Emotional eating means turning to food for comfort -- not because you’re hungry. That bag of potato chips and those chocolate chip cookies may provide short-term relief when you’re feeling bored, lonely, anxious, frustrated, depressed, angry, or stressed. But emotional eating can also lead to overeating and unwanted weight gain. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is a response to emotions.

The good news is that you can learn skills and alternative ways to cope with feelings of emotional distress so that you’re not reaching for unhealthy foods whenever you’re faced with a negative feeling.

Identify Your Eating Triggers

When you know what situations and emotions prompt you to eat, you can come up with ways to steer clear of those traps. These food triggers will typically fall into five main categories.

To find out what your triggers are, keep a food diary to write down what and when you eat as well as what stressors, thoughts, or emotions you experience as you eat. You should begin to see patterns fairly quickly.

How to Stop Emotional Eating

By the time you’ve identified a pattern, emotional eating has become a habit. Now you want to break that habit.

Get Help

Sometimes developing alternative habits or distracting yourself from eating isn’t enough. Try meditation or counseling, or talk to your doctor to see what resources and techniques they recommend to help you cope with emotional stress.

As you learn to practice better coping strategies and to curb emotional eating, remember to reward yourself. By patting yourself on the back for a job well done, you increase the likelihood that you’ll maintain your new healthy habits.