One of my core beliefs is that food is more than just food.

Of course, it gives you the energy and nutrients you need to survive, but it does so much more than that.

For me, food is a source of enjoyment, it’s a way to show my loved ones care, and it’s central to my social life.

For some people, however, food is also a coping mechanism for dealing with emotion –which I’m sure you’ve experienced at one point or another. You know, a piece of chocolate when you’re on a tight deadline, or a slice of cake when you’re feeling down.

If it happens on rare occasions, it’s not a massive dilemma, but if you’re turning to food regularly for comfort, it can turn into a bigger issue.

So, how do you take control of emotional eating?

Well, you can’t turn it around overnight, so don’t be too harsh on yourself. It’s something that you’ll have to work on overtime, and you might even need the help of a qualified professional to get through it.

But it’s all about small steps in the right direction – so here, I’m sharing my top tips on working through stress eating.

1. Be mindful

Being mindful around food is essential. But how do you actually do that? The first step is to rate your appetite – that’s a valuable tool in helping you understand if you’re reaching for food for reasons other than physical hunger (like stress).

Take a second to listen to your body before you put anything in your mouth. If you’re truly hungry, you might feel hunger pangs, have a sensation of emptiness in your stomach or hear your tummy grumbling.

If you’re low on the scale of one to ready-to-eat-your-arm-off, it’ll pay to have strategies in place to help you navigate your way around food.

But if you are physically hungry, the next step is to choose wisely (more on that in a minute) and eat mindfully.

That means you turn off your screens, pay attention to your chewing and take the time to notice the tastes and textures of what you’re eating – rather than shovelling food in your mouth at your desk without a second thought.

2. Have a plan

No one feels like a celery stick when they’re down, I get it. But hot chips, doughnuts and pizza aren’t going to leave you feeling good in the long run.

Yes, they give you momentary pleasure, but they are rich in calories, low in micronutrients and keep you coming back for more (sending your sugar, fat and sodium intake skyrocketing in the meantime).

Instead of snacking on these foods when you’re stressed, it’ll pay to give your body abalance of slow-burning carbs, lean protein and fibre, which will fill you up and keep youfeeling far more satisfied.

Some of my top recommendations for wholesome and tasty snacks are plain yoghurt with fruit and nuts, wholegrain crackers with a quarter of an avocado and a hard-boiled egg, or a cup of plain air-popped popcorn.

A simple smoothie made with milk and fruit or a slice of wholegrain toast with peanut butter gets my tick of approval, too.

3. Get moving

Last but not least, exercise can help you manage stress – and it’s a much better crutch than food.

You don’t have to hit the gym at the crack of dawn every day, either. It could be as simple as getting outside in the fresh air for a walk at lunchtime, enjoying a dance class after work or joining a local yoga studio.

Whatever you need to do to incorporate a regular sweat sesh, do it – your physical and mental health will thank you.

Melissa Meier is an online and Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.