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Controlling emotional eating and healthy alternatives

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HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Most of us are more comfortable when we feel in control of our appetite rather than feeling that a plate of chocolate chip cookies has power over us; however, we often try to establish this control in the wrong way.  Usually when we establish “off-limits” foods, they become triggers because they are usually the foods we crave most often.  Thus, it becomes even harder to manage appetite, and we risk “spiraling down” into self-criticism and feeling bad about ourselves for not having more self-discipline.

It’s surprising how many of us are actually out of touch with our emotions and needs.  Many Americans are functioning on auto-pilot, rushing from one event to another, trying to juggle parenting, work, community service, church obligations, and a social life.  Yet, we are biologically programmed to seek pleasure.  When pleasure isn’t a part of our heavily scheduled lives, for some, food fills the gap.

The most important thing we can bring to any food decision is mindfulness. When reaching for the cookies, try to discern what’s behind that choice, and recognize that no emotion and no urge lasts forever.  Try setting a timer for 15 minutes and find something else to do, which might start with the question, “What do I want right now?”  If you can disengage the auto-pilot for a few minutes, you may find that food is not really so much the priority as it is the convenient response to how you feel.

To intercept eating for non-hunger reasons, it’s helpful to have a plan. Make a list of alternative activities you can turn to in place of eating.  Understand that it will probably take you several tries before you feel successful in overcoming a food craving.  And when you do make a food decision you regret, analyze what led up to it, and what you could do differently next time.

Spokesperson Background:

Dr. Jeannie Sykes is a registered dietitian at Cone Health Family Medicine Center.  She received a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from the University of Vermont in 1976, and a Master of Public Health Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1980.  Dr. Sykes earned a PhD in Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1986.  She has worked at Cone Health Family Medicine Center since 1990.