woman wanting chocolate

If you have uncontrolled stress in your life you may find yourself turning to food in order to try to stuff down those uncontrolled emotions. But anger,  fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame can only be temporarily silenced by food. Because what happens when you are done eating? Those emotions return. You may be trying to figure out how to stop stress eating by changing the food around you but the truth is, the changes start with you.

What is stress eating

Stress eating is thought to be caused by multiple different things rather than just one. Research has shown that women and girls have a higher tendency to develop eating disorders and therefore are more likely to be emotional eaters. Although, some populations have men who eat as a result of depression and women who eat more as a result of a bad diet.

Stress eating, better known as emotional eating, is when you try to use food to satisfy your emotional needs, like to cope with stress or to relieve boredom, instead of satisfying your physical hunger. You can probably relate.

You may have sat in front of the TV eating a whole pint of ice cream after a serious breakup or even ordered a pizza just because you were bored.

But the reality of it is that once our binge eating is over with we are left with guilt. And unfortunately, this habit can have long-term consequences on your waistline. In fact, Biological Psychiatry published a journal stating that researchers found that stress-induced changes in women can cause them to burn 10o fewer calories per day and this difference can cause you to pack on 11 pounds a year.

You may feel powerless to the food after several attempts to beat these food cravings but the truth is there is a way to make a change. You can work on improving your self emotionally and learn to make mindful choices which will help you get your weight and your life under control.

What are warning signs of stress eating

Some of the warning signs of emotional eating may include:

  • The sudden intense feeling of hunger
  • Craving junk food
  • The urge to eat that is preceded by stress or uncomfortable emotions(ie. boredom, sadness, anger, guilt, or frustration)
  • Feeling a lack of control
  • Eating when you’re not hungry

How to stop stress eating

Girl refusing cookie

Most emotional eating is linked to some kind of emotion either unpleasant or pleasant. In order to control your stress eating, you need to take steps to stop what is causing it. Here are a few tips to help you get your emotional eating under control.

Identify your triggers

What emotion, situation, person, or place is causing your stress eating? When emotional eating is linked to something pleasant or unpleasant identifying the cause is one way to help you control your urges. Some common triggers include;

Stress 

One of the biggest causes for emotional eating is of course stress. There is a reason for this. Chronic stress causes your stress hormone, cortisol, levels to be high and in return, you crave foods high in salt and sugar and fried foods because these foods give you a sense of pleasure and energy. So if you have lots of uncontrolled stress in your life you will find yourself eating more often.

Boredom

Many of us can relate to being bored but have you ever found yourself eating because of that boredom. Grabbing a bowl of chips or ice cream just to get rid of that empty feeling is only temporary and is another way you may be emotionally eating.

Childhood Habit

Our parents play a big role in some of the habits we hold as adults. Did your parents ever reward you with sweets or pizza to try to make you feel better or because you got a good grade on a report card? I am sure we can all relate and we may not have seen any harm in it but do you find yourself rewarding yourself with junk food now to make yourself feel better or because you think you deserve it?

Peer pressure

Going out with others is a great way to talk about the things you need to get off your chest but have you ever noticed how it turns into a food frenzy? With all that food in front of you, it is easy to overeat simply because it is there or because you don’t want to look bad. Or maybe you have family members like mine who encourage you to eat up.

Emotion comforting

Eating has often been used as a way of comfort, a way to temporarily silence all of the uncomfortable emotions we have to deal with like anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, loneliness, or shame. The food is a way to avoid these feelings. But truth be told it is only temporary. This trigger is one of the most common reasons people use for stress eating.

Find Food Alternatives

Happy woman and open refrigerator with fruits, vegetables

Using food to deal with your emotions is not beneficial to your waistline or your health so you need to find other ways to deal with your emotions.

If you are stressed

You need to find the best way to help you by managing your stress. Try changing your diet by adding foods that help reduce stress or supplements that can help lower your stress hormones. Add exercise to your daily routine which can also help keep your stress hormones in check. Yoga is a great way to help you bring peace to your body and mind through the different poses, meditation, and breathing exercises you will learn.

If you are bored

Pick up one of your favorites books and read. Reading is a great way to relieve stress and they provide many cognitive benefits as well. Or try turning on something funny you can laugh at with your family. Try doing one of your favorite crafts, or some artwork, or pick up some markers and color in an adult coloring book.

If you are exhausted

Try lighting some aromatherapy candles and pour a cup of your favorite tea and treat yourself to a nice warm bath.

If you are depressed or lonely

Don’t isolate yourself. Spend time with your kids or partner. Call a family member you can confide in that makes you laugh. Don’t forget about Man’s BFF – your pet. Animals are great for relieving your stress and have been known for tapping into their owner’s needs.

If you are anxious

If you are anxious you need to learn to focus on positive things. Try writing a journal, talking a brisk walk, or squeezing a stress ball.

Try Mindful Eating

pineapple, watermelon and text mindful eating

Mindful eating is a technique to help your body gain control over your bad eating habits. Through mindful eating, you pay attention to the things you will be eating and drinking, which will include the smells, the textures, the temperature, and the taste.

When you eat you need to give your brain time to respond to what you are eating. So slow down and be mindful of every bite or sip you take. This way your brain will know when it has had enough and you will not overeat.

You need to be aware of your body’s hunger signals. Do you listen when your body is telling you, you are hungry? Or do you only eat when you are in an emotional need? Listen hard for your body’s signals and know the difference.

When you go food shopping think about every item on your list and consider how healthy each item is. Doctors recommend that we shop on the end isles, like the produce isles and avoid the center isles and candy isles because they contain the higher processed foods.

As you eat remember to take small bites and chew your food thoroughly.  A trick is to put your utensils down between each bite, this will allow you to chew your food 20-40 times per bite.

