How to Break the Unhealthy Habit of Stress Eating

Unhealthy Eating may be a Natural Reaction to a Stressful Situation (Image Souce: Shutterstock)

Stress Eating

When we’re stressed it’s natural to want to eat comfort food to make us feel better. The foods that we tend to crave at these times are usually filled with sugar and unhealthy fat. These types of foods have been shown to increase mood-elevating chemicals in the brain.

Stress Eating Often Leads to Feelings of Negativity (Image Source: Shutterstock)
  1. Do you eat more when you’re alone, such as when watching TV?
  2. Do you give yourself rewards of chocolate or sweets if you’ve had a bad day?
  3. If you’ve broken your diet and eaten a rich dessert, do you feel so upset that you feel like you might as well give up and eat what you like for the rest of the day?
  4. Does looking in the mirror or weighing yourself make you so depressed that you need a treat to cheer you up?
  5. Do you eat high-fat energy foods, such as peanuts, chips, and chocolate, to get a “pick me up” boost when you are down?

Practice Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is very simple and involves questioning whether you are really hungry or whether your urge to eat is motivated by emotion. It requires being present in the moment rather than just running with your desires. Fundamentally, then, it is a matter of self-discipline.

Determine if You Are Physically Hungry or Motivated By Stress (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Exercise Portion Control

Once we start eating, it can be difficult to stop. As a result, we often eat well beyond the point of fullness, especially when we are stressed. That’s why we need to exercise portion control.

Plan To Chew Your Food 10–15 Times Before Swallowing (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Find Healthier Options

If you find that you really do need to eat something during a time of stress, have healthy options on hand and don’t stock your pantry with bad foods. If you don’t have sugar-laden cookies in your pantry, for example, you won’t be able to eat them. If your craving is for something sweet, make a snack out of sliced apples, cheese, and walnuts. For a savory option, try deviled eggs with hummus.

How to Make Healthy Food Changes — My Doctor — Kaiser Permanente

Identify Your Emotional Triggers

In order to get a handle on emotional eating, you need to identify your emotional triggers. While most emotional eating is caused by stress, positive emotions may also lead to over-eating. Here are the most common emotional-eating triggers:

  • Stress: When we are feeling stressed, the body increases its secretion of the hormone cortisol. This hormone is a trigger for craving salty and sweet foods.
  • Emotional stuffing: Emotional stuffing involves binging on food to crowd out emotions that are disturbing and uncomfortable. In a sense, the food numbs the unwanted feelings, like fear, sadness, shame, or loneliness.
  • Boredom: Food is often used to compensate for feelings of boredom. Eating gives us something to do with our mouths and with our time.
  • Habit: We are profoundly affected by the eating habits we learn from our parents. Perhaps food was used as a reward for good behavior or good grades. Eating can also be triggered by past memories.
  • Special occasions: When we center social occasions around food, we can easily overeat. It is also common for people to overeat when they are in social situations as a result of nervousness or distraction.
Identify The Emotional Triggers That Makes You Overeat (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Learn a Better Way

Here are five alternatives to reaching for food when you are feeling stressed:

  • Phone, text, or Zoom a friend.
  • Switch on a music channel and dance like nobody’s watching.
  • Exercise; this may involve going to the gym, walking the dog, or going for a run.
  • Have a bath, give yourself a massage with a foam roller, or enjoy a hot cup of tea.
  • Start doing your favorite hobby, pick up a good book, or watch an episode of your favorite classic TV show.


Unhealthy eating may be a natural reaction to a stressful situation, but it is not an inevitable one. Use our five tips to help you overcome the stress-eating habit and better manage your feelings of stress.



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