Monthly Archives: February 2017

Change Emotional Eating

It’s been a bad day at work. The kids have been acting up all day. You’re stressed. How do you deal with it? Maybe by gobbling an extra piece of fried chicken? Or reaching into the bag of chips while zoning out in front of the television? Perhaps by snuggling up with a container of ice cream and spoon in bed? We’ve all caught ourselves giving in to emotional eating.

And yet we also know that we can’t lose weight without limiting the calories that pass our lips. So how do you move beyond the urge to use food to fix feelings of anxiety, anger, or frustration? And how do you keep your kids from falling into the same trap?

Emotional eating tends to be a habit, and like any habit can be broken. It may be hard, especially if you’ve been doing it for a long time, but it is possible.

Weight problems often run in families, so the easiest way to tackle emotional eating is together as a family. You can’t expect an overweight child to stop binge-eating snacks and junk food when other people in the household are eating them.

Preparing Tweens for Middle School


Here are four tips to help you and your family stop using food as an emotional fix.

1. Make your house healthy.

Start with the obvious: If there is no junk food in the house, you can’t binge on it. Instead, keep unprocessed, low-calorie, low-fat foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, hummus, and unbuttered popcorn around for munching. And remember that they’re not just for your kids. Set a good example for them by trying and enjoying healthier options.

Take a look at your refrigerator and pantry and cut down on your go-to temptations.

Before you go grocery shopping, take a breather, go for a walk, and wait until your emotions are in check.

2. Figure out what’s triggering emotional eating.

The next time you reach for comfort food, ask yourself, “Why do I want this candy bar? Am I really hungry?” If not, try to figure out what emotions you are feeling. Are you stressed, angry, bored, scared, sad, lonely? A food diary — a written record of what, how much, and when you eat — may help you see patterns in how mood affects what you choose to eat.

Check in with how your kids are feeling, too. If you’re aware of the social and emotional issues they are facing, it will help you guide them to make better choices when dealing with their emotions without eating. Find out what’s going on in their personal lives. Ask about school, friends, and how they feel. Do they feel good or bad about the way life is going?

When times get tough, it helps to have some go-to healthy ways to handle stress. You and your kids can try deep breathing, going for a walk, or listening to music.

Sometimes, an outside perspective can give you an “aha!” moment that lights the path for change. If you’re having trouble controlling your emotional eating, don’t be afraid to seek the help of a mental health professional. Although professional counseling or psychotherapy might not be comfortable for elementary school children, it can help you or older kids figure out what’s behind emotional eating and offer help for eating disorders.

3. Find satisfying alternatives.

Once you figure out why food makes you feel better, you can come up with alternative behaviors that can help you cope instead of emotional eating. Frustrated because you feel like you’re not in control? Go for a walk on a path you choose. Hurt by a co-worker’s mean comments? Take it out on a punching bag, or make a plan for how you’re going to talk it out. Bored? Distract yourself by calling a friend or surfing the Internet.

If you deny yourself all treats, that can lead to cravings and binge eating. Instead, allow yourself to have your favorite foods occasionally and in smaller portions. Limit the amount of chips or candy by putting a few in a small bowl instead of mindlessly eating them out of the bag.

Keep the focus on fun and feeling good so that new, healthier habits are easier to adopt. A study in a British health journal showed that teenagers were more likely to take a walk when they heard that it would make them feel good than when they heard it was the healthy thing to do.

4. Celebrate success.

Focus on the positive changes you are making, one step at a time. You’ll get better results with encouragement than with harsh criticism. For example, praise your child when he takes only one cookie out of the box instead of a handful.

Changing an emotional eating habit is a process. Some backsliding will happen, so acknowledge when it does and use it as a chance to plan how you’ll deal with the same situation in the future.

Successes are sweeter when you can share them. Celebrate a week of healthy eating as a family by taking a walk in the woods, having a swim night, or going skating together. When you work together to build better eating habits, the support you can offer each other and the rewards you enjoy can be priceless.

Eat a Healthy Diet

If you are what you eat, it follows that you want to stick to a healthy diet that’s well balanced. “You want to eat a variety of foods,” says Stephen Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond. “You don’t want to be overly restrictive of any one food group or eat too much of another.”

