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How To Stop Stress Eating (5 Tips)

Published February 17, 2019 (Revised: January 14, 2020) Read Time: 9 minutes
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

Fact-Checked By: Ana Reisdorf MS, RD

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These 5 tips will put you back on the path towards health, wellness, and weight loss.", "image": "" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "What is stress eating?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Stress eating, also known as emotional eating is when you consume food (usually in excess) as a response to negative emotions." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "Why do people stress eat?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "While there are common triggers that might cause you to eat emotionally, there isn't one reason people stress eat. Interestingly, a 2010 study found that of a group of 666 students, there was no link between emotional eating and gender or ethnic background. Scientists are still searching for a root cause." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "What foods are good for stress?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "1. Chicken, 2. Seafood (salmon, shrimp, scallops, etc.), 3. Beef, 4. Pork, 5. Eggs, 6. Fat, 7. Healthy oils, 8. Nuts" } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">What Is Stress Eating?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">Why Do People Stress Eat?</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">5 Tips To Stop Stress Eating</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">How To Stop Stress Eating: Wrap Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>It's all too easy to use food to cope with stress.</p> <p>Many of us think of eating, especially our favorite foods, as a reward. Plus, opening the fridge or ordering takeout from our phones makes processed food highly accessible.</p> <p>So it makes sense when times get tough that we might turn to eating to help us feel better or cope.</p> <p>Unfortunately, emotional eating can be bad for your health, as it increases your risk of becoming obese.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup></p> <p>While stress eating is very common, and there isn't one solution to rid yourself of the habit, there are some things you can do to start repairing your relationship with food.</p> <p><i>Want to learn how to stop stress eating?</i></p> <p>Here's everything you need to know, along with 5 science-backed tips to reduce your emotional eating.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>What is stress eating?</h2> <p><i>Stress eating</i>, also known as <i>emotional eating</i> is when you consume food (usually in excess) as a response to negative emotions.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup></p> <p>According to the <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer"><i>American Psychological Association</i></a>, it is quite common.</p> <ul> <li>27 percent of adults say they eat to cope with stress.</li> <li>Along the same lines, 34 percent of people that overeat list stress as a factor for their behavior.</li> </ul> <p>So if you're someone that uses food to cope with stress, you aren't alone.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="why we stress eat"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>Why do people stress eat?</h2> <p>While there are common triggers that might cause you to eat emotionally, there isn't one reason people stress eat.</p> <p>Interestingly, a 2010 study found that of a group of 666 students, there was no link between emotional eating and gender or ethnic background. Scientists are still searching for a root cause.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup></p> <p>Examples of common triggers include:</p> <ul> <li>Anxiety</li> <li>Depression</li> <li>Boredom</li> <li>Chronic or acute stress</li> <li>Irritability</li> <li>Bad moods<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup></li> <li>Excessively restrictive diets (see tip #4 below)</li> <li>Exhaustion/fatigue (see tip #5 below)</li> <li>Social gatherings (if your friends overeat, you're more likely to, too—this is one reason why having a strong support group or accountability partner can be helpful on the path to weight loss)<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>Again, these are just examples. If you eat emotionally, the factors listed above may or may not pertain to you. </p> <p>Either way, in the next section, we'll look at 5 tips you can use to stop stress eating.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <h2>5 tips to stop stress eating</h2> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="how to stop stress eating"> </picture> <h3>1. Know your triggers</h3> <p><i>In short</i>: Be aware of what causes <i>you</i> to overeat, and try enlisting positive behaviors to counteract your triggers.</p> <p>A trigger is an event or situation that causes you to stress eat. Knowing what your triggers are helps you become aware of your patterns, and can help you catch the behavior before it happens.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a></sup></p> <p>And when you know your triggers, you can enlist positive behaviors to help counteract them.</p> <p>For example:</p> <ul> <li>If bad moods cause you to overeat, avoid the events or circumstances that cause bad moods. (By the way, science confirms that your mood plays a role in your eating choices—both what you eat and how much.)<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a></sup></li> <li>If you struggle with depression or anxiety, consider doing some relaxing breath work, keeping a food journal (write down how much you eat, what you're eating, and how you feel before meals) or see a therapist.</li> <li>While stress eating and boredom aren't the same, they may lead you down the same road to binge eating. If you overeat when you're bored, try finding a hobby, reading a book, or <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">exercising</a>.</li> </ul> <p>Awareness of your triggers is the first and most important step, because you can't change a negative behavior if you aren't aware of it. The next step is to enlist positive behaviors, such as exercise, to help you form healthier habits besides stress eating.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="track what you eat"> </picture> <h3>2. Don't count calories</h3> <p><i>In short</i>: Obsessively counting calories may do more harm than good. Counting macronutrients is a more flexible approach, which might help you if you stress eat.</p> <p>Energy intake (the number of calories you eat) plays a role in weight loss. Namely, if you're eating more calories than your body needs, you might gain weight over time.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">8</a></sup></p> <p>This suggests counting calories might be a useful way to manage or track your weight. It could be, but the degree of restriction matters.</p> <p>Studies also show that excessively restrictive diets could lead to overeating.