Stress and Eating

Stress and Eating: 8 Tips to Curb Emotional Eating


April is Stress Awareness Month, and that means it’s time to take a look at stress eating. In particular, this article will discuss how to control emotional eating at home.

What Is Stress Eating?

Stress eating—also called emotional eating—is the act of eating in order to make yourself feel better. Basically, you use food as a coping mechanism when you feel stress or other negative emotions. This may occur consciously or unconsciously, and over time, it could lead to compulsive eating along with various health issues.

To better understand stress and eating, here are answers to some common questions:

How common is stress eating?

According to the American Psychological Association, about 27% of adults report eating to manage stress. Half of those who overeat or eat unhealthy foods due to stress do so at least weekly.

How do I know if I’m stress eating?

If you reach for food any time you have something to do—such as working, studying, or anything else stressful—that’s a good indicator that you’re stress eating. This is especially true if you do it unconsciously, even if you’re not physically hungry. Emotional eating may also occur when you’re bored, upset, angry, etc.

How does comfort food affect your stress levels?

Sweets, high fat, or foods high in calories may trigger an emotional response, which could provide temporary relief from stress. It’s not permanent, however, and it can easily transform into a compulsive behavior if done repeatedly.

Does stress eating cause obesity?

Studies seem to show an association between prolonged stress and a higher preference for fatty or sugary foods. As such, there is likely a relationship between stress eating and obesity.

How to Control Emotional Eating?

Fortunately, there are ways you can curb emotional eating. The following tactics can help you better manage stress and get a little more control over your eating habits.

1. “Not Yet” Instead of “No”

One thing people do when trying to control their eating habits is to take an all-or-nothing approach. Unfortunately, simply telling yourself “no” often makes you want to indulge more. Because of that, you might have better luck saying “not yet” instead of a straight “no” and wait a few minutes before eating.

2. Breathe

While you wait, it could help to take some time to breathe. Meditation can be a powerful tool when trying to stop emotional eating, whether it’s in the middle of stressful moments or at a set time each day.

To meditate, all you need to do is find somewhere comfortable where you can sit in peace. Focus on your breathing, paying attention to the sensation of air coming in and flowing out. Also, observe your feelings—without resisting them or trying to change them—and take note of what you’re feeling. If you’re tempted to eat something, take a moment to determine whether it’s physical hunger or emotional hunger. If it’s emotional, you’ll want to find some way other than food to satisfy it.

3. Record What You Eat

Accountability is another good tool to use when overcoming stress eating. Keeping a food diary is a way to hold yourself accountable. Record what you eat each day, how much, and how you were feeling at the time. By taking inventory of your actions and feelings in this way, you can set a benchmark for improvement while giving you a sense for what’s leading to your stress eating habits.

3. Savor Your Food

It’s important to remember that food isn’t the enemy. Savoring your food is one way to accomplish this. Treat eating as a meditative experience as you pay close attention to the flavors and textures of your food. By taking your time, you can help curb cravings as you appreciate your food more.

4. Get Enough Sleep

One of the usual contributing factors toward stress is lack of sleep. It may be easier said than done, but if you’re not getting enough sleep at night, make whatever changes are necessary to allow for a full night’s rest.

5. Exercise Regularly

Exercise is another way to cope with stress. In fact, there has actually been research conducted into using exercise as an intervention for coping with stress, and the results have been promising. Exercise can also act as a healthy outlet for pent-up emotion while giving you a sense of control over your life.

6. Eat Well

Of course, another part of taking care of yourself is eating right. If you’re trying to lose weight, be careful not to deprive yourself. Often, it’s more a matter of prioritization than anything else—focus on protein and nutrients first, and you’ll generally be more satisfied eating less.

7. Learn, Don’t Blame

Of course, you’re not going to do everything perfectly. That’s okay! Any time you mess up and overindulge, treat it as a learning experience. Assess the situation, analyze your feelings, and make plans to do a little better. Perhaps most importantly, forgive yourself. Instead of beating yourself up, look forward to a better tomorrow.

8. Connect with People

Finally, one of the most effective things you can do to avoid stress eating is to find ways to connect with other people. It can be as simple as texting someone to say hi, or sending a dumb joke to a good friend. In some cases, a support group may be a good idea—you’ll be able to connect with people who have gone through what you’re going through, which can be valuable in and of itself.

What If None of That Works?

If you feel like you’ve tried everything, it may be tempting to look at weight loss surgery as a way out. While bariatric surgery certainly can help with weight loss, it is not a cure for emotional eating. Professional psychological help is typically more appropriate—in fact, it’s often an integral part of the post-operation life changes bariatric surgery patients undergo!

That said, bariatric surgery may still be an appropriate step forward. Dr. Malladi can assess your individual situation and help you find the support you personally need. To learn more, contact Malladi Bariatrics & Advanced Surgery.

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