Are you an emotional over-eater?

Most of us enjoy 'comfort foods' in winter but if you find that stress, boredom, or negative feelings trigger you to eat too much, you could be an emotional over-eater.

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According to the experts, seven out of 10 people who over-eat do so in response to their emotional state. Unfortunately, it's not carrot sticks and cucumber we turn to but sweet treats and fatty junk foods. So how can you break the habit and turn things around?

Identify the triggers
Turning to food for comfort can quickly become a habit. The more we gain weight, the worse we feel, which only drives us to eat more. It's a negative cycle – but there are things you can do to help break free.

You may have kept a food diary to keep track of calories before – but have you also tried keeping a record of how you were feeling? You may, on reflection, realise that a bout of over-eating was triggered by a feeling of loneliness, anger or frustration.

If you can narrow down the feelings and circumstances, you can begin to work on improving areas of your life – and get to the cause of the emotional problem rather than simply trying to resist food.

Be sure to make a note of the circumstances, as well as how you were feeling. For example, do social situations cause you to eat more or are situational triggers your weakness - you were passing your favourite fast food restaurant or someone offered you chocolates at work.

Keep a record of what you eat, the situation and your feelings, and you may be surprised at the patterns that emerge. Once you have identified the triggers, you can take steps to break the habit – whether that's to get to the root cause or avoidance tactics.

For example, if it's loneliness or boredom, volunteer with a charity to help others, take up a group exercise, or arrange to see friends. If the smell of the supermarket bakery tempts you, start doing your grocery shopping online.

Avoidance tactics
In the short term, in can help to take yourself away from the emotion you're feeling – and away from the fridge. If you naturally reach for the biscuit barrel when feeling stressed, try going for a power walk or doing deep breathing exercises instead.

If you reach for chocolates when feeling down, try reading a good book or magazine, or have a bubble bath. Keep on replacing eating with a different activity and it will eventually become habitual.

Further help
If simply taking yourself away from temptation doesn't help, try doing relaxation exercises or meditation. You can buy many positive-thinking programmes – and lying down for 20 minutes listening to one you find empowering or uplifting can have a surprising influence on your mood.

You could also try individual or group counselling – for example, go along to an Overeaters Anonymous group. They're not for everyone but you can be sure everyone there has had similar experiences to you, and you won't know until you give it a go.