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Stop Emotional Eating Before It Starts

15 Ways to Turn Off Your Emotions without Turning to Food
  -- By Nicole Nichols, Health Educator
Eating is more than something we do to nourish our bodies with vital nutrients. It's also an activity we do out of habit, like nail biting, hair twirling, or finger tapping. And sometimes, we habitually turn to food in response to certain emotions. Whether you feel angry, sad, bored—even excited—food can act as a buffer against these emotions, something 82 percent of you know all too well.

Emotional eaters know that it's easier to stuff down our feelings with each bite. We know that the fleeting "high" we get from food blocks the pain or discomfort of dealing we might be feeling, even if only temporarily. We also know better; in the long run, we still feel bad and we know that we shouldn't eat for purely emotional reasons. But that knowledge isn't enough to stop what feels like an addiction to food and eating. So where do you start if you want to stop eating emotionally?

It may be cliché, but the first step is awareness, recognizing that you do eat emotionally—and WHY. Each time you reach for foods (or even feel a craving come on), ask yourself, "Am I really hungry or am I just responding to something else that is happening?" If hunger isn't the reason, it's not always easy to pinpoint the reason why you feel like eating. Tracking your food can help, especially if you note the times you eat and how you were feeling before, during and afterward. By tracking your food (and related notes) more regularly, you could notice trends, like a tendency to overeat on Mondays, for example, and then pinpoint your true feelings from there. Ask yourself what it is about Mondays that leads to overeating (Stress from getting the kids to school? Anger over going to a job you hate?) Notice if you tend to munch in the evenings. Is it out of boredom, loneliness, or an unhappy relationship? Journaling (or blogging), in addition to tracking your food intake, can help you examine the causes of eating episodes so you can pinpoint your feelings.

While emotional eaters soothe themselves with food to avoid feeling and examining uncomfortable emotions, that gratification is temporary—and still painful, just like the emotions you're trying to avoid. But if you learn to recognize the emotional triggers that lead to eating, you can also learn to stop emotional eating before it starts by choose healthier ways to deal with your feelings. Here are some alternatives to eating that can help you deal with three of the most common emotions that can lead to eating.

Stress and Anger
Stress is part of our everyday lives, and it can create the same physiological responses as anger, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. If you are eating as a response to anger and/or stress, some of these activities will help you calm down and deal with the issue at hand, instead of covering it up with food. Sadness and Loneliness
These two emotions often go hand in hand. Loneliness can result in sadness, and sad people can often become withdrawn. Especially if you're dealing with grief or spending a lot of time alone, it's easy to turn to comfort foods or soothe yourself with foods that you associate with happier memories. Instead, work to replace these uncomfortable emotions with a positive action. Learn to use alternative activities as sources of gratification. Just as you've learned to turn to food for a pick-me-up, you can learn to use other activities in the same way. Boredom
We have hundreds of TV channels, phones that surf the web, online social networks, and movement-sensing video games, but when it comes down to it, we still feel bored in our lives. Eating adds another layer to our entertainment options (like popcorn at a movie) but also becomes an easy thing to do when we don't know what else to do! After all, eating is fun and enjoyable, and it passes the time. Fortunately, many boredom-busting activities don't involve eating. With an arsenal of activities you can do besides eating, you're on the right path to stop the emotional eating cycle. You might not be successful every time, but if you accept your mistakes and move forward, continuing to work on your issues by tracking, journaling and distracting yourself in a positive way, you'll overcome your emotional eating problems once and for all. With so many enjoyable experiences in life, food doesn't have to take center stage. Make sure you are taking time to enjoy all of them equally!