Do you know why you eat what you do? According to the National Institutes of Health, we make over 200 decisions about food each day. If your mood, and not simply hunger, is influencing your food choices, you may be emotionally eating.

Some people eat or overeat to satisfy an emotional need, such as to relieve sadness or stress or to maintain a happy mood. They often turn to traditional comfort foods, such as pizza, ice cream, chocolate or cookies. This behavior can lead to feelings of guilt, weight gain and swings in your mental and physical energy.

To help maintain a healthy diet and mind, start by practicing mindful eating. We often rush through the day without time to reflect. Pay more attention to the food you eat without judgment. Emotional eating patterns may be learned in childhood, but can be changed if you have patience.

The goal of mindful eating is to increase your awareness of the sensations, feelings and thoughts connected with food and eating. Keep a journal for three days to see if you can identify emotional eating patterns and triggers.

Other tips to help you stay on a more even keel include:

  • Eat regular meals. Skipping meals, particularly breakfast, can cause blood sugar levels to drop and result in irritability and fatigue.
  • Make smart carb choices. Low glycemic carbohydrates include whole grain bread, beans, whole grain crackers, apples, pears, and other fruits.
  • Keep low-calorie foods stocked. Foods that may enhance your immune system and help prevent stress include sweet potatoes, oranges, dried apricots, turkey, spinach, and other green vegetables, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, salmon, and whole grains.
  • Drink plenty of water. Even mild dehydration can reduce your ability to concentrate.
  • Avoid Caffeine. Caffeine may increase anxiety and interfere with adequate sleep.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Excessive weight loss or gain, and poor nutrition, may deprive your brain of important nutrients necessary for a positive mental attitude.
  • Develop healthy coping skills. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips, go for a walk or pull out a good book. Increase your resiliency with regular exercise, adequate rest and support from friends and family.
  • Eat treats in moderation. You don’t have to give it all up. Treats are a part of many celebrations and the occasional ice cream on a hot summer day is enjoyable. The key is to avoid overindulging and balance unhealthy treats with more nutritious food.
  • Reward yourself. Part of feeling in control of your food choices is reducing the association between emotion and food. When you have achieved a goal, reward yourself with a non-edible treat. This can also be applied to our kids.

If you’re worried about your eating, talk to a professional. Counselors can help you deal with your feelings. Nutritionists can help you assess your eating patterns and get you on track with a better diet. Fitness experts can educate you on how to increase your body’s feel-good chemicals through exercise.

Sources: National Institutes for Health, LifeWork Strategies EAP, Adventist Behavioral Health, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers. For medical advice, consult your physician.