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10 Ways to Stop Your Stress Eating

Angela Paoli
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a woman sitting on a couch in front of a tray of food
As a licensed therapist who treats patients with anxiety, I understand how stress eating can be a challenging aspect for many.

Anxiety can often lead to developing unhealthy eating habits as a way to cope with pressure. I'll help you navigate through these challenges by providing strategies and support methods for stress eating I use during online therapy. sessions with patients.

You'll discover how to manage your emotions without relying on unhealthy binging and cultivate a healthier relationship with food. Afterward, you'll have the tools to empower yourself and improve your well-being.

» Feeling overwhelmed? These online therapy services for anxiety could help.

Understanding Stress Eating

Stress eating is a common issue affecting many of us. Imagine this: you're feeling anxious or sad, and suddenly, you find yourself overeating or reaching for unhealthy foods. It's not just you; about 33% of American adults do the same. While it might feel like a quick fix, this habit leads to harmful eating patterns and weight gain.

Stress Eating Triggers

If you're dealing with stress-induced overindulgence, it's important to identify what's triggering it.

Here's what could be causing it:

  • Work-related stress: Dealing with tight deadlines, demanding projects, or conflicts with colleagues.
  • Relationship issues: Navigating conflicts, breakups, or communication problems with partners, family, or friends.
  • Financial worries: Concerns about debts, expenses, or job security.
  • Emotional states: Coping with loneliness, boredom, sadness, or anxiety.
  • Hormonal changes: Experiencing fluctuations due to menstrual cycles, menopause, or other hormonal imbalances.
  • Lack of sleep: Dealing with insufficient or disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Chronic stress: Managing ongoing stress from personal or professional situations.
  • Societal influences: Responding to cultural norms and societal pressures related to food and eating habits.
  • Learned behaviors: Habits developed from family or past experiences where food is used as a comfort mechanism.

Consequences of Stress Eating

Stress- or overeating can lead to weight gain and even obesity, affecting your physical and mental health. This habit might also create a cycle of guilt and anxiety, preventing you from dealing with deeper issues. It's similar to food addiction, making it harder to develop healthier ways to cope.

» Learn more about types of addiction and how they're treated.

1. Try Mindful Eating

Mindful eating advocates for eating slowly, being present during meals, and avoiding distractions. Start by fully engaging with your meal. Focus on each bite, appreciating the flavors, textures, and aromas.

This technique helps you become more in tune with your body's needs, reducing the likelihood of overeating in response to stress. It fosters a healthier relationship with food, shifting your focus from eating as an emotional response to eating for nourishment.

You can also try drinking a glass of water before you eat to fill up your stomach and mitigate your hunger.

2. Journal and Write Down Your Thoughts

Start by keeping a food journal to record what you eat, when, and most importantly, how you feel in that moment. You'll begin to see patterns in your eating habits and emotional triggers. This increased self-awareness is key. You might discover that you tend to reach for snacks when you're bored or anxious.

Once you identify your triggers, you can start working on healthier coping mechanisms, like deep breathing or going for a walk. Journaling helps turn a reactive habit into a conscious choice, empowering you to make mindful decisions.

3. Practice Breathing Techniques

Deep breathing can help you manage stress. It activates the relaxation response, reduces stress hormones, and could help you fight the urge to turn to food for comfort.

Here are some deep breathing techniques you can try:

  • Box breathing: Inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and then wait for another four seconds before your next breath.
  • 4-7-8 breathing: Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale slowly for eight seconds.
  • Progressive relaxation breathing: Inhale deeply and, as you exhale, consciously relax different body parts, starting from your toes and moving upwards to your head.
  • Alternate nostril breathing: Close your right nostril and inhale slowly through your left nostril. Then, close your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Continue inhaling through the right nostril, switching and exhaling through the left.
  • Belly breathing: Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Inhale deeply through your nose, feeling your belly rise more than your chest.
  • Guided visualization breathing: While breathing deeply, visualize a peaceful scene or a place that relaxes you.

