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Do Food Cravings Reflect Your Feelings?

How to overcome emotional eating

Do Food Cravings Reflect Your Feelings? continued...

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.

"I have my clients keep a food journal and rate their hunger from one to 10 every time they eat something," she says. "One is 'Starving, can barely crawl to the refrigerator' and 10 is 'Thanksgiving-stuffed.'" Before starting a journal, she says, most have no idea of how often they're eating without really being hungry.

Neither Spangle nor Jakubczak recommends that people try to simply ignore their cravings when they recognize they're eating out of emotional hunger.

"I would never pull food away from someone without giving a replacement," Jakubczak says. "It would be like pulling the carpet out from under their feet."

Instead, they suggest substituting some non-food activities to fill the void. Here are some ideas:

  • Get moving: run upstairs, go down the hall and talk to a co-worker.
  • Put on some music.
  • Get outside and take a walk around the block.
  • Read a non-work-related, entertaining magazine for 20 minutes.
  • Take seven slow deep breaths.
  • Play with the dog.

Or, Jakubczak says, try substituting a healthier food for whatever it is you're craving -- yogurt for ice cream, for example. (By the way, she says, substituting carrot sticks for potato chips does not work! You might try baked chips instead.)

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