Hunger or desire to eat?

Whenever you start thinking about food, take a minute to figure out whether you’re having a physical need or an emotional one. Before you put the first bite in your mouth, ask yourself, “Is this hunger or a desire to eat?”

If you decide you are truly hungry, give your body some fuel. But if you’re having a desire to eat, catch yourself on the spot and ask, “What’s going on here? What’s making me want to eat right now?” Then consider how you could take care of your real needs instead of appeasing them with food.

If you need to calm down or de-stress, try doing a few deep breathing exercises instead of eating. Give your eyes a rest from the computer or take a break from the task you’re working on.

Remember that food doesn’t usually fix a tired body. So if you recognize that you need rest, not food, go to bed, take a nap or just close your eyes and give them a break for a few minutes. Sip a cup of hot tea or a diet soda and allow your body to relax. Eventually, you’ll discover lots of ways to build your energy without reaching for food.

Other ways to perk up

Instead of immediately reaching toward food when you feel tired or down, do something else first and see if it takes care of the problem.

• Wait ten minutes

When you get a food craving, buy yourself some time by waiting ten minutes before you eat anything. During that time, do something positive such as read to your child or offer encouragement to a troubled friend. After ten minutes, see if you still need to eat or if your food thoughts have faded.

• Move your body

Instead of heading for your recliner after an exhausting day, go for a brief walk or do something else that gets you moving. Physical activity will usually revive you better than lying on the couch with chips and a soda.

• Get a drink of water

Being dehydrated can add to your fatigue or even make you think you’re hungry. Drink a large glass of water, then wait 30 minutes. You may be surprised at your renewed energy level.

• Get some rest

Put your feet up, take a nap (a lost art) or take time for a few minutes of meditation or stretching. Start going to bed earlier. Force yourself to rest when you need it.

• Distract yourself

Do something that will take your mind off how you feel. Mentally escape with a book or a shopping trip. When you keep busy, you may find your tiredness lifts without a food fix. Be sure you choose a diversion that fills your mind, not empties it. Watching TV or playing computer games will often make you feel dull rather than revived.

Linda Spangle, RN, MA, is a weight-loss coach specializing in emotional eating, and the author of 100 Days of Weight Loss, a book of daily lessons that helps people stay committed to their diet and exercise plans. Her website is www.foodiseasy.com.