For the longest time we’ve all known that food can comfort us.
You know when you dive in spoon first into a pint of ice cream after a breakup or some other kind of highly emotionally charged experience knows how true this is.
And it doesn’t always have to be a negative event. Any stressful event good(wedding, child birth!) or bad(job loss, family illness or death) can trigger this.
But one question has always remained… is it the sensory experience of eating that’s comforting us, or is it the food itself?
Researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium decided to find out the answer.
This study, published in the August 2011issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, recruited 12 healthy, non-obese volunteers.
The volunteers underwent functional MRI (fMRI) scans of their brains while watching sad and neutral facial expressions, along with listening to sad and neutral music.
While all this was going on (I’d never volunteer for this kind of a study!), the researchers also fed the volunteers either fatty acids or a saline solution directly into the volunteers’ stomachs using a feeding tube.
This was to bypass any sensory stimulation like taste, smell, etc.
The volunteers did not know what they were getting (the saline or the fats).
Those who were fed the fatty acids reported feeling less sad or depressed than those who received the saline. 
What’s more, those who had the fatty acids showed less of a brain state change than the other group.
The researchers concluded that, “Eating fat seems to make us less vulnerable to sad emotions,even if we don’t know we’re eating fat.”
What can you take from this?
Well, if you’ve ever felt like you just didn’t understand why you felt like eating whenever things get stressful, now you know why.
Putting an end to overeating first requires awareness (there’s that food journal word again). You have to understand why you do it in the first place. Once you know why, then you can create solutions to remedy the behavior.
That’s why this study is important. It gives us new insight as to why we might gravitate to these kinds of fatty foods.
Another study also shows us that overeating and binging on junk food is actually more of an addiction for some… which may be why it’s so hard for many to “kick” the habit of eating what they already know they shouldn’t.
The study, conducted at The Scripps Research Institute, suggests that compulsive eating shares the same addictive biochemical mechanism that’s triggered with heavy-duty drugs like cocaine and heroin. 
“These findings confirm what we and many others have suspected, that over-consumption of highly pleasurable food triggers addiction-like neuroadaptive responses in brain reward circuitry, driving the development of compulsive eating,” said Paul Kenny, the study’s lead author.
So if you suffer from overeating and/or emotional eating, how do you put an end to it, once and for all?
These tips may help:
1. Avoid triggers. A trigger can be anything -an environment, people, places, things, etc. Whenever you find yourself wanting to overeat or eat junk, where are you?
What’s going on around you?
Are you around certain people?
Make a note of this because these are the people, places and things you want to start avoiding.
PROTIP-Some people (sabotagers) you really do have to actively avoid. But this doesn’t mean you have to stop dining out/having fun-you just need to become aware so you can have a plan going in)
2. Gain more awareness. Obviously, if you aren’t aware of what causes you to eat emotionally or eat stuff you shouldn’t, then you can’t change it.
So whenever you get the urge or you’re already in the act of “comfort” eating, observe your thoughts and emotions.
Are you feeling stressed? What are you thinking about?
Do things feel overwhelming?
Are you angry?
Write it down. Keep track. Look for landmines.
3. Substitute the behavior. Once you have awareness, it’s time to substitute a new behavior in place of the behavior you’re trying to stop. (Forget about willpower, use strategy!)
So if you know that when you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed, you’d rather dig into a pint of ice cream, switch up the behavior.
Become aware of the fact that you want to eat to comfort yourself, and then do something instead of eating, drink water. Or, go for a run. Anything will do to break the pattern. The power isn’t even in the what you do-it’s that you have a plan in place for when the triggering event occurs.
Get creative here. Do something that will take your focus off of how good eating that food will make you feel.
This isn’t by any means a comprehensive list, but it will get you started on the right path.
So make sure you take action on it.