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Do Food Cravings Reflect Your Feelings?

How to overcome emotional eating
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Get a Handle on Emotional Eating continued...

"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.)

The conventional wisdom used to be that if you craved something, your body needed a nutrient found in that particular food.

With the possible exception of chocolate, which contains the feel-good brain chemical called serotonin, Spangle disdains this explanation. "Many people would rather blame their physiology instead of doing the work of sorting out their emotions and taking care of those needs," she says.

If eating carbs makes you crave more carbs, Spangle says, this may be partly due to your physiological makeup. But to stop eating the extra carbs, you need to examine the reason for the emotional eating.

So take a look at the food you're holding in your hand, and ask: "Who do I want to chew out?" "What's missing in my life?" Or just: "Why am I eating this?"

The answer could help you stop eating when you're not hungry -- and put you on the road to dealing with your feelings in a more productive way.

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Reviewed on June 16, 2003

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