provide you with some alternative mood-boosting strategies that I suggest you at least consider first whenever you feel tempted to eat for emotional reasons.

I have to quickly begin with the basics:

The Foundational Behaviors

To maximally improve your mood, there are a few daily, baseline behavioral tools that are extremely important:

1. Do everything you can to get good sleep.

2. Get as much daylight into your eyes as you can throughout the day (not through a window or sunglasses, but directly into your eyes*).

3. Exercise (or just move!), purely for the emotional benefit.

4. Eat protein (such as chicken, turkey, pork, or fish) as a regular part of your diet.

*If the light is so bright that it’s painful or uncomfortable, then at that point you should wear sunglasses for safety reasons.

Alright, so I’m going to hope you’re doing your best to get those foundational behaviors in every day.

But I understand; that might not quite be enough to quell emotional eating.

So I would like to present you with some more targeted, fast-acting interventions, based on your specific emotional eating patterns.

*It is at this point where I have to point out that I am not a doctor, that you should consult your doctor before doing anything mentioned below, and that this is purely informational in nature. I can’t diagnose or prescribe anything.*

If you ever find yourself eating emotionally, which of the 3 categories below describes you most?

1. Are you eating to seek “comfort” because you’re feeling sad? Perhaps you’re tearful, guilty, lonely, low self-esteem, irritable, or generally down?

2. Are you eating for “entertainment,” perhaps because you’re feeling bored? Maybe you’re feeling that life has no sparkle or excitement, and that you can get some joy through food?

3. Are you eating out of pure stress? Do you feel anxious, scared?

If you ever find yourself relating to one or more of those, find the relevant chapter(s):

1. “Comfort eating” to soothe sad, emotional, bleak, or irritable feelings:

It sounds like you’re low in serotonin, and unconsciously trying to get more of it through food.

This may be the most common cause of emotional eating.

Here’s the good news: we have something for this.

5-HTP is the direct precursor to serotonin, and can be taken orally.

We have good science (experiments/scholarly articles) showing that 5-HTP ingestion increases serotonin and satiety, effectively reducing appetite. It has a very straightforward and well-understood mechanism of action, and it makes sense that serotonin support might reduce emotional eating, because serotonin is the neurotransmitter associated with pleasant, happy feelings of “enough.”

(If you’re doubtful, I recommend you read through the actual scholarly articles on 5-HTP aggregated here on

This intervention is wonderful because it has minimal side effects, it can be used as needed, stopped as needed, and it’s inexpensive – here’s a $20, third-party-tested option from a brand I’ve used that I have no financial affiliation with.

Ultimately, 5-HTP seems to produce a subtle but noticeable mood-boosting, satiety-inducing effect that can help people reduce their need for “comfort food.” It can also help people feel more satiated from the food they do eat. It’s not a magic pill, but it’s a very logical counter to most emotional eating. I can’t promise it’ll work for you, but it’s inexpensive, low risk, and easily available on Amazon, so it’s worth a shot.

How much do people take? People start with low a low dose (of, for example, 50-100 mg), and slowly add more as needed (waiting an hour before adding more, up to a total dose of 200 mg), until they notice an effect. Some sources have people taking a second dose per day, but just start with one.

How quickly does it take effect? I’ve heard it takes one to two hours to reach peak concentration, but in my experience, the effects are noticeable about 20 minutes after ingestion. People take it either daily or as needed.

Common drug interactions? First, I want to point out that unlike St. John’s Wort (a serotonin-boosting herb with an unclear mechanism of action that lowers the efficacy of oral contraceptives), I see no evidence that 5-HTP interacts with birth control pills.

There is one very common interaction to be aware of: if you’re already taking an antidepressant, sorry, you’re not going want to take 5-HTP. You’d be taking a powerful serotonin-booster on top of another powerful serotonin booster, and it’s too much.

Note: One potentially milder option here is to take tryptophan. Tryptophan, aka “L-tryptophan” is an amino acid (the stuff protein is made of) which then converts to 5-HTP, which then converts to serotonin. Since it’s “upstream” in the serotonin pathway, it’s less direct, but it’s taken for essentially the same benefits. Tryptophan is much stronger when taken on an empty stomach, because it competes with other amino acids for transport across the blood-brain barrier. I personally notice it taking a little longer to kick in that 5-HTP, having an effect in about an hour or so. That being said, it’s been a lifesaver for me. Find it here.

