How to Overcome Stress Eating

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Stress eating is consuming food in response to stress, especially when you are not hungry. Similarly, emotional eating is eating in response to an emotion, any emotion. Emotional eating means that your emotions—not your body—dictate when and how much you eat.


Some people who participate in emotional eating binge when they are sad or confused. For others, eating can be a way of avoiding thinking about problems or taking the action required to solve them.

So why do we eat when we are stressed? Because for most of us, food offers comfort. And unfortunately, the least healthy foods usually offer the most comfort. According to Dr. Rachel Goldman, "emotional eating is very common and it's okay, but it can become problematic if it is the only coping mechanism you have or if it is your go-to when feeling stressed or emotional."

Goldman is a licensed psychologist who specializes in eating behavior. She adds that many people participate in emotional eating. "Food is comforting," she says, "but if this is either causing you distress, is causing you to gain unwanted weight, or is your only go-to behavior, then this may be something that needs to be addressed."

If we reached for veggies in times of emotional discomfort, we'd be OK. But how many people turn to carrot sticks when they're feeling stressed? It's the high-fat, high-calorie foods we love that make us feel better. The more fattening, sweeter or the saltier the food, the better we seem to feel.


So how do you know if you're a stress eater? There are clear signs that you eat because of emotional difficulty. Emotional eating is okay but can be problematic if you answer yes to any of the following questions:

  • After an unpleasant experience, such as an argument, do you eat even if you aren't feeling hungry?
  • Do you crave specific foods when you're upset, such as always desiring chocolate when you feel depressed?
  • Do you feel the urge to eat in response to outside cues like seeing food advertised on television?
  • Do you eat because you feel there's nothing else to do?
  • Does eating make you feel better when you're down or less focused on problems when you're worried about something?
  • Is eating your go-to behavior (or only coping mechanism) when you are feeling stressed, sad, or down?

If you eat unusually large quantities of food or you regularly eat until you feel uncomfortable to the point of nausea, you may be experiencing binge eating. If you binge eat on a regular basis, please speak to your healthcare professional. But if stress eating is the main problem, you may be able to find a solution on your own.

3 Ways to Stop

There are different ways to control emotional eating and turn your stress into a more positive experience. But all three methods require you to examine and change your habits.

You do need to make sure that you are not physiologically hungry and that you are not skipping meals. It is harder to stop and/or not participate in emotional eating if you are also physiologically hungry. This is why it is important to first identify what is going on.

Find the Source of Stress

Many people have stress triggers that cause them to eat. Perhaps there are relationship issues that cause pain. Or perhaps family or work stress has gotten out of control.

If you can identify your triggers, then you can take active steps to tackle stress before it gets out of control.

So, how do you find triggers? Keeping a journal helps. Carry it with you and jot down notes throughout the day. Write down what you eat and how you felt when you ate it. Also, take notes on the environment and the people who were with you when you ate. These may provide clues to your triggers.

Find New Ways to Relieve Stress

Once you know what causes you to eat more, set up healthy systems to avoid eating in those situations.

For example, if your work environment is stressful. Identify one friend who can walk with you during your lunch hour to avoid excess calories and promote healthy activity. Do you get stressed out at home? Set up a small meditational space or quiet corner where you can go to relax or take deep breaths. If school is a source of stress, find community groups that share your interest or sign up for a sport.

Get Help for Emotional Stress

If your own methods don't stop stress eating, don't be afraid to ask for help. Many social workers and psychologists are trained specifically to deal with emotional eaters and find solutions to curb the habit.

A trained professional may be able to help you set boundaries with people who cause you stress or change your environment for the better. They may also be able to tackle issues that cause you to ruminate or run to the fridge when you don't need food.

A Word From Verywell

One thing that usually does not help control stress eating is waiting and hoping that it will change. Take active steps today to tackle emotional eating and find new healthy habits to manage stress. Your weight may change when you stop stress eating, but you are also likely to feel better and more upbeat throughout the day as a result.

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Article Sources
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