Healthy Diet: The Building Blocks

The best source of meal planning for most Americans is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food Pyramid. The pyramid, updated in 2005, suggests that for a healthy diet each day you should eat:

  • 6 to 8 servings of grains. These include bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, and at least 3 servings should be from whole grains. A serving of bread is one slice while a serving of cereal is 1/2 (cooked) to 1 cup (ready-to-eat). A serving of rice or pasta is 1/2 cup cooked (1 ounce dry). Save fat-laden baked goods such as croissants, muffins, and donuts for an occasional treat.
  • 2 to 4 servings of fruits and 4 to 6 servings of vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, making them a great addition to your healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables also provide the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need for your body’s systems to function at peak performance. Fruits and vegetables also will add flavor to a healthy diet. It’s best to serve them fresh, steamed, or cut up in salads. Be sure to skip the calorie-laden toppings, butter, and mayonnaise, except on occasion. A serving of raw or cooked vegetables is equal to 1/2 cup (1 cup for leafy greens); a serving of a fruit is 1/2 cup or a fresh fruit the size of a tennis ball.
  • 2 to 3 servings of milk, yogurt, and cheese. Choose dairy products wisely. Go for fat-free or reduced-fat milk or cheeses. Substitute yogurt for sour cream in many recipes and no one will notice the difference. A serving of dairy is equal to 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese.
  • 2 to 3 servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. For a healthy diet, the best ways to prepare beef, pork, veal, lamb, poultry, and fish is to bake or broil them. Look for the words “loin” or “round” in cuts of meats because they’re the leanest. Remove all visible fat or skin before cooking, and season with herbs, spices, and fat-free marinades. A serving of meat, fish, or poultry is 2 to 3 ounces. Some crossover foods such as dried beans, lentils, and peanut butter can provide protein without the animal fat and cholesterol you get from meats. A ¼ cup cooked beans or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is equal to 1 ounce of lean meat.
  • Use fats, oils, and sweets sparingly. No diet should totally eliminate any one food group, even fats, oils, and sweets. It’s fine to include them in your diet as long as it’s on occasion and in moderation, Bickston says.

Healthy Diet: Eat Right and the Right Amount

How many calories you need in a day depends on your sex, age, body type, and how active you are. Generally, active children ages 2 to 8 need between 1,400 and 2,000 calories a day. Active teenage girls and women can consume about 2,200 calories a day without gaining weight. Teenage boys and men who are very active should consume about 3,000 calories a day to maintain their weight. If you’re not active, you calorie needs drop by 400 to 600 calories a day.

The best way to know how much to eat is to listen to your body, says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. “Pull away from the table when you’re comfortable but not yet full. Wait about 20 minutes,” he says. “Usually your body says, ‘That’s good.’ If you’re still hungry after that, you might want to eat a little more.”

Healthy Diet: Exercise Is Part of the Plan

At the bottom of the new USDA food pyramid is a space for exercise. Exercise is an important component of a well-balanced diet and good nutrition. You can reap “fabulous rewards,” says Dr Novey, just by exercising and eating “a healthy diet of foods that nature provides.”

Learn More About 8 Healthy Foods That Aren’t

Let’s face it: When you’re trying to eat healthy, the grocery store can be downright confusing. Sure, the produce department is a no-brainer, but what about all the aisles of packaged products proclaiming themselves a “healthy” choice?

The trick is to keep it simple. “The simpler a food is, the greater the likelihood it’s a healthy option,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

Some foods might seem like a safe bet because of trendy terms or ingredients. Here are the facts about eight foods that might have you fooled.

1. Sports Drinks and Enhanced Waters

It’s easy to think of sports drinks as healthy, especially because of all the famous athletes who guzzle them in ads. But unless your kid is exercising intensely, for a long stretch of time, or in high heat, he should pass on them.

“Most kids don’t need a sports drink for refueling or rehydrating,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook. And the extra, empty calories can add to unhealthy weight gain and tooth decay, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The same goes for waters that have been enhanced with vitamins and minerals since they usually have artificial flavors and sweeteners.

