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Do Food Cravings Reflect Your Feelings?

No stranger herself to emotional eating, Spangle recalls working alone all day when her husband was out of town, then starting to make a big salad for dinner. "I was chopping when a idea came into my mind," she says. "You know, maybe I should go out. I have been alone all day. Maybe that little pasta place ... pasta would be so good."

The minute Spangle thought "pasta," she stopped herself: "Instead, I asked myself, 'Why am I feeling sad and empty?'" Of course, it was because she had been alone all day.

Spangle defines this kind of "heart hunger" as a response to the "empty" emotions, such as loneliness, depression, boredom, and that feeling that something is missing. If you seek comforting foods such as ice cream, pasta, cinnamon rolls, cheese, eggs, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, biscuits, cake (especially cheesecake), alcohol, candy, and other foods that have a fond spot in your memory (say, Mom's favorite recipe), you're likely experiencing "heart hunger."

Here's another clue. "If you are hungry and don't know what you want, this is usually heart hunger," Spangle says. That phrase "I don't know what I want" is the tip-off. That's when you should ask yourself: "What am I missing?"

In the case of her lonely evening, instead of going out for pasta, Spangle finished making the salad, put it in a special bowl, and went to the prettiest spot in her house to nibble on it. She also put on some favorite music and delved into a course she had been working on. Later, she made some lunch dates and vowed to go to some networking events. The evening passed swiftly, along with her hunger.

Get a Handle on Emotional Eating

Not everyone believes emotional eating can be so easily categorized.

"I find that some people like salty, crunchy foods and some like sweets," Jakubczak says. "When they eat for reasons other than hunger, they pick their preferred food. I have not seen a connection between selection and the type of emotional eating."

Jakubczak agrees, though, that people should get more in touch with the reasons they're eating.

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