Food not only keeps us healthy and strong, it may also be our vice when we are feeling stressed, overwhelmed and hurt. Emotional eating is when you immediately turn to food to help you through certain emotions. For example, you've just endured a nasty breakup, you grab the pint of ice cream in your fridge. You were reprimanded by your boss at work so you pull out that chocolate bar hidden in your drawer. Your children are being more naughty than usual; you find yourself a can of soda.

Emotional eating is different from hunger. When you are hungry, the urge to eat is gradual. You will eat a variety of foods including healthy options such as fruits and vegetables. Emotional eating occurs suddenly. The urge comes quickly, and you get cravings for unhealthy foods such as ice cream, soda and potato chips.

Unfortunately, emotional eating is a habit we develop at a very young age, and it is often the parents to blame. When young children are upset or naughty, it isn't uncommon to see parents give their children a treat to calm them down. Many parents and caregivers may give their children food to keep them quiet or to avoid a tantrum. Additionally, parents may reward their children with food for their good behavior. While, at times, this isn't bad, these behaviors need to be carefully monitored. These habits can affect a child's entire life. If children expect food for good or poor behavior, they'll reward or punish themselves with food for events and behaviors as adults.

To avoid emotional eating problems, here are a few suggestions to keep this eating problem away.

Think before you eat

Our emotions affect our rational thinking. When our emotions come into play, we don't think clearly, which is why we may begin to overeat or binge on unhealthy foods. Before you place anything into your mouth or grab that carton of ice cream, ask yourself if you are truly hungry. Are you bored? Are you upset? Are you anxious? If you are not hungry, you may be placing food in your mouth because of the way you are feeling. Before taking the first bite, think about why you are eating.

Discover your triggers

If you are an emotional eater, find out what triggers it. There are dozens of reasons why you may suddenly have the urge to eat such as stress, family challenges or even social events. The peer pressure you may feel when others are eating can affect what and how much you eat. One way to discover your triggers is to write everything down that you place in your mouth. What were you doing before you ate it? You may see a pattern such as being with friends, watching a TV show or working on your finances.

Find a coping mechanism

Once you recognize your triggers, you need to find a way to cope with the bad habit. One way that works for me is instead of reaching for the cookie, I exercise. Ten jumping jacks, 10 pushups or 25 sit-ups can help you focus on your health instead of making poor food choices. Additional coping mechanisms may be to write things down, play an instrument, leave your house, etc. Everyone's coping mechanism will be different. You must find a way that works best for you.

Be cautious of your family's eating habits

Emotional eating can affect all members of a family. Closely monitor when and why your children are eating. Are they eating because they are bored, had a rough day at school or were just fighting with their siblings? Are you rewarding or punishing them with food? Emotional eating begins in the home. But with help, it can be stopped there, as well. Here are some more tips on staying in control of your emotions and eating habits.

Emotional eating has many lasting consequences from poor health to obesity. It can be a habit that affects family members for their entire lives if not recognized and taken care of. Take time to see if you and other family members are emotional eaters. If so, do all you can to put a stop to it for you and your family's health.

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