Bottom line: “Plain water and a well-balanced diet are the best way to stay healthy and hydrated,” Newgent says. Too boring for your kids’ taste buds? Make your own fruit-infused water with fresh lemons, limes, or berries.

2. Trail Mix

It’s an easy, tasty way to refuel between school, dance practice, and study groups. But be careful: Many grocery store versions are packed with not-so-nutritious add-ons, like chocolate, salty nuts, and pretzels or peanuts covered in “yogurt.”

“Watch out for trail mixes that are borderline candy mixes,” Newgent says.
Bottom line: Look for trail mixes that are mostly plain nuts, dried fruit, and seeds. Or make your own at home. And watch the portion size. A small handful of this high-calorie snack is usually enough.

3. Veggie Chips

The pieces of actual veggies in veggie chips are so thin and processed that most of the nutrition from the vegetable is gone.

Raw veggies are obviously a healthier way to go, but let’s face it: Sometimes those carrot sticks just aren’t going to satisfy your crunch craving. Try whole-grain pretzels, baked corn chips, crackers made with seeds and nuts, or popcorn, Kirkpatrick suggests. To keep from turning a bag of chips or box of crackers into a meal, divvy them up into sensible portions ahead of time.

Bottom line: Don’t assume veggie chips are as nutritious as veggies.

4. Nutrition Bars

Some are filled with so much sugar that you may as well be eating a candy bar. For instance, the best-selling energy bar, according to a 2013 survey, has 230 calories, 10 grams of sugar, and 160 milligrams of sodium. A Snickers bar clocks in at 250 calories, 27 grams of sugar, and 120 milligrams of sodium.

Bottom line: If you’re going to eat them, choose one that’s low in added sugar and made mostly of nuts, seeds, fruits, and whole grains. Better yet, make your own.

5. Raisin Bran or Flavored Oatmeal

The classic breakfast cereal is another sugar trap. Although some are high in healthy fiber, the already-sweet raisins usually come coated in more sugar.

The same goes for flavored instant oatmeal. Even though it offers whole grains, the flavored packets have more sugar and salt than plain rolled or steel-cut oats.

A better option for cold or hot cereal: Start plain and add your own extras. Buy bran flakes and sprinkle a tablespoon of raisins into your kids’ bowls. Or dress up plain oatmeal with fresh fruit or a small dab of honey.

Bottom line: “There’s lots of smoke and mirrors on cereal boxes, especially the ones marketed to kids,” Kirkpatrick says. She suggests looking for cereals that have less than 135 milligrams of sodium per serving and no added sugar.

6. Smoothies

What could be healthier than drinking a smoothie made of fresh fruit? The fruit itself.

“A smoothie every once in a while is OK, but you’re removing the fiber and taking in a high concentration of sugar,” Kirkpatrick says. “So you’re going from having 9 grams of sugar in a bowl to 30 or 40 grams of sugar in a smoothie — even more if it’s a commercially made one.”

Bottom line: Make smoothies at home so you know exactly what’s in them. Better yet, just eat the fruit.

7. “Low-Fat” and “Fat-Free” Products

“We have to get away from this thinking that ‘low fat’ is a good option,” Kirkpatrick says. “Naturally occurring low-fat foods like an apple are one thing, but packaged low-fat foods are a bad choice 90% of the time.” That’s because low- and no-fat foods typically replace the fat with other stuff, like salt, sugar, or thickeners, which can add calories.

Bottom line: Don’t assume “low-fat” or “fat-free” is healthier than its full-fat version. Check the label for the calories and serving size.

8. Gluten-Free Products

There’s no need to avoid this protein unless someone in your house has a medical problem like celiac disease, in which gluten damages the small intestine.

That’s not to say that naturally gluten-free whole foods, like quinoa, aren’t good for you, Newgent says. “But, unfortunately, most people who switch to a gluten-free eating style when they don’t need to far too often reach for overly processed gluten-free products, like gluten-free cookies.”

Also, when manufacturers take out gluten, they often remove the B vitamins, minerals, and fiber that come with it. Plus, gluten-free products tend to be more expensive than their regular counterparts.

Bottom line: Skip foods labeled “gluten-free” unless you have to eat them for medical reasons.