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Video: Eating away the blues

TODAY
updated 11/12/2007 12:51:24 PM ET 2007-11-12T17:51:24

If you turn to food every time your life becomes an emotional roller coaster, you’re not alone. Many people are considered emotional eaters. Nutritionist Joy Bauer was invited on “Today” to tell us how to break this bad eating habit.

The holidays can be stressful. Then, again, any time of the year can be stressful! And unfortunately, many people reach for food as comfort. It is estimated that 75 percent of overeating is caused by emotions.

What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is when you eat in response to feelings rather than hunger, usually as a way to suppress or relieve negative emotions. Stress, anxiety, sadness, boredom, anger, loneliness, relationship problems and poor self-esteem can all trigger emotional eating. When emotions determine your eating habits rather than your stomach, it can quickly lead to overeating, weight gain and guilt.

What are the favorite mood foods?
During emotional eating, we crave “comfort” foods that are often high-calorie, sweet, salty, or fatty. Women are more likely to reach for sugary foods, such as chocolate, candy and cookies, while men tend to crave pizza, pasta, steak, or casseroles. For women, the top three comfort foods are ice cream (74 percent), chocolate (69 percent), and cookies (66 percent). For men, they’re ice cream (77 percent), soup (73 percent), and pizza or pasta (72 percent).

Are you an emotional eater?
To find out if you eat when you’re upset, sad, or anxious, take this quiz:

  • Do you reach for high calorie foods when you feel sorry for yourself?
  • Are you preoccupied with food when you're anxious or sad?
  • Are high calorie foods your reward after a difficult day?
  • Do you feel stressed, angry and guilty after eating?
  • Do you sometimes put food in your mouth without realizing it?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, then you might be an emotional eater. To break the habit of eating when you’re in a bad mood, try my strategies:

Six strategies to overcome emotional eating:

  • Learn to recognize your hunger. Before you automatically pop something into your  mouth rate your hunger on a scale of one to five; one being ravenous and five being full. Make every effort to avoid eating when you’re a four or a five
  • Find alternatives to eating. Make a personal list of activities you can do instead of eating. Perhaps go for a walk, call a friend, listen to music, take a hot shower, or a bath, exercise, clean your house, polish your nails, surf the internet, schedule outstanding appointments, watch something on TiVo, clean your purse, organize your closet, look through a photo album, etc.
  • Keep a food journal. Logging your food will help to identify your toughest timeframes. It will also make you accountable. So perhaps you’ll be less apt to reach for unnecessary food.
  • Practice three-food interference. Make the commitment to first eat three specific healthy foods (for instance, an apple, a handful of baby carrots and a yogurt), before starting on comfort foods. If after that, you still want to continue with your comfort foods, give yourself permission. However, most of the time, the three foods are enough to stop you from moving on.
  • Exercise regularly. Daily exercise relieves stress and puts you in a positive mindset, which gives you greater strength to pass on the unhealthy fare.  
  • Get enough sleep. Research shows that sleep deprivation can increase hunger by decreasing leptin levels, the appetite regulating hormone that signals fullness. Furthermore, with adequate sleep, you'll be less tired and have more resolve to fight off the urge to grab foods for comfort.

For more information on healthy eating, visit Joy Bauer’s Web site at www.joybauernutrition.com

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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