If you Google, “What is food?”, you are likely to see something like the following:

Food (noun) Any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth: “we need food and water”  Synonyms:  nourishment, sustenance, nutriment, fare.

I doubt you’ll find this:

Food (noun) Nutritious substance frequently used by people to calm nerves, relieve stress, diminish anger, combat anxiety, and provide company when you are alone: “food was my friend today”  Synonyms: stress relief, distraction, comfort, delight, reward.

The second definition is the way I defined food for a long time.

As a kid,  sweets were my “food” of choice.   Anything containing sugar always made me feel better when I was worried about school.  Math test or science project due the next day?   Both became “a piece of cake” (literally) as long as there was some around for me to devour.

What’s your definition of food?

Is it your “go to” stress reliever?

Is eating an activity that fills time when you’re bored?

Does food become your friend when no one else is around?

My guess is that if you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, your food choices aren’t necessarily the healthiest.  Maybe a handful of potato chips or a slice of peanut butter pie?

That’s really no surprise since many of us find foods that are high in carbs, sugar and fat simply taste delicious!

And, there is a biological component to our craving of these foods.  Eating them sets off a series of chemical reactions that boosts brain chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine, making us feel satisfied, happy, and content.

Let’s face it.  Most of us use food on occasion to drown our sorrows or fill some time.

But for some, turning to food for comfort becomes habitual problem.  The result:  weight gain and usually difficulty in losing the extra pounds.

If “feeding” your emotions is sabotaging your efforts to lose weight and improve your health, here are some practical tips to change your behavior:

  • Practice being aware.  Catch yourself in the act of eating and ask yourself “why”?:  are you truly hungry or are you “feeding” something else – maybe the argument you just had with your teenager or perhaps your need for company when no one else is around.  Try to tune into what your body really wants.  If you are really hungry, then go for it.  But be aware of “what” you are putting in your mouth and whether it’s good for your health and your body.
  • Distract yourself. Yes, first become aware of the situation triggering your desire to eat.  But if it’s not true hunger or you’re simply giving in to a craving to soothe your emotions, do something else.  According to Dr. Susan Albers author of Fifty Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food and Fifty More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food:  “You wouldn’t overeat if it didn’t work to calm you down and make you feel better.  The good news is that there are other activities and strategies that will make you feel okay but won’t lead to weight gain, regret, or guilt.”  As the titles suggests, she’s come up with at least 100!
  • Plan ahead. If you know that those reports always due by the end of the month or a visit from your not so favorite relative is going to trigger a food “frenzy”, stop the train in its tracks and plan a detour.  In other words, know your triggers:  those  instances or events likely to send you to the vending machine or find you in line for your favorite fast food.   Have a plan in place that will leave you feeling in charge.

It is possible to manage stress eating, comfort eating and other types of emotional eating and find solutions that don’t leave you feeling hungry and deprived.  You can make peace with food and eat for the reasons it’s meant for – to nourish your body and promote good health.  For more on how to combat emotional eating, I highly recommend: Inside Out Weight Management by Meg Cline and The Emotional Eating Rescue Plan for Smart, Busy Women by Dr. Melissa McCreery.  Also, know that I am here to help anytime – just send me a message on my contact page or call (215) 815-1222.

And remember, you can do it . . . Any Body Can!