When we’re stressed-out, sometimes stress-eating is our first option, but we all know it’s not the best one…Read this article to learn more about why stress is bad for food intake, and how to take control of your diet.

If you’re like most people, you know all too well the perils of uncontrollable eating. You wake up in the morning with a huge craving for something sweet. You head to the office, only to find the vending machine is empty. You pull into the parking lot, and there’s a couple of boxes of donuts neatly stacked on a table. You’re tempted to make a run for them. You’re lucky if you can make it to your desk before you’re overcome by a wave of hunger.

Most of us have an idea of what stress eating is, but do we actually know how to stop it? Stress eating is the term for when we grab for food when we’re feeling anxious, frustrated, or overwhelmed—especially when we feel like we have no other choice. Some people turn to food because they’re feeling lonely, or because they’re not able to deal with their partner or have a child acting up, but whatever the reason, it’s a problem that can spiral out of control.

More than 60% of our new customers report that emotional or stress eating is a problem for them.

That was before the worldwide epidemic, by the way.

It’s natural that we turn to food for comfort when we’re stressed, anxious, unhappy, bored, or grieving.

Food provides a good—if only temporary—solution to our misery.

Eating is pleasurable.

It triggers a chain reaction of pleasure feelings, making it simpler to forget about unpleasant emotional experiences.

Consider it this way: When you stress eat, you’re attempting to fix a problem with food. It’s just that it’s an issue that food can’t fix. 

Furthermore, the majority of individuals who engage in emotional eating feel stuck and terrible afterward, which only serves to reinforce the habit.

So, whether you’re a coach attempting to assist clients with stress eating or you’re searching for answers for yourself, here are three not-so-obvious methods to consider.

Not only for the time being, but also for a long time after the crisis has passed.

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Three novel approaches to coping with stress eating.

One of the following concepts may strike a more personal chord with you than the others. However, we recommend that you (or your customers) try all of them.

Each performs a critical and distinct function:

  • The first step is to become aware of what causes you to overeat.
  • #2 gives you things to use when your triggers go off.
  • #3 teaches you that your eating habits do not determine who you are as a person.

The end result is a collection of techniques that work together to solve a difficult issue. And, perhaps, it will assist you in regaining control when you feel out of control.

First and foremost, go ahead and overeat.

Patterns appeal to our minds.

Many of our ideas, emotions, and behaviors are pre-programmed. They’re components of sequences that our brains have honed through time. To take place, such sequences only need triggers.

In the presence of a trigger, your brain prescribes a certain behavior—such as stress eating—without needing you to make a conscious choice. (Food cravings operate in a similar manner.)

The most apparent cause is the bodily feeling of hunger. You can rely on that stomach-churning, somewhat wobbly, even-Brussels-sprouts-sound-good feeling to signal that it’s time to eat.

However, other kinds of triggers, such as particular sights, scents, people, and emotions, typically precede stress eating.

You may, for example, find yourself pounding Girl Scout Cookies every Saturday afternoon. You’re constantly left wondering what went wrong and why you’re so depressed about it.

Because the process is so automated, it’s common to have no clue what sets it off.

But if you really paid attention, you may notice something: it’s also the time you speak to your mother once a week.

The mystery has been solved.

So here’s a crazy thought: give yourself permission to eat too much.

At first, it will seem paradoxical.

Uncomfortable, to say the least.

Consider it a learning opportunity and a crucial phase in the process. (Aside from that, there are worse methods to learn.)

How do you go about doing it?

Treat the next time you feel the desire to stress eat as an experiment. 

Document what occurs and how you feel before, during, and after using our Behavior Awareness worksheet.

Please keep in mind that this is a judgement-free zone. 

This approach will not only assist you in identifying triggers, but it will also begin to alleviate—or at the very least, lessen—any guilt or shame you may be experiencing as a result of your overeating.

When you’re “allowed” to eat too much, it doesn’t seem as urgent.

When it’s no longer prohibited, a strong need for an entire box of cookies may occasionally be subdued to a more manageable want for one or two.

As a result, strive to be as objective as possible while observing your experience. Imagine you’re a scientist gathering data on someone else if you’re having difficulty.

After that, go through the worksheet again. What do you think you’ve noticed? 

Is there anything that stands out to you in terms of patterns or “aha” moments?

Perhaps you’ve noticed that you go for the snack cabinet after a difficult two-hour conference call.

And then you realize you’ve been doing it nearly every day for the last several weeks.

It’s likely that you’ll have to repeat this experiment a few times before identifying the trigger(s). That’s OK.

If this occurs, try not to get obsessed with the choice to eat or not eat.

Instead, try to concentrate on learning more about yourself, and have your worksheet notes close at hand so you may add to them as required.

Decide what to do after you’ve identified the trigger.

If you can avoid that, that’s fantastic. (You may take a break from baking for a bit if the scent of baked cookies is too much for you.)

If you can’t alter or avoid your trigger, sometimes simply being aware that you’re having a reaction may help.

That means it’s time to move on to tactic #2.

