Food is fuel. We need food to nourish our bodies. We also use food to cele- brate. Food is the centerpiece of our festivities, whether we are coming together to have fun or to mourn.

Yet this amazing source of nourishment can be a double-edged sword when it comes to emotional eating.

When we eat to comfort ourselves, we are feeding not our physical hunger, but our emotional hunger. We are using food to suppress painful emotions, which over time can lead to unwanted health problems and weight gain, paired with feelings of shame and guilt.

When people eat emotionally, they tend to select unhealthy high-calorie, salty, sweet and fatty foods. If they are using food to help them cope, they are not learning how to process what is troubling them. Perhaps they have nev- er learned how to express themselves in a healthy way. Another downside to emotional eating is the more you eat food for comfort, the more likely you are to struggle to maintain your weight.

But there is good news: habits can be broken. Yes, it is possible to learn bet- ter ways to handle your emotions. A donut doesn’t always have to be the answer.

Five steps to tackle emotional eating

1. Become aware

When you decide it’s time to take action, you can start by being mindful of what you are eating. Most of the time, we eat on autopilot. Until we start to pay attention, we might underestimate how much we actually eat.

Keep a food journal to track what and when you eat and to monitor what triggers you. You can also rate your level of hunger. On a scale of 1-5, just how hungry are you? A 3 or higher is a good indication you are physically hungry.

If it’s a 1 or a 2, then you can ask your- self how you are feeling at the time. Are you bored, stressed or sad? Make a plan about frequency of meals and snacks ahead of time. That way, you will have a measuring stick to evaluate how you are doing and to pinpoint the problem times and situations.

2. Plan substitutes

When you recognize you are engaging in emotional eating, fall back on your planned list of substitutes. These re- placements can be activities like med- itating, walking the dog, visiting the local coffee shop or calling a friend. It might be helpful to confide in a friend and reach out to that person when you need an extra boost.

3. Pick your eating partners carefully

There is research that suggests who you eat with matters, as scientists reported in the journal Appetite. If you are a people pleaser or tend to mirror those around you, this little tip could help.

4. Get enough sleep

Andrew Calvin, a fellow in cardiovascular disease at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, observed that subjects who cut back on quality sleep time ate more food than those who reported sleeping better. If you skimp on sleep, you may risk adding an extra 500 calories a day or more. Create a journal to monitor and adjust your sleeping habits. Rest- ing well is vital to your emotional and physical health.

5. Practice the new plan

Once you have decided what your substitutions will be, engage in those interests when you are not stressed or needing emotional comfort. Waiting until a triggering event to start practicing your new activities might make it harder for you to implement them when in a stressful state of mind. Eventually, you will rewire your thoughts and reactions. Your substitutions will become your new way of dealing with your emotions.

You are ready to implement your new plan. But, you still don’t know what to do about those feelings you have that trigger you to eat. Here’s what not to do: don’t try to convince yourself that you aren’t feeling something.

Coaching yourself to “stop feeling that doesn’t work. It is important that you express your emotions. Research supports this. One such study published in the Frontiers in Psychology Journal in 2012 revealed that subjects taught coping skills require less high caloric food to sooth or calm themselves than do their counterparts. So if managing your emotions is hard for you, seek the advice of a qualified ther- apist or life coach who can help you understand your feelings better and learn how to process them in a more healthy and positive way.

More Inspiration: Check out this article on the 5 pillars of health as well!

Author: Michelle Armstrong is the owner of michellearmstrongfitness.com, which specializes in women’s health, fitness and overall wellbeing. She is a bestselling author, mindset expert, board certified holistic health practitioner and certified personal trainer and yoga instructor. Michelle is also a gifted soul coach and spiritual medium. Her latest book TRANSFORM is available online and in all major bookstores. She is a contributor to Optimyz print magazine as well.

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