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When you hit the fridge after rough days at work or routinely munch a bunch of chips to unwind and watch TV, you may be engaged in emotional eating and pay the consequences in unwanted inches and pounds on the scale.

Ironically, comfort food may not be what you’re craving. “Emotional eating is not a physical hunger—it can be described as a hunger of the heart,” says Trina Swerdlow, C.C.H.T., who teaches a John Muir Health class on the topic and works with clients on weight loss and stress management. “We may be starving for love, respect, acceptance, a sense of belonging.”

So what to do? A family member, friend, therapist or support group can help you deal with your emotions. Experts also recommend various strategies to manage the problem eating, including the following:

  • Avoid temptations – Don’t keep supplies of comfort foods on hand; if necessary, advises Swerdlow, stow them for family members in an avoidable location.
  • Control stress – Yoga or meditation can help.
  • Keep a food diary – Track your feelings and what, when and how much you’re eating.
  • Fight boredom – Instead of snacking, indulge in diversions—call a friend, take a walk, surf the Internet, go out for a movie.