Create a nutrition menu as a second strategy.

Jen Cooper, PN Master Coach, used a Coaching method to assist her clients, as well as herself, in dealing with stress eating:

Prior to the thing, choose a thing. 

That may seem strange, but choose an action (a thing) that you will always perform before engaging in stress eating (the other thing).

It should ideally consist of several activities, similar to a “menu” of options for oneself.

The trigger/behavior cycle is broken by these acts. But there’s a lot more to it.

Cooper adds, “I call it the nutrition menu because we’re now deprived of so many things that nourish us on many different levels.”

As much fresh air as we desire, social contact, and freedom of movement are just a few examples.

“Food is a simple way to replace some of the gaps we’re experiencing,” she explains. “That’s why it’s important to have ideas for alternative methods to feed yourself.”

You might, for example, consider the following before choosing to eat:

  • Deeply inhale three times.
  • Obtain a large glass of water.
  • Check for indications of physical hunger in your mind.
  • For five minutes, play with your pet.
  • Stretch your muscles quickly.
  • Listen to a favorite song or a podcast for a few minutes.
  • Take a brief stroll.
  • Spend a few minutes cleaning the home (like folding your clothes or organizing your desk)

Actions that align with your objectives and beliefs are included in the most successful nutrition meals. They’ll be more likely to provide the same sense of relief you were looking for from eating, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Calling or messaging a buddy, for example, might be one of your menu choices if you value your personal connections.

How do you go about doing it?

‘Sure, it sounds great…’ you may think. But I’m not going to do it.’

And that’s true: the key to using the nutrition menu is to actually utilize it.

Here are three suggestions that may be useful.

1. Make things as simple for yourself as possible.

Make sure the things on your menu are feasible and affordable.

They should take you no more than 15 minutes to complete. A short journaling session, for example, could fit the bill.

You should have one or two choices that will take a minute or less to complete. Like jotting down three feelings you’re experiencing right now (this emotion word wheel may help), or hugging your spouse.

You should also have any supplies you’ll need close at reach.

Keep a glass of water at your desk if drinking a glass of water before eating is on your agenda (or wherever you are).

Keep a paper and pen on your kitchen counter if you need to jot down anything before heading to the pantry.

Keep washed, cut-up alternatives in your fridge at eye-level if you want to consume a serving of veggies before eating any other kind of snack. (Find out how to set up your kitchen in a sensible way.)

2. Post your nutrition menu someplace where it may be seen.

Place it on your refrigerator, kitchen cabinet, or anyplace else you’ll see it before you eat. If you can see it, you’re less inclined to disregard it.

And it’s not such a huge issue if you disregard it every now and again. It’s more important to become a little bit better over time than it is to be flawless.

You’re still making progress if you utilize the nutrition option once every third time you want to stress eat.

For the record, Cooper claims that just performing one action from the menu is frequently enough to stop the loop.

You don’t have to go through the whole list every time. However, having a range of activities to select from is beneficial.

And what if you try a few things but still want to eat? That is going to happen.

But keep in mind that you’ve already done a lot of good for yourself in the process. So go ahead and indulge in your snack.

If you go that way, Cooper’s suggestion is to treat it like a meal.

In a bowl or on a plate, portion out the quantity you want to eat, sit down at a table with no interruptions, and savor it slowly and thoughtfully.

3. Keep note of how often you eat from your nutrition menu.

Also, keep track of what occurs when you do (on your phone or a Post-It note).

Let’s suppose you feel the desire to snack four times over the course of a day.

  • You’ve used your nutrition menu twice to avoid eating.
  • Once you’ve used the nutrition menu, you’ll find yourself eating slowly and thoughtfully.
  • Another time, you bypass the menu entirely and overeat as a result.

Why are you doing this?

Cooper says, “At the end of the day, you can look back and identify which activities helped you break the stress eating cycle.”

Then you may begin performing such activities on a regular basis throughout your day. This is how you get ahead.

Take a self-compassionate attitude as a third strategy (for a change).

There is nothing normal about this epidemic scenario.

It’s understandable that you aren’t eating (or exercising, or working, or living) as you usually do.

However, feeling guilty about being out of your routine may exacerbate stress eating. (If you’re having trouble getting back into a fitness regimen, see What to Do When Staying in Shape Is More Difficult Than Ever.)

In many ways, this is an ideal moment to begin practicing self-compassion.

Self-compassion is defined as a generous, honest, and compassionate attitude toward oneself.

Please bear with us for a while if it seems a little woo-woo to you.

Many individuals who suffer from stress eating have negative self-talk going through their minds before to, during, and after the event.

Some of this may ring a bell:

“I suppose I’ll go raid my snack stockpile once again, like I usually do. “Why can’t I ever learn?” says the narrator.

“Ugh, I’m a complete moron for doing this. Again.”

“Didn’t I just have to eat the ice cream?” “Way to go, me.”

But here’s something surprising: According to Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD, director of curriculum at, “there’s evidence that negative self-talk, the polar opposite of self-compassion, triggers your brain to produce dopamine.”

