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A Few Chips, Not the Whole Bag: Controlling Emotional Eating

Learn about emotional eating, ways to control food cravings and when to be concerned.  Answers to viewer submitted questions are listed below the video.

Controlling Emotional EatingFor more information on Cone Health nutritional counseling, go to

Viewer submitted questions and answers.

Q:  What do you think about a vegan protein powder mix? It is at Costco. I am a vegetarian.

A:  Protein powders or other protein products (bars or fortified foods) can be a convenient way to obtain protein.  It is not a good replacement for meals, however.  Whole, real food is always a healthy person’s best first source for nutrients.  If you have found a product you like, feel free to use it as a supplement.  Protein powders can be especially useful following exercise, as a between-meal snack, or as part of a quick breakfast.  For most of these products, you will save money while obtaining more whole-food protein if you use half of the label-recommended dose mixed into 8-12 ounces of milk or soymilk.  This will provide more than 20 grams of protein in your drink.  (Other non-dairy alternatives such as almond milk do not provide protein.)


Q:  Is there a support group somewhere that is free for emotional eating? Just getting started or a class to teach you healthy eating?

A:  I don’t know of any group currently in the Triad area related to emotional eating.  For general good nutrition information and classes, I like to refer to Guilford County’s Cooperative Extension Service: (336-641-2400).  They provide some excellent educational opportunities for both children and adults, and their services are free or very reasonably priced.  In addition, I teach two weight management classes, Weigh to Wellness I and Weigh to Wellness II, that will start September 8.  For more information, contact  The fee for each six-week class is $150.


Q: What can women do when doctors prescribe med’s for mood swings that cause you to gain weight? I know of several women who were able to maintain their weight until the med’s. Thanks.

A: While some medications are associated with increased risk of weight gain, trying the medication is the only way to determine if it will have this effect on a patient.  It is critically important that you talk with your physician about all of your health needs, which includes weight management, so if you have experienced a change in appetite or weight that you believe is related to a medication, schedule an appointment to specifically address this with your physician.  You may need to be willing to try a few alternatives in your search for the right medication.  Also, be aware that while some medications are associated with weight gain, you may mitigate this problem with the right food choices.  A registered dietitian can provide a number of suggestions for appetite control and weight management despite the influence of medications. 


Q: I sometimes skip breakfast. I tend to go to carb’s for satisfaction later in the day. Is there a good carb option that is filling and not high in calories to turn to when my hunger starts?

A:  The best carb’s any time of day (but probably especially for your first meal of the day) are those with a meaningful amount of fiber, i.e., at least 5 or 6 grams per serving.  This usually means a food that is not highly processed.  Steel-cut oats and regular rolled oats (not instant) are good examples of traditional breakfast foods that provide fiber.  Fruits, vegetables, beans (like kidney, pinto, and black beans), and whole grains are all good fiber sources.  Probably more important for you in best managing your food choices would be to eat breakfast.  If this is not currently part of your usual routine, start small, and work on making breakfast habitual.  Aim for both carbohydrate and protein at breakfast for best appetite control throughout the whole day.  You are fighting an uphill battle if you’re trying to resist eating later in the day after eating inadequately early in the day. 


Q: Do you have any advice for controlling food cravings that come from being bored?

A:  Make a list of activities that are alternatives to eating, and keep this list accessible for those times when you are reaching for food out of boredom.  This might include reading, watching a movie, calling a friend, cleaning out a closet, walking the dog, or doing some yoga to a YouTube video.  In addition, try to determine if it is only boredom behind your eating, or if there is an emotional component by asking yourself, “How do I feel now; how do I want to feel; and what do I need right now?”  This may give you some clues as to the drivers of your “hunger.”



Q:  I have recently quit smoking and have put on weight due to that fact. I tend to eat what is quick. How do I eat healthier and curb this issue?

A:  First, congrat’s on taking an important step toward better health by quitting smoking!  When you say you tend to eat what’s quick, that suggests either you don’t have time to prepare food or you are eating somewhat mindlessly.  Making conscious, mindful food decisions is a crucial part of any good food choice, and I encourage you to work on that:  “What am I in the mood for?; How hungry am I?; and What’s good for me?” will give you some guidance.  In addition, a small amount of time spent planning the week’s meals and snacks will go a long way toward better nutritional quality without necessarily requiring more preparation time.  To optimize our nutrition and weight management, we all need to make food planning a priority in our lives.  The cheap/quick/easy choices are usually not especially nutritious. 


Q:  Hello. I'm trying to eat healthy choices. Instead of fried chicken I will bake without skin. Question: Is coconut oil better than regular oil like vegetable oils etc.? Thanks again.

A:  Coconut oil has received some great press in the past couple of years.  Unfortunately, there is really little evidence to back up claims that coconut oil helps in weight loss.  Results from studies on 100% MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oils are often assumed to be similar to effects of coconut oil, which is approximately 60% MCT.  As reported in, a 2009 study using 2 tablespoons/day of either coconut or soybean oil in 40 obese women showed no difference in weight loss or waist circumference after three months (Lipids 44: 593, 2009) even though some online sources make the opposite claim of this same study.  While MCT oil has been shown to modestly increase metabolic rate, leading to a small increase in weight loss (about a pound a month), we cannot assume the same benefit is realized with coconut oil.  If you like coconut oil for its flavor, use it occasionally, but for nutritional benefits, my money is on extra virgin olive oil, used moderately as is recommended with all fats.  For several reasons, olive oil is nutritionally superior to the mixed “vegetable oils” as well. 

About Our Expert

Jeannie Sykes

Jeannie Sykes, PhD

Clinical Nutritionist, Cone Health Family Medicine Center

Dr. Sykes received a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from the University of Vermont in 1976, and a Master of Public Health Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1980.  Dr. Sykes earned a PhD in Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1986.  She has worked at Cone Health Family Medicine Center since 1990.

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