These small changes of slowing down and becoming mindful of what you are putting into your body will make it easier to change your emotional eating habits.

Check out these 6 tips to help make mindful eating easier

Conclusion

Emotional eating can be difficult to deal with if you don’t get your emotions under control. Emotional eating may not affect all of us the same. I may find myself stress eating after a hard day of work and you may be an emotional eater out of pure habit.

However, the solution is the same for all, we must find our triggers and get our emotions in check.

If you find yourself eating because of stress, then getting your stress under control is the first step. I have found that since I got my stress under control I have been able to live a much more productive life.

Being mindful of how and what you eat will help you make better choices with your diet and help you lose weight if necessary by staying connected which each moment.

If you are an emotional eater it doesn’t have to control your life.

Do you find yourself eating as a result of stress or emotions? Are there any tips you would like to share?

I would love to hear about it below!

16 thoughts on “How to Stop Stress Eating – 3 Useful Tips”

  1. Wow what a great read Melissa, excellent work you have done. One of my friends suffers from this condition, when she is in stress she eats a lot, I will share this article not only with her but with everyone to spread awareness, I am though totally opposite, I usually lose my appetite when in depression. Great work, I always wait to read your articles, great work, keep it up…:)

    1. Hi Sarah,
      I am sorry to hear about your friend. There are some of us who eat when we are upset and some who can’t but both ways are not good for us. I am glad you found the article useful and I wish your friend all the best! Thanks for the kind words! 🙂

  2. Really good advice. I did not think about stress but now I can understand why I eat often. I work a lot and I always have snacks on my table. I have to change my habits, and your post encouraged me to think.
    Thanks for the excellent post.

    1. Hi Maja,
      At least now you know there is a logical explanation for your snacking and that stress actually makes you desire salty and sweet foods which make you feel good. You just have to eliminate the stress so you don’t have those desires or try food alternatives. I am glad you found the post useful and I wish you the best. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Hi Melissa, What a great post. I think I fall into all the types of stressful eating. Your descriptions were so good.
    I have posted it to all my social networks as I think there are a number of people out there who need to read this.
    Many thanks.
    Jill

  4. Beautiful advice and a great read Melissa! On my own part, whenever I am stressed I usually find myself eating below normal which is quite opposite to overeating… Smiling… However, I found your post helpful to me and I will need to work on some very important habit change you have advised.
    WealthyBen

    1. Hi Ben,
      It is also common to eat less when you are stress but some of the tips can apply in your case. Our diet is very important to our health so any changes you make towards the positive is important. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Hi Melissa, this is really interesting, and thanks for sharing. From a parents perspective, this hit me because I realize that I reward my kids with food treats and I had never really thought about it before. I might need to re-think this strategy and think of other better ways to reward and encourage them. Thanks.

    1. Hi Melissa, hey what a lovely name BTW, lol. Don’t beat yourself up too bad because I am sure your habit was passed down. My parents(don’t be mad mom :), lol) did the same and always with great intentions, and so did I and I never gave it much thought as to how it could cause any harm to any of us. I have learned food should never be used as a reward only items that reinforce good behavior like hygiene items, or craft items, trips to the library, games together. You learn something new every day. Thanks for the comment!

  6. My wife’s always saying to me she needs a hobby to concentrate on in order to take her mind off snacking, especially throughout the Winter months when we’re sitting watching TV in the evening.
    Work stress has always been her downfall where she munches away but unfortunately like you mention she feels guilty afterward.
    She’s suffered tensions many times with her heavy workload however she always takes steps to overcome the hassles in fear of stress eating but changing a work pattern takes time to organize.
    My issue has always been smoking to reduce work pressures but thankfully I jacked the habit in a year ago, unfortunately, food becomes the substitute and you have to have another boatload of determination to stay clear.
    Having said that, we have many friends who have turned to drink rather than stress eating or smoking – this is far worse.
    Thanks for all your tips, I’ll send your page to her,
    Simon.

    1. Hi Simon
      Unfortunately, work stress is very common but at least your wife fights to keep herself from stress eating during her overload. I know many people who snack and feel guilty afterward especially because of our snack choices, so I think that should always be your first choice, change your diet choices.

      As far as for you substituting food for your smoking addiction this too is very understandable. In fact, many who have an addiction and have quit often find themselves substituting with food, so don’t feel alone. You can, however, find other option if you find yourself eating to fight a stress urge and not because you are hungry. Just give both of yourself time. I wish you both all the best!

  7. Such a great article and so easy to relate to! I think we are all guilty of this to a degree, I don’t always make the best choices but I don’t let it spiral out of control. Usually, when I make bad choices it is because I am not paying attention to what I am eating and not practicing “mindful eating” Thanks for the tips!

    1. Hi Amanda,
      I am glad you liked the article. I agree we you, I think everyone makes some kind of bad choice concerning food but some learn from their choices.

  8. Thanks for sharing, Melissa! Great article!
    I am sure many people will benefit from it.
    I think that some time ago I suffered from stress eating. It is an emotional eating. Sometimes when I feel stressed, I want to eat more or the opposite – I lose my appetite. I don’t even know why is that.
    I love sweets, and maybe I am even addicted to sugar, but I am trying to stop eating them. I decided that I want to be healthy and avoid sugar as much as possible. If I want something sweet, I eat fruits.
    Thank you again!
    Best wishes!

    1. Hi Linda,
      Your addiction to sweets is completely understandable and explainable. When we are stress, because of the increase in the stress hormone cortisol our body craves foods such as salty and sweet foods because of how they make us feel. So of course keeping or stress in check and our hormones and a healthy level can help keep this craving down. Eating fruits is a great alternative and in fact, there are some fruits that actually reduce the stress that you can read about here. Thanks for commenting!

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