We all know that Americans are getting fatter. Go to any public place and you can see this clearly. Part of the problem is in the abundance of foods that are available 24 hours a day. As Americans we are also much more sedentary than were previous generations. Our consumption of high fat foods coupled with minimal physical activity contributes to storing excess fat and unhealthy bodies.

These factors do not explain all the increase in American's expanding waistlines. Plenty of people who struggle with extra weight use food for purposes other than nutrition and fueling the body. In these cases, it is not about the food; it is about what eating does for the person emotionally. For some, food can help to stuff down unpleasant feelings like anger, hurt, or fear. Food can serve to fill the void of loneliness for others. Eating can also provide a sense of comfort when we feel sad or generally out of sorts. Others cope with boredom and stress by eating. The food calms the mind and emotions and gives us something to do with our time. For all these situations, the food fills a need, but only temporarily. Stuffed feelings don't go away; they are just stuck somewhere else, unresolved. The eating does not address the reasons for the negative emotions in the first place. Realistically, the only thing eating truly fixes is physical hunger and the need for nutrition.

By the way, carrying extra weight on the body can serve a purpose as well. An extra layer of fat can give a sense of protection. It can be used to punish oneself in terms of self-loathing. Some might use extra weight in order to avoid intimacy with others and as an excuse for not taking responsibility for one's self or one's life. Alternatively, extra weight can also be used to project an image of inner strength, like "throwing your weight around."

Regardless how we might use food or weight, there is a high price to be paid in terms of weight gain, self-esteem, and emotional health. The real issues and problems behind our negative emotions need to be addressed and resolved. Here is what you can do:

1) Become fully aware of your eating habits and patterns. Do you eat when you are not hungry? Do you tend to eat when angry, bored, stressed, or when experiencing some other negative emotion? Is there something unresolved in your life that plays a role with the overeating? Identify the specific emotions that lead to overeating.

2) Think about what you want the food to do for you. Are you wanting food to bring calm in the face of stress, bring comfort, or just help you feel good? Most importantly, how do you want to feel instead?

3) Get clear about the long-term downside to the overeating. What is it costing you? The extra weight increases your risks for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Perhaps your self-esteem is impacted and you have a feeling of not being in control of your eating or your body. Food may be a quick fix but the long-term cost of the extra weight and dealing with emotions by eating is not worth it.

4) Identify what else you could do that would change the way you feel. Some real solutions might include talking to a friend, taking a walk, or finding something you like to do instead of eating. Perhaps the negative emotions could be decreased if you need to speak up at work or resolve some conflict with someone else. If you think about it, there are lots of alternatives to substitute for eating when you aren't really hungry. Keep the list of alternatives handy.

The bottom line is, whenever possible, deal directly with the source of the problem. By resolving the source of the problem you can eliminate the need to eat in order to change the way you feel. You will be healthier, emotionally and physically.

Author's Bio: 

Sue Stevenson, Ph.D., is a Weight Loss Coach in Tucson, Arizona, who works with individuals and groups to help them reach their weight loss and fitness goals. She uses innovative techniques like hypnosis, NLP, and the Emotional Freedom Technique. Her strengths are in identifying each individual's blocks to weight loss and using the right tools to resolve those blocks. To read more of her articles, weekly blogs, or to reach Sue to to: http://www.yourtucsonweightlosscoach.com