That treat of cotton candy at the beach, that bag of potato chips consumed in the car after a hard day at work and that container of ice cream devoured late at night when worrying about mounting bills are proof that growling stomachs are not the only reason why we eat.

We often turn to food when we are feeling happy, when we are feeling sad, when we are bored and when we are depressed. Unfortunately, when emotions rather than hunger are driving us to eat, it is usually not the broccoli for which we reach.

Foods consumed when we’re not hungry tend to be comfort foods that are consumed to obtain or enhance a particular feeling. They also are usually full of fats, sugar and calories. No harm done if this is occasional. It’s another story when it becomes a habit. Research shows that emotional eating is the source of most overeating and the weight gain that follows. Emotional eating can also lead to binge-eating, a serious disorder that compels people to consume unusually large amounts of food, usually in secret. To maintain health, it is important to control emotional eating and to seek help if you have difficulty.

Tips for controlling emotional eating:

  • Drink a glass of water before diving into that bag of chips.
  • Never eat in front of the TV.
  • Eat a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts every few hours to avoid snack attacks.
  • Don’t keep junk food in the house.
  • Distract yourself with healthy alternatives like walking the dog, going for a bike ride, washing the car or taking a bath.
  • Practice mindful eating (awareness of feelings, sensations and thoughts connected with food.)

Innumerable choices of cheap, accessible comfort foods can make it challenging to keep emotional eating under control, but it can be done. You will feel better, and your health will thank you when your emotions do not dictate what you put in your mouth and how often you do it.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]