Want to lose weight, lower your stress, and start enjoying the life you were meant to live? Then stop giving in to emotional eating.

That’s the word from Dr. Pamela Peeke, who wrote the book The Hunger Fix. She says we all have at least one “helper” that we turn to for comfort when we feel stressed. And for many of us, that helper is food. Dr. Peeke says, it’s because a favorite snack can feel like a hug from a loved one, and make us feel better.

The problem is that each time we reach for a snack, the reward centers of our brain lights up, and we get a rush of feel-good dopamine. That makes us feel better – but it also makes us want more of that snack. And Dr. Peeke says that for some people, that urge can be as powerful as a drug. In a nutshell, that’s called “emotional eating.” And Dr. Peeke says until we learn to identify the stresses that trigger emotional eating, it’ll be impossible to lose or maintain weight!

What are the most common stresses? They include traveling for work, rushing to meet a deadline, fighting with our spouse or taking care of a sick loved one. Dr. Peeke says any time we’re faced with one of those stresses, it’s tempting to raid a vending machine - or drive-thru - while skipping our normal exercise and sleep routines. So, how can we handle stress and break the cycle of emotional eating?

  • Learn to identify your “False Fixes.” That’s Dr. Peeke’s term for the fatty, sugary, unhealthy snacks we choose when we feel stressed. Because many studies show that the more we give in to cravings for False Fixes, the less satisfaction we get from them.
  • Replace your False Fixes with healthy habits. That can include exercising, like taking a walk with a friend. Or, it can mean choosing a “safe” snack that includes a combination of fiber and protein. For example, you could mix berries with plain Greek yogurt, baby carrots with hummus or celery with peanut butter. Studies show that the combination of fiber and protein takes longer to digest, so we get more satisfaction from them.
  • Make a promise to yourself to turn to one of your healthy habits any time you feel stressed. Dr. Peeke calls this “implementation intention.” And a study found that when we make promises like this to ourselves, it increases our odds of carrying out our goals!

Want more tips for conquering emotional eating? Check out Dr. Peeke’s book, The Hunger Fix.