Take a moment and think about the last time you ate something. Whether it was a full-on meal or a quick and easy snack, the decision to eat was probably impacted by a number of variables. Did you eat because you were hungry? Or maybe stress or a bad day caused you to turn to food.

If you are an emotional eater, using food to regulate how you feel may be common practice. After all, that is what emotional eating is: eating in response to how you feel. Although food should be enjoyed, emotional eating can become problematic if food becomes the only way in which you can soothe, comfort, distract or reward yourself.

Emotional eating can present itself in a variety of ways, but if you find yourself choosing to eat for one of the following reasons, the decision may be driven by how you feel, not what your body needs.

1. YOU EAT TO FEEL BETTER

Nobody likes feeling bad, but if you are reaching for your favorite comfort food to try and alleviate your mood, odds are you are eating out of emotion, not hunger.

Possible fix: Before you grab your favorite sweet treat or salty snack, pause and assess whether the food you are about to eat will be beneficial to your overall well-being long term. If it won’t, put it back and look for ways to comfort yourself that will. Yoga, mindfulness meditation and journaling are just a few options that may help you feel better and support long-term health.

2. YOU EAT TO REWARD YOURSELF

Meals and snacks should be enjoyable but still driven primarily by your physiological need for food. If instead you find yourself prompted to enjoy certain types of foods because they feel like a deserved reward or if they become your primary outlet for experiencing joy, you may find that your desire for these types of foods is led by emotional impulse, not by your body’s own rhythm.

Possible fix: Add rhythm to your day by creating space for regularly occurring meals and snacks. This way you carve out time to enjoy foods you love and never go too long without eating.

3. YOU EAT TO AVOID STRESSFUL SITUATIONS

Sometimes eating can serve to put off making hard decisions or engaging in conflict. If you find yourself eating because you are stressed out about an upcoming situation, this could be considered an emotional-eating response.

Possible fix: Create a list of stress-reducing activities you can participate in when you recognize feelings of stress. Perhaps it’s talking through the experience with a friend or going for a walk in your neighborhood or park. No matter the method, looking for nonfood ways to alleviate stress can be a positive step toward dealing with these types of situations as they arise.

If you feel like you lack all self-control when it comes to the desires you have for certain foods, this can be another indicator of emotional eating. Your food decisions probably have very little to do with willpower and more to do with your desire to help yourself deal with the intense emotions you feel. Realizing this can be beneficial because you can begin seeking healthier, more long-lasting approaches to help yourself.

Possible fix: If you feel like the foods you crave have all the power in your food relationship, it may be time to take away the magic they appear to possess. To do this, look for ways to purposely incorporate them into your regular meal routine. This process will help normalize these foods and make them easier to incorporate into your meal plan in a balanced way.

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