It’s one of those days. Nothing is going well. You’re stressed. You’re frustrated. You’re sad. You’re lonely. Within reach are a TON of things that can immediately make you feel better. A bag of chips. A handful of candy. A carton of ice cream. You name it. And, as you’re eating that amazing comfort food, you feel okay for a moment. You temporarily forget your troubles. You’re in the moment of taste and smells and filling yourself up. It’s good. And then… it’s over. Almost as quickly as it began. And, you feel awful. Really awful. All of those things that felt wrong in life are still there and, on top of that, you’re now feeling bad about yourself, too.

Sound familiar?

Emotional eating is incredibly common. It’s no surprise, really. Food is such a big part of our lives. We go out to eat to celebrate. We use food to medicate ourselves when we’re sad. We are absolutely bombarded with messages about food. And, food is everywhere we look. It’s socially acceptable to eat pretty much any time, anywhere (as opposed to other self-medicating tools such as drinking alcohol or doing drugs). We’re praised for clearing our plates when we’re little. And, we’re taught at a really young age that our occasions should revolve around food.

It’s no wonder that so many of us end up with unhealthy relationships with eating.

Sadly, though, emotional eating often has side effects that make us feel worse about ourselves. The foods we choose to eat out of stress or sadness aren’t usually chicken and vegetables. The foods we eat are unhealthy and full of toxins that will ultimately make us feel worse, both emotionally and physically.

There’s even a science behind understanding emotional and binge eating. When we have diets high in fat in sugar, our bodies stop responding to leptin (the chemical that tells our brain that we’re full and don’t need to keep eating). Emotional eating, especially involving sugar, actually releases dopamine in our system which makes us feel good all over. There are studies that say that sugar is even more addictive than cocaine! We become unsatisfied junk food junkies which is really difficult to correct.

The key to overcoming emotional eating is to first identify the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger. Clues that your hunger is emotional (not physical) is that it is sudden, is all about taste, is activated by stress, and is somewhat urgent. Physical hunger builds gradually, is about a growling stomach and other physical symptoms, is suppressed by things like stress, and is easily satisfied with healthy food.

Once you know that your hunger is driven by emotions, there are a few things you can do to make sure you don’t get caught up in an eating binge. Here’s what I recommend:

Set yourself up for success. Meal plan. Keep only clean and healthy foods in the house. Be surrounded by quick and easy, healthy options. If you have junk food in the house and you’re an emotional eater, chances are you will consume it. Get rid of the things that tempt you.

Turn to true and lasting things for comfort. I pray. I ask Jesus for help. I try to turn to Him instead of turning to something unhealthy and fleeting. I also put a motivational bible verse near the fridge and pantry to remind me of what really fills the void (food never does). Honestly, it wasn’t until I started doing this that I was able to get my emotional eating under control.

Allow yourself some treats now and then. Maybe once a week or during a special occasion. This is not a reward, mind you, because using food for a reward is part of the emotional eating trap. Instead, just think of this as enjoying life. Have a nice glass of wine. Enjoy some chips and salsa. Don’t go cray. Just have enough

Know that no one is perfect. If you catch yourself in the middle of a binge, try to throw the food away and move on. If you’ve binged, just make a decision to do better at your next meal and let it go. Beating yourself up will not help you make good decisions. Remember, you have to come from a place of self love.

Don’t give up! Healthy habits take time to develop. Be kind to yourself and make the next best decision, then the next, and so on. Eventually your positive choices will accumulate and you will start seeing the results in how you feel. You’ve got this, warrior. And, I’m here to help!