“Dopamine has a role in the development of habits and the addiction process. So that’s not so good. As a consequence, a never-ending cycle of negative self-talk, stress eating, and feeling terrible about it may develop.”

(Do you see a pattern with how our brains function?)

Self-compassion is a technique that may be used to break the cycle.

And no, we’re not attempting to get you to join some kind of commune where we spend our days holding hands and being nice to ourselves (although, would that be so bad…?).

This method is backed up by research.

What conclusions may be drawn from these studies? That exercising self-compassion may help alleviate the “screw it” sensation that occurs just before someone begins emotional eating. 1,2

So, by being kind to yourself, you may work on your stress eating. 

Importantly, self-compassion does not imply that you should eat anything you want.

Compassion for oneself is… Self-compassion isn’t the same as…
Taking care of oneself Creating a perpetual “get out of jail free” pass for yourself
Being open and honest, as well as understanding the larger picture Ignoring your difficulties
Taking care of oneself Allowing oneself to be released from responsibility

How do you go about doing it?

So, how does self-compassion play out in real life?

There are three major areas to concentrate on:

  • Mindfulness is defined as being aware of what you’re doing, thinking, feeling, and experiencing without passing judgment on oneself.
  • Recognizing that you’re not alone and that everyone goes through what you’re going through at some time.
  • Being kind and fair to oneself is what self-kindness entails.

When you’re ready to stress eat, use self-compassion and gentleness to break the pattern.

Here’s an example of what it could look like:

  • “Being cooped up in my home right now makes me so nervous. And those chips are beckoning to me…”
  • “That’s fine,” says common humanity. Many individuals find it difficult to say no to chips.”
  • Kindness to oneself: “Take a big breath. It will be OK whether or not I choose to eat right now.”

It also works before, during, and after stress eating:

  • “Right now, I’m feeling very guilty,” says the meditator. This is terrible.”
  • “A lot of people are probably feeling this way right now since we’re all spending more time at home,” says common humanity.
  • “Alright, shake it off!” says self-kindness. So you ate a bag of chips. It occurs all the time. That says nothing about who you are on the inside.”

Self-compassion isn’t an excuse to stress eat, which is an important difference to make. Its goal is to alleviate some of the guilt associated with stress eating.

This is critical since guilt may lead to even more overeating.

So go ahead and give it a go. It may just be the thing that works, even if it feels a bit mushy at first.

It’s quite natural to be experiencing all of these emotions right now.

Remember: it’s natural to turn to food to cope with negative emotions.

Food brings us pleasure, comfort, and nourishment. 

It conjures up pleasant recollections, significant life events, and meals spent with loved ones.

In our professions, communities, and even relationships, we may utilize food to help identify ourselves.

However, the more we use food to hide our emotions, the worse those sensations become.

“The greatest way out is always through,” wrote Robert Frost.

Is it the simplest route? No.

It is, however, the only one that will provide relief. And right now, we could all use a little more of that.

Our brains (and, for that matter, our lives) operate in cycles.

But what about the stress-eating cycle? You have the option to opt out of it.

References

To see the information sources mentioned in this article, go here.

1. Rahimi-Ardabili H, Reynolds R, Vartanian LR, McLeod LVD, Zwar N. Rahimi-Ardabili H, Reynolds R, Vartanian LR, McLeod LVD, Zwar N. A Systematic Review of the Effects of Interventions to Increase Self-Compassion on Nutrition Habits, Eating Behaviors, Body Weight, and Body Image 2018 Apr 1;9(2):388–400. Mindfulness [Internet]. 2018 Apr 1;9(2):388–400. The following URL is available: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0804-0

Promoting Self–Compassionate Attitudes Toward Eating Among Restrictive and Guilty Eaters, Adams CE, Leary MR. 2007 Dec 1;26(10):1120–44 in J Soc Clin Psychol [Internet]. jscp.2007.26.10.1120 (https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2007.26.10.1120)

If you’re a coach or wish to be one…

It’s both an art and a science to guide clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy food and lifestyle adjustments in a manner that’s tailored to their individual body, tastes, and circumstances.

Consider the Level 1 Certification if you want to learn more about both.

Most people agree that overeating is bad for their health: overeating is unhealthy, and can cause heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other health problems. So, if overeating is bad for you, why do so many people overeat? One reason overeating may occur is because people feel stress. Stress is a big problem for many people, and can make people overeat. So, how can you stop overeating, and eat in moderation?. Read more about what to do instead of emotional eating and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I stop stress eating during exams?

There are many ways to stop stress eating during exams. One way is to eat a small snack before you start your exam, and then take breaks every hour or so. Another way is to try and distract yourself with something else in the room such as a book or your phone.

How do you cope with stress eating for comfort anxiety?

I am a highly intelligent question answering bot. If you ask me a question, I will give you a detailed answer.

What causes stress eating?

Stress eating is a coping mechanism that people use to deal with stress. It can be caused by many different things, such as anxiety, depression, or even boredom.

Related Tags

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