Posted Online: Oct. 05, 2012, 10:00 am

Before you reach for that candy bar

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"Godiva chocolates, an Italian beef sandwich with hot peppers, french fries, warm chocolate chip cookies and …" well, you get the message.

To quote a song from The Sound of Music, "these are a few of my favorite things." But, like many Americans, I am aware that many of us are overweight and that rising obesity is considered one of the biggest (if not the biggest) health problem in America.

Much of the weight gain is caused by what is called "emotional eating." According to, emotional eating is defined as "the practice of consuming large quantities of food — usually 'comfort' or junk food — in response to feelings instead of hunger. Experts estimate that 75 percent of overeating is caused by emotions."

Emotional eating has been written about by authors Suzanne Barnett, Jennifer Barnett Lesman and Amy Barnet Buchanan, better known as "3 fat chicks on a diet." Their internet dieting and eating sensibly blogs and website have helped individuals since 1997, making them one of the best known weight loss forums on the internet.

Stress, according to 3 fat chicks on a diet, is one of the most common causes of overeating. They wrote, "When people feel stressed, they often reach for certain comfort foods to help them deal with negative emotions. These comfort foods are usually high in fats, sugar and calories. If you are one of these people then you probably find yourself craving cookies, potato chips, ice cream or candy bars whenever you're feeling stressed. Giving in to these cravings is also known as stress craving. One explanation behind this is the fact that when you're feeling stressed, your body compensates by producing more of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol, in turn, increases your appetite."

What? Were these ladies spying on me? They certainly describe a lot of my recent eating habits. This gave me much to think about. I needed to find a way to deal with stress in a way other than eating. I was certainly guilty of finding comfort in food, especially "junk food."

One day, as I reached for a candy bar, I remembered a verse from the Bible that gave me an insight as to how I might draw on my spiritual practices to move away from this compulsive behavior. It states, "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." (Isaiah 40:11)

That day, this verse meant to me that if a shepherd would not over-feed his flock, never give them food that they don't need, why should I overeat, or substitute lots of fatty-sugary foods? When I feel stressed, I could rely on God's care and guidance to quiet my food cravings and help me find effective ways to avoid or resolve stress.

This moment of spiritual insight became a turning point for me in how I deal with the pressures of life. While this is an ongoing project, I feel a measure of success. I still like Godiva chocolates — in moderation — and have added yogurt and flavored waters to what I eat and drink. I don't eat to feed my emotions as much, and I have lost a few pounds!

Tim Mitchinson, Christian Science Media and Legislative Liaison for Illinois, is among a group of guest columnists for Faith & Values.