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What happens when that unopened bag of potato chips beckons to you from the cupboard? How do you handle the lure of your favorite ice cream flavor in the freezer?

You may be satisfied temporarily if you eat the chips or ice cream, but nutrition experts say it's wise to pause and examine your motivation before reaching for those foods.

That advice may be easy to comprehend -- but challenging to adhere to -- in reality.

Even local dieticians who help clients understand how their eating patterns are affected by emotions and behavior sometimes consume too much of foods they know aren't good for them.

"The last time I went on a family camping trip, I ate way too much of things I don't normally eat. I ate all the snack food like cookies, chips, dip and beef jerky," said Kathy Nichols, a Healdsburg registered dietician and life coach.

"Before the next camping trip, I'm going to make a conscious effort to have a planned strategy," she said.

She and other dieticians believe that having awareness about why and when you pick certain foods, and devising a strategy in advance, are keys to healthy eating.

While people may consciously plan to eat well on a holiday, such as Thanksgiving, they may not have a plan for healthy eating the day after Thanksgiving, when all of the tempting leftovers such as stuffing, gravy and pie are crammed into the refrigerator.

Some people overeat when they're tired. Instead of reaching for a sugary or salty food for a boost, they would be better off taking a walk, doing deep breathing or some form of exercise instead of automatically grabbing an unhealthy snack, Nichols said.

It's helpful to reflect on whether you're physically or emotionally hungry, and Nichols found the book "Eating By The Light of the Moon" by Anita Johnston effectively examined this topic.

"Johnston talks about two different hunger tanks -- physical and emotional -- and that we tend to intertwine them. We could fill the emotional tank with food all day, but it's not truly satisfying because it's the wrong type of fuel. You get brief satisfaction, but it doesn't last," she said.

It's important to realize it takes 15 to 20 minutes from the time you've eaten something until you have a physical feeling of fullness.

A common pattern is to come home after a long day of work, commuting, school or driving children to activities and automatically reach for whatever food is available. This is a transition period, and Nichols suggests slowing down and shifting gears before settling down with chips and salsa.

"It's not a conscious thing; you're shifting out of the fast into the slow lane," she said. "Whether it's a habit, or you feel like you deserve something, I recommend creating a different routine, like playing with your dog or taking a tour of your garden."

Some people are prompted to eat a particular food because of an emotional reaction they get from certain people, whether it's a feeling of anger, stress or even happiness, and social situations can trigger different reactions to food, Nichols said.

"I generally make really good food choices, but if I'm with other people, I lose myself and stop paying attention," she said. "I'm excited, swept away in the energy, and my brain turns off."

Registered dietician Joyce Sokolik of Santa Rosa said emotional eating is often linked to childhood experiences and whether your parents used food as a reward or punishment.

Many adults heard countless times as a child that it was bad to leave any food on the plate at dinnertime. Their parents may have soothed them if they fell down or hurt themselves by giving them candy or ice cream.

"Every holiday, how will you show love?" said Sokolik, noting how sweets are tied to Easter, Valentine's Day, birthdays and other celebrations.

She tries to eat something before leaving for a party, and will deliberately drink water or club soda when she arrives.

"You want to put time in between reacting to food and putting your head in gear," Sokolik said.

Her party strategies include not eating anything until sitting down, not lingering at a potluck serving table, and not filling your plate at a buffet dinner until you've looked at all of the food that's being offered.

If there's something you really want to eat that might not be healthy for you, she recommends to clients that they're fully aware they're eating it and enjoy the experience.

"Have an awareness of what it tastes like. Is it worth eating?" Sokolik said.

Some dieticians suggest thinking about the food origins, such as the cow producing milk for the ice cream and the ripe peach hanging on the tree that is used to flavor the peach ice cream.

Michelle Minero is a marriage and family therapist in Petaluma who specializes in food and body issues and eating disorders. She speaks with her clients about "mindful" eating, not waiting until they are very hungry to eat, and savoring what they eat.

"The brain makes everything look and smell better when you haven't eaten. When you're on the run, your brain doesn't connect that you've eaten. It doesn't register if you're eating while watching TV or on the computer. You increase satisfaction when you eat mindfully," Minero said.

She said a current trend is "intuitive" eating, which she described as a backlash to the "diet mentality."

"If you think back to when you were a little kid, you ate when you were hungry and stopped when you were satisfied," she said.

When you've finished dinner and your stomach is full but you want chocolate, Minero says this could be an emotional reaction.

"This is important. What does this food symbolize? Check in with yourself. What is it about the chocolate you like?" she said.

She examines with clients why a particular food is appealing and if it's linked emotionally to something going on in their lives. If someone wants to eat a rich, indulgent food, Minero suggests doing it in a nurturing manner.

"Smell it, feel the texture and luxuriate in the experience. They may be satisfied with a lot less than they realize, rather than just shoving it in," she said.

Janet Parmer is a Bay Area feature writer. She can be reached at jhparmer@comcast.net.