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"When I get stressed out, I can polish off a dozen Munchkins in no time flat," admits Jennifer, 37, a New Jersey mom of four. Pressure is at its worst when her husband travels for business. The housework piles up, the kids want more attention, she's exhausted and suddenly the sweet stuff becomes irresistible. "I eat things I don't even like," she confesses. "That's how bad it gets."
When we use food to dull our anger, sadness or anxiety, most of us reach for calorie bombs loaded with sugar, carbs, fat and salt. Not only do they remind us of good times (think: birthday cake, movie theater popcorn) but they also stimulate our brain's reward system. At that very moment it feels so good. Then our bad mood returns—with a side of guilt. And over time you need to consume even bigger amounts of those junk foods to get the same pleasurable feeling, just like chasing a high with other addictions, says recent research. But there's a way to break the cycle.
We developed a plan to gain control of emotional eating. Then we gave it to Jennifer and other Family Circle readers to try and checked back in with them a month later. They agreed: Change is hard but the plan works! Follow these tips that helped them—and can get you—to conquer emotional eating once and for all.