Bentley says that the chemistry of love and emotions is similar to the chemistry of, say, chocolate. "Love stimulates certain hormones and neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin, the calming and stimulating 'feel goods' we get from carbs and other foods, like chocolate."
Burley advises: "If you find yourself frequently turning to food to meet your need for companionship, comfort, or love, then you might want to re-evaluate your circumstances and see how you can make some changes. Food can only do so much."
Of course, eating can also be the result or cause of positive emotions. "We use food to deal with our happy feelings too," says Meryl Hershey Beck, author of Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21 Day Program to to Free Yourself From Emotional Eating. "We use food to celebrate, to express love, to entertain."
But for many people, emotional eating can escalate to a life-threatening addiction and even cause obesity. "Everyone engages in emotional eating a little bit, but some of us cross a line where it takes over. For me, food was my drug of choice," says Beck, who describes how she used to carry chocolate with her at all times when she traveled just to feel safe and secure. "There's a connection to feeding yourself as a substitute for love, but food is not what you really need. A lot of people know it, but they do it anyway."
If you find yourself succumbing to emotional eating, there are steps you can take to help yourself overcome the addiction:
1) Be aware of why you're eating. Experts agree that the first step to combating emotional eating is to become aware that you are eating from a place of emotional hunger, not physical hunger. "It's important to try and remain objective about your motives when you're reaching for food," says Burley. "Is your physical body hungry and in need of sustenance? Or are you feeling bored, lonely, sad or disappointed?" Bentley says that becoming conscious and discerning whether your "feelings" are physical or emotional can help you stave off the beast.
2) Ask yourself why you're doing it. Once you become aware that you're engaging in emotional eating, try to identify your emotions. Abend recommends spending time with these uncomfortable feelings and letting yourself really feel them. "Recognize the feeling," says Abend. "Be able to say, 'I am lonely' or 'I am bored.' Spend some time with that feeling; don't run away from it and rush off into action in the kitchen." Most importantly, if you have trouble clarifying what in your life is really bothering you or driving you to find comfort in food, don't be afraid to seek counseling.