Emotional eating: When is it more than just a craving?

How to say no when your mind says yes

Published On: Jul 24 2013 11:00:00 PM EDT   Updated On: Jul 25 2013 06:42:29 AM EDT
ORLANDO, Fla. -

Have you ever made room for dessert even though you're full? Have you finished off an entire pint of ice cream when you're feeling down? 

[WEB EXTRA: Emotional eating]

If so, you might be one of the more than 9 million Americans who describe themselves as emotional eaters.

We don't always eat to satisfy our hunger, sometimes we turn to food for comfort, stress relief or as a reward.

Unfortunately, eating doesn't fix any of these problems. In many cases, it can make things worse.

Orlando registered dietitian Tara Gidus says most people struggling with weight issues have some emotional component.

Gidus says the first step to changing your eating habits is to recognize your triggers.

"Recognition is key, in that you're burying your emotions with food and after that pint of ice cream or bag of chips do you feel better? Not necessarily. You're actually going to feel worse."

Common causes of emotional eating include stress, boredom, and trying to silence emotions such as anger, fear, sadness or anxiety.

Childhood habits of using food as a reward can also hold over into adulthood.

Keeping a diary may also help. Every time you reach for a comfort food take note of your mood and what happened that day. Over time a pattern may emerge. 

Experts say you should try to find other ways to feed your feelings. This can be as simple as calling a friend, spending time with a hobby or exercising.

Exercising will also help in that someone physically strong, well rested and relaxed will be better prepared to handle the stress of unforeseen events.

Mental health counselor Coralis Solomon specializes in treating patients with eating disorders. She says it also takes self-compassion, being easy on yourself, to break the cycle.

"We are afraid that if we are not hard on ourselves then we are going to sit back and we're going to be slackers," she says. "but we're showing that it's the exact opposite."

Solomon points out that we all slip up from time to time but the feeling of being alone in your challenges will lead to more failures.

"We are finding through self-compassion, if you're kind [to yourself] through your setback, you have the motivation to pick up right where you left it and continue the pathway to success."