Are you familiar with the term “emotional eating?” This can be defined as the practice of consuming food─often rich, fattening choices─in response to feelings rather than hunger. Triggers may include stress, boredom, anger, or sadness. Eating in this context is unhealthy on a number of levels. It not only promotes weight gain, it also compounds, rather than solves, problems since those unwelcome new pounds can damage self-esteem and overall well-being.

Emotional eating can become a habit that prevents you from learning skills to effectively resolve the problems that caused the emotional distress or discomfort in the first place. However, if you’ve struggled with this issue, don’t despair. You can break the cycle. The key is identifying your triggers and developing appropriate techniques to manage your feelings so you can take overeating out of the equation. These tips can help:

Track your intake

If you actively note what you eat and drink each day, it may surprise you. The goal is to support yourself with healthy, protein-rich meals and snacks on a regular basis. If you’re properly nourished, you’ll be far less likely to succumb to poor food choices and/or excessive calorie intake during challenging times.

Take stock of stress

If stress is a trigger for you, you may be able to minimize it by preparing well in advance for any looming projects, deadlines, or events. In any case, developing new coping mechanisms is essential. Exercise is an A+ strategy when the pressure mounts. Getting support from loved ones, taking a bubble bath and/or nap are also terrific stress-quenching tactics.

Zap boredom

If you eat to distract yourself when you’re not truly hungry, consider some other pursuits until you’re genuinely ready for the next healthy meal or snack. Try getting out for a walk, calling a friend, knitting, crocheting or sewing, grabbing a good book, writing in a journal, window shopping, playing with your kids/dog/cat, or digging into an interesting new project.

Address depression

If you occasionally experience the blues, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are many non-food treats to lift your spirits: concert tickets, a manicure, yoga class, or a festive lunch with friends. However, clinical depression is another matter. If sadness/despair persist ongoing, consider getting some professional counseling. You deserve to be happy, and help is out there.

Tendencies towards emotional eating may not be resolved overnight. The key is to recognize that “the way out is the way through.” As you move forward, acknowledge your efforts and treat yourself with kindness. If you experience setbacks, consider them minor lapses rather than an excuse to give up. It takes courage to address this issue, so soldier on. You can—and will—prevail.