When Food Is Love: 7 Expert Ways to Combat Emotional Eating

Woman and chocolate

Are you using food as a substitute for love? Break free from emotional eating with these steps.

3) Explore what else you can do to meet your needs. "If you can stop long enough to ask yourself, 'Am I physically hungry?' and the answer is no, then you need to see what else you can do to meet your needs," says Beck. "The food will take away the pain, but always only momentarily. If it's a breakup, or loneliness or sadness, maybe you can call a friend. Or, maybe you just need to be with the feelings and cry for a few minutes."

4) Plan your meals. "When you wake up in the morning, you think you'll have breakfast, lunch and dinner — you don't plan on eating an entire box of cookies in the afternoon," says Abend. "Try to stay in tune to your real signals and a hunger schedule. Remember to brush your teeth after meals so you know that food has stopped for the day. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated."

5) Don't obsess over food. While you should try to condition your body to know when it's time for a meal, don't obsess over food, or you will inevitably go overboard. If you absolutely have to eat, try to make healthier substitutes, says Abend: popcorn instead of cookies, for example.

6) Be kind to yourself. "Be aware, but without self-judgments," cautions Beck. "Recognize what you're doing without feeling like a bad person." Beck describes how women in particular are taught to take care of everyone else's feelings before their own, but what they really need is to be gentle with themselves and pay attention to their own needs first. "Think of the flight attendant before takeoff," Beck says. "They always advise you to put your own oxygen mask on first."

7) Be okay with who you are. Making peace with where you are in your life — and love life, even if it's not an ideal place, will help you to avoid trying to satisfy your soul with food. "Women especially … have more of a tendency to look outside themselves to a man to feel fulfilled," says Bentley. "Focusing on being your own person, instead of just part of a duo,  is really the optimum way to attract the kind of man you really, deep down, want and deserve." Abend agrees. "Some people may be wishing their lives were different, thinking 'I wish I had a boyfriend' or 'I wish my boss didn’t yell at me today.'" "But, emotion is not hungry. Actual loneliness is not hungry; it doesn't need feeding. Don't let your feelings chase you to the fridge!"

Have you ever had a problem with emotional eating or known anyone who has? How have you dealt with the problem?