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">9</a></sup></p> <p>If you're prone to losing motivation from high levels of restriction, or have counted calories in the past, a less complicated approach like <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">counting macronutrients</a> might be a better tool for you.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="satiating foods for stress"> </picture> <h3>3. Eat healthy foods</h3> <p><i>In short</i>: Foods high in protein, fat, and fiber will keep you full longer, which makes sticking to your diet easier.</p> <p>Many self-admitted stress eaters tend to eat unhealthy foods when they're stressed, especially processed and sugary foods.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10</a></sup></p> <p>This makes sense, considering one 2015 study found people that are stressed out are more likely to get hooked on eating sugar.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">11</a></sup></p> <p>But according to a 2010 study in <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer"><i>Nutrient Journal</i></a>, eating a nutrient-dense diet can help reduce hunger even when you eat less calories.</p> <p>Further, nutrient-dense foods, especially those high in protein, fat, and fiber, keeping you full longer after meals, which may make you less prone to stress eating.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">12</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">13</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">14</a></sup></p> <p>We like <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">low-carb diets</a> (they check all three of these nutrient boxes), but any diet that prioritizes nutrient-rich foods like lean proteins, healthy fats, and fiber-dense carbs will work, too.</p> <p>Here are a list of foods that might help you stop stress eating.</p> <h3>What foods are good for stress?</h3> <h4>Protein</h4> <ul> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Chicken</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Seafood</a> (salmon, shrimp, scallops, etc.)</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Beef</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Pork</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Eggs</a></li> </ul> <h4>Fat</h4> <ul> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Healthy oils</a> (coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil)</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Nuts</a> (almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts)</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Avocado</a></li> </ul> <h4>Carbs</h4> <ul> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Broccoli</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Cauliflower</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Spinach</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Berries</a></li> </ul> <p>But keep in mind, it's not just about <i>what</i> you eat. Solving your stress eating problem also may have to do with <i>when</i> you eat.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="eat when you are hungry"> </picture> <h3>4. Eat when you're hungry</h3> <p><i>In short</i>: Learning to trust your body's signals and eating when your hungry may help you stop stress eating.</p> <p>Our brains see food as a natural reward, as dopamine (the "feel-good" hormone) is released when we eat.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">15</a></sup></p> <p>This may help you see why stress eating is so common.</p> <p>According to one <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2013 study</a>, you're far more likely to overeat if you aren't regularly eating when you're <i>hungry</i>. Your body will try to "make up" what it didn't get if it's feeling deprived throughout the day.</p> <p>Therefore, eating when you're hungry is important.</p> <p>Studies also show that learning to trust yourself with eating is one of the keys to losing weight and repairing your relationship with food. It also may help you stop binge eating.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">16</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">17</a></sup></p> <p>Trusting yourself means listening to your body's signals, especially hunger. Instead of depriving yourself of food, eat when you're hungry, even if it's something small. </p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="good sleep for stress"> </picture> <h3>5. Prioritize good sleep</h3> <p><i>In short</i>: Sleep deprivation increases the likelihood of you overeating.</p> <p>It sounds simple, but a <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">good night's sleep</a> may be the solution you need to stop stress eating. </p> <p>Consider:</p> <ul> <li>You're more likely to be overweight if you don't get enough sleep.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">18</a></sup></li> <li>A 2010 study found that you're more likely to overeat unhealthy foods, and far less likely to be motivated to exercise.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">19</a></sup></li> <li>A 2013 study found that people who underslept ate on average 5 percent more calories (or about 100, if you were on a 2,000-calorie per day diet) throughout the day.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">20</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>The fact is, sleep is important for mental function and total body health. When you rest, your body repairs cognitive function, repairs muscle and other tissues, and balances your hormones.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">21</a></sup></p> <p>Not allowing your body to rest and recover makes it harder to think and act clearly. This could be why you're reaching for food to cope—you're exhausted, or your brain isn't operating at one hundred percent.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <h2>How to stop stress eating: wrap up</h2> <p>Wondering how to stop stress eating? First, understand that while it's a common behavior, everyone's reason for overeating is different. There isn't one blanket solution.</p> <p>To combat your overeating tendencies, you might try:</p> <ul> <li>Becoming aware of your triggers, or what causes you to overeat. Avoid these events or replace them with positive behaviors like reading, exercising, or a favorite hobby.</li> <li>Being less restrictive with your diet. Counting calories is not an effective solution for everyone, and may not be for you if you stress eat. Try counting macros instead.</li> <li>Eating nutrient-dense foods, especially protein, fat, and fiber-rich foods that keep you full and satisfied.</li> <li>Becoming more attuned to your body's signals of when and how much to eat. Repairing this relationship and trusting yourself with eating may help you avoid overeating.</li> <li>Sleeping more. Your body needs time to rest and recover, and you might not use food to cope with stress if you're operating at your best.</li> </ul> <p>And if stress eating is getting in the way of your health, or you're trying to lose weight, it might also help to surround yourself with a <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">positive community</a>. You're sure to find people that also struggle with emotional eating, and may find a solution (or the support you need) that works for you.</p> </section> </article>

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