Olivia Wilde "self-medicated" with food after divorce

Olivia Wilde in San Diego on July 23, 2011
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olivia wilde
Olivia Wilde in San Diego on July 23, 2011
Getty Images

(CBS) Olivia Wilde is far from fat, but the Irish-American star of TV's "House" and the movie "Cowboys & Aliens" says she gained weight after her marriage ended.

"I got a divorce and self-medicated with food," she said in US Magazine. "But I figure that's better than self-medicating with crack cocaine."

Self-medicating is an apt term. Certain foods - carbohydrates in particular - seem to act on the same "reward pathways" in the brain as other pleasurable activities, Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, told CBS News.

"Food works better than Valium" at curbing negative feelings, Concord, Mass.-based psychotherapist Jean Fain, author of "The Self-Compassion Diet," told CBS News. "When you're feeling feelings you don't want to feel, the easiest thing you can do is reach for the highest-calorie treatment in sight."

But like self-medicating with food - or taking antidepressants - can bring unwanted weight gain.

What do to? Instead of using food to avoid feeling negative emotions in the midst of divorce or another negative life event, Fain said it often makes sense simply to tolerate the emotions until they lift. During this period, she said, it can help to periodically ask yourself some simple questions:

How do I feel? Sad? Hungry?

What do I need? Food? Or some sort of emotional support?

Support might come from a friend, a support group meeting, or - in the case of divorce - simply writing but not sending a letter to your ex.

Most important, Fain said, extend the same compassion to yourself that you would extend to a friend or loved one going through tough time.

Are you listening, Olivia Wilde?