If you can’t take 5-HTP or tryptophan, getting a hot shower or even blasting the heat in your car can effectively boost endorphins and serotonin, and may be another fast-acting intervention to try before eating emotionally. Also, the daylight that I mentioned earlier will powerfully boost serotonin and help with this particular type of emotional eating. (It works in a dose-dependent manner; the more you get, the stronger the effect.) Finally, getting a hug from a loved one or cuddling a pet is another powerful serotonin booster that can give you the same soothing feeling you may be trying to get from food.

2. “Pleasure eating” from boredom and lack of excitement:

It sounds like you’re low in dopamine and trying get more of it through food.

Guess what: we have something for this.

Tyrosine (or “L-tyrosine”) is an amino acid precursor to dopamine that works like a charm at boosting mood and drive.

How much do people take? I started out by ingesting one 500 mg capsule of tyrosine, with the plan of taking somewhere between 1-3 capsules, early in the day. Turns out, 2 capsules (1 gram) seemed to do the trick for me. I just take it occasionally as needed.

This amino acid works best taken on an empty stomach, when it doesn’t have to compete with other amino acids for transport across the blood-brain barrier. Don’t take it too late in the day, because it is energizing and could interfere with sleep.

How quickly does it take effect? In my experience, about an hour after ingestion, and sometimes later, you’ll often notice a subtly better, more driven, excited mood.

Common drug interactions? Don’t take it with any dopamine-boosting medication or MAOIs. Don’t combine it with unhealthy, dopaminergic activities like smoking.

There’s another great option here, though:

Black coffee is an excellent, low-calorie mood booster that contains caffeine – which, according to working scientist and Stanford professor Andrew Huberman, increases the “number and efficacy” of dopamine receptors in the brain. Black coffee also very conveniently blunts appetite. (And it may just give you the energy to go out and exercise, too.) Just don’t take it too late in the day, and don’t take it with sugar.

Black coffee and tyrosine are some of my personal favorite mood-boosting interventions. If you’re trying to get more “zest” out of your life through eating sugary, refined food, maybe try these first.

3. “Numbing Eating” when you’re just stressed and anxious:

Sounds like your cortisol is really high.

I’ve got you covered.

Ashwagandha is a fascinating plant that has potent and well-studied cortisol-reducing effects when ingested.

I know – it’s got a crazy sounding name. It sounds “woo-woo.” So I encourage you to look at where you’ll find 35 trials on the substance with a total of 2,021 participants.

In fact, 6 of these studies with a total of 350 participants showed a “notable improvement” in anxiety symptoms, and 3 studies, measuring cortisol, showed “notable decrease” is the stress hormone. Many of these studies were randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments.

How much do people take? 300-600 mg per day is the standard dose. I made the mistake of starting out taking a 1000mg capsule of ashwagandha, and found it too soothing (to the point where it made it hard to think and focus). I’ve since figured out that 450 mg of ashwagandha, as needed, works very well for me personally.

Since scientists are still examining the long-term effects of ashwagandha, it’s probably smart to avoid taking it for more than a month at a time.

How quickly does it take effect? The mechanism of action and time of action behind ashwagandha are much less understood than that of 5-HTP or tyrosine. Personally, I feel its effects in an hour. For some people, it’s 2-3 days. For others, it’s a couple of weeks. And we don’t know exactly how it’s accomplishing what it’s doing. All we seem to know for sure is that it works very well at reducing cortisol.

Common drug interactions? Since this is an herb with an unknown mechanism of action, I have little information about its interaction with other common drugs. You’d have to check with your doctor.

So, while there’s admittedly still some mystery behind the mechanism of action behind ashwagandha, we do have very strong evidence of its powerful ability to reduce stress and cortisol. And because of this, I believe ashwagandha may be a relevant, helpful tool you if you find yourself eating due to stress.


At the core, if you’re eating emotionally, you’re actually unconsciously eating to modulate certain neurotransmitters and hormones.

But there are other ways to accomplish the same thing.

Certain foundational practices – like quality sleep, exercise, sunlight, and getting adequate protein – are critical for facilitating generally healthy neurotransmitter levels.

But we also have specific, fast-acting, and highly directed interventions to reduce your emotional eating based on the way you’re feeling. And we can do this by tackling the emotions at their molecular source: focusing on serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol.

Excellent. You’ll now be moving into all of this with a significant emotional advantage. You’re ready for article 2.

Published by Dolan

Relentless self-optimizer, biohacker, traveler, reader.

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