Some people over eat because they are rushing through meals and don’t give their stomachs time to send a “full” signal to their brains. Others eat too much because they aren’t aware of correct portion sizes.  Some of us, however, know that we’re overeating…  yet we find it difficult to stop because we’re doing it for emotional reasons.

Sound familiar? You might have battled emotional overeating for years and learned that willpower is rarely enough to “fix” your behavior. That’s because the underlying emotions are still there, and you can’t force yourself not to feel them or address them!

The best way to change an unwanted behavior often is to replace it with a new one. You can still recognize and cope with emotions, but just do it in a more healthful manner.

When you find yourself tempted to eat for emotional reasons, try one of the following replacement behaviors:

Talk about it. Sometimes, just talking to someone about your feelings can help you to process them without indulging in a compulsive behavior. Remember, even if you don’t have close friends or family close by, there are plenty of avenues where you can vent or express your feelings.

Allow yourself to wallow – without food. Watch a sad movie, put on sad music and cry, write in your journal, or do whatever helps you express sadness without eating.

Exercise.  This is a fantastic solution for many people.  Whether you’re feeling angry, sad, anxious, or some other emotion, exercise can be the cure. When you find yourself reaching for the pantry, put on your shoes and walk out of the house instead. Go for a walk or bike ride and clear your head.

Get rid of restless energy. If you eat when you feel anxious or angry, try to express that extra energy some other way. Mop the floors, organize a closet, or leave the house and go run some errands. The feeling of accomplishment and activity can help to distract your mind from thoughts of junk food.

Relax using another method. Some people eat because they’re feeling high levels of anxiety. Learn to recognize your anxiety cues, and do something else to relax instead of digging into the ice cream. Take a nap, take a bubble bath, attend a yoga class, meditate, use a coloring book, and so on.

At first, you might find it difficult to abandon an old, comforting behavior for a new one. However, each time you substitute a healthier coping mechanism for your old, destructive one, you will feel a sense of strength and accomplishment. Stick with it and pretty soon your new habit will be as soothing as your old one was.