Is a brownie your friend after a stressful day? Does macaroni and cheese help you deal with disappointment?

If so, you're not alone. Many people sometimes use food to relax, comfort themselves -- and to try to fulfill other emotional needs. Often, though, eating the wrong foods in the wrong amounts for the wrong reasons can actually harm your emotional health. And wounded emotions and relationships can drive you to eat in more unhealthy ways.

But there is a way out of this dangerous cycle.

Here are some ways you can pursue both better eating habits and healthier relationships:

  • Choose foods that promote your emotional health -- such as fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, honey, nuts, lean chicken and fish, olive oil and soy products.

  • Avoid foods that are high in white sugar, animal fat, and hydrogenated oils; as well as those that use refined flour or contain chemical additives. Those foods contribute to a host of emotional problems such as mood swings, anxiety, confusion, depression and anger -- not to mention physical problems, such as exhaustion.

  • Keep a journal of what you eat and how it's making you feel. Then study your journal to see what needs to change. Don't bring unhealthy food into your house anymore, and stock up on healthy food so it's readily available.

  • Eat foods in their natural states, in which God created them to be eaten. For example, eat a fresh banana rather than a banana muffin.

  • Drink at least eight glasses of water each day.

  • Eat small meals frequently throughout the day.

  • Expect your taste buds to change in about two weeks, and your new habit to solidify after about four weeks. Pray for God to give you the strength to change your eating habits and the desire you need for healthy foods rather than unhealthy ones.

  • Confess to God all the ways you've been using food to substitute for love in your life. Realize that God is the only true source of love, and decide to rely on Him for your fulfillment. Build relationships with other people so you have a network in which to share God's love. Joining a church is a great way to foster relationships with God and others.

  • If you're struggling with an eating disorder, pray for deliverance and seek help through counseling.

  • If someone you love - such as your spouse - is eating in unhealthy ways, strive to extend grace to him or her. For example, rather than shaming someone who is overweight, assure that person of your love and pray for him or her. When the person is willing to talk about the issue, be gentle, and offer to help however you can.

  • Pray for a breakthrough in your struggles with food by identifying the details of your problems, humbly realize that you can't solve them without God, invite God to rescue you and trust that He will act, be patient, look expectantly for God's answer, and pray persistently.

Adapted from Food and Love by Dr. Gary Smalley, copyright 2001 by Smalley Publishing Group, LLC. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill., www.tyndale.com, 1-800-323-9400.

Gary Smalley has written many books on relationships and traveled extensively to speak about relationships. He and his wife, Norma, have three children and eight grandchildren.

How do you sometimes use food to try to meet emotional needs, such as for comfort or as a reward? How do troubled relationships make you feel like eating in unhealthy ways? If God has helped you break the cycle of unhealthy eating and emotional fulfillment, how is your life different now? Visit Live It's forum to respond, or read what others have to say. Just click on the link below.