That’s what you did when someone was having a hard time.

You fed them.

It was a tradition that crossed all cultures.

Nichole Chase (Suddenly Royal)

You have been working at getting that number on the scale to budge, in a downward direction. But it does not seem to move. Perhaps the real issue is your level of stress, and whether you seek comfort in food. Everyone has favorite foods, but our go-to choices for tough times can often be better. Eating to relieve stress, or to be distracted from the stressors is called stress eating. But all stress eating is not the same. Studies have shown that there are two distinct patterns of stress-eating. See which style describes you and what you can do to change it.

Stress eaters can be divided into two groups, munchers and skippers. Munchers tend to eat more after a negative experience while skippers eat more after a positive event. Munchers also eat about one-third more calories on average.

Once you become aware of your habits, you have a better chance of controlling them. Here are a few strategies for munchers, skippers, or anyone who struggles with emotional eating.

Munchers

1. Give yourself a pep talk. Remembering all your blessings can make difficult times easier to bear. Thinking about your major accomplishments helps you recall your strengths even when you are cringing over a recent mistake.

2. Look on the brighter side. We usually experience a number of failures on the road to success. Even when you fail to get the results you wanted, see what you can learn from the situation.

3. Laugh more. Some stressful situations may seem funny when you try to find the humor in them. Reminisce about the blind date who spent the entire dinner explaining their conspiracy theories.

4. Develop self-compassion. At the same time, validate your feelings. Acknowledge when you are upset or angry. Expressing emotions makes us less vulnerable to using food for comfort.

Skippers

1. Put pleasures in perspective. It is natural to get excited about going on a dream vacation or a fabulous new pair of shoes. Be sure to also cultivate a deeper sense of peace and contentment through healthy relationships and virtuous living so you can manage your emotions and thoughts.

2. Share your joy. The most effective way to use pleasures constructively is to share them with others. The gratification you will feel when you give part of your raise to charity will outshine any extra dessert.

3. Plan non-food celebrations. If you usually go out to dinner to celebrate good times, try planning more unusual festivities. Go away for a ski weekend on your next wedding anniversary.

4. Be extra careful during the holidays. The average weight gain of 1 to 2 pounds during the winter months adds up over a lifetime.

Strategies for Any Kind of Emotional Eating

1. Practice relaxation techniques. Melt away stress with meditation or a warm bath. Pet your cat or listen to gentle music.

2. Exercise regularly. Exercise counters emotional eating in several ways. Physical activity burns off calories and temporarily suppresses your appetite. It also elevates your mood so that it is easier to resist those extra few cookies.

3. Talk things over. Call a friend instead of Dominoes or _____________ (insert your favorite here) when you feel especially happy or sad. Discussing your feelings provides longer lasting relief than marinara sauce and extra cheese.

4. Keep a food journal. Spot your individual triggers by writing down what you eat and how you feel on the spot. Your sensitive areas may be related to work or your family.

5. Discover smart substitutions. Minimize the impact of emotional eating by finding satisfaction in fewer calories. Consider replacing your corn chips with carrot sticks dipped in salsa. Indulge in a homemade mango popsicle instead of whole fat ice cream.

6. Consider counseling. Professional therapists have helped many people to gain control over emotional eating. Ask your physician for a referral.

Whether you are a muncher or a skipper, you can choose to develop new and healthier habits. Eat healthier and learn to manage your stress better so that you can look and feel your best.

Photo Credit: Amy McTigue via Compfight cc