3. Find satisfying alternatives.
Once you figure out why food makes you feel better, you can come up with alternative behaviors that can help you cope instead of emotional eating. Frustrated because you have no control over circumstances? Go for a walk on a path you choose. Hurt by a co-worker's mean comments? Take it out on a punching bag, or make a plan for how you're going to talk it out. Bored? Distract yourself by calling a friend or surfing the Internet.
Denying yourself all treats can lead to cravings and binge eating. Instead, allow yourself to have your favorite foods occasionally and in smaller portions. Limit the amount of chips or candy by putting a few in a small bowl instead of mindlessly eating them out of the bag.
Keeping the emphasis on fun and feeling good can make new, healthier habits easier to adopt. A study in a British health journal showed that teenagers were more likely to take a walk when told that it would make them feel good than when told it was the healthy thing to do. So when you're making alternative plans, choose something you'll view as pleasurable -- such as a quick bike ride or brisk walk after dinner, or an after-school game of hide-and-go-seek -- rather than a chore or punishment.
4. Celebrate success.
Focus on the positive changes you are making, one step at a time. You'll get better results with positive encouragement than with harsh criticism. For example, praise your child when he takes only one cookie out of the box instead of a handful.
Changing an emotional eating habit is a process. Some backsliding will happen, so acknowledge when it does and use the experience to help you plan how you'll deal with a similar situation in the future.
Being able to share in your successes can make them that much sweeter. Celebrate a week of healthy, moderate eating as a family by taking a walk in the woods, having a swim night, or going skating together. When you work together as a family to develop better eating habits, the support you can offer each other and the rewards you enjoy can be priceless.