4. Maintain Physical Activity

Incorporating 15-30 minutes of physical activity into your daily routine is a great strategy to counteract stress eating. Activities like walking, yoga, and active chores distract you from overeating and release endorphins—natural mood boosters—that help reduce stress.

Remember, your mental health significantly influences your physical health. When you feel overwhelmed, instead of turning to sugary or high-fat foods, try exercising. Getting active can reduce anxiety and depression, boost your mood and self-esteem, and enhance your concentration and thinking skills.

5. Plan for Healthy Snacking

Start by stocking your pantry with nutritious snacks like fruits, vegetables, nuts, or yogurt. Keep these healthy options within easy reach. Then, schedule specific times for snacks throughout the day.

Food that keeps you fuller for longer makes you less likely to grab high-calorie, comfort foods during stressful times. Planned snack times also prevent those intense hunger pangs that can lead you to indulge in unhealthy choices. Remember that uncontrolled binging can escalate into a more serious eating disorder.

6. Try Stress Management Techniques

To cope with anxiety and avoid reaching for the nearest chocolate, try these simple relaxation techniques:

  • Meditation: Spend 5-10 minutes each morning meditating. You can use meditation apps or sit quietly, focusing on your breath. This helps calm your mind and reduce the urge to eat when stressed.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR): Tense and then relax each muscle group, starting from your toes and moving up to your head. This is great for relaxing before bed or during breaks.
  • Yoga: Using yoga apps for guided sessions helps reduce anxiety and stress.
  • Mindfulness activities: Use mindfulness practices like walking, gardening, or drawing to divert your attention from food and stress.
  • Distraction: You can draw your thoughts away from stress eating by distracting yourself with other activities that keep you busy.

» Try these 10 efficient methods to handle stress.

7. Seek Social Support

Reaching out to friends and family or joining support groups can be a significant step in managing stress-induced eating. Seeking support to change your behavior offers emotional relief and alternative sources of comfort, reducing the need to turn to food.

In support groups, you can find people who might be going through similar experiences. You can learn from others through tips and strategies that have worked for them in managing cravings and sustaining their health.

8. Set Realistic Goals

Focus on setting realistic goals using the SMART framework. This approach involves creating goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.

For instance, if you want to break the habit of binge eating when you're sad or nervous, set a goal like, "I'll take a 10-minute walk each evening for the next month instead of snacking."

This goal is clear, easy to track, realistic, directly related to your objective, and has a defined time frame. This can help you feel accomplished and in control, reducing the likelihood of creating thinking traps that could affect your mental health.

9. Consult a Dietitian or Nutritionist

Working with dietitians and nutritionists can offer personalized advice to help you understand and improve your dietary choices. They can guide you in choosing foods that satisfy your cravings and provide nutritional benefits.

They can also assist in developing structured eating plans, including setting regular meal times and understanding portion sizes. They also offer practical tips, like reading food labels and finding healthier snack alternatives.

10. Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Online CBT therapy services like Online-Therapy.com focus on identifying and reframing negative thought patterns, particularly those related to food and stress. As you work with a therapist, they'll help you uncover these patterns and develop healthier, more constructive ways of thinking and coping.

CBT can help the underlying mental health condition by making you learn to recognize emotional triggers during online session. This is handy if you have a busy schedule or prefer the virtual sessions. They often include tools and resources, like self-guided exercises, to enhance the experience.

Overcome Stress Eating and Cope With Your Anxiety

You can overcome anxiety-driven eating with the right strategies and support. Focus on incorporating daily physical activities like walking or yoga, practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Setting realistic SMART goals can also help you stay accountable.

Online therapy through platforms like BetterHelp can offer personalized guidance and support. The key is consistency and willingness to explore various coping strategies. With time and practice, you can develop healthier habits and a more positive relationship with food.

» Ready for a change? Try these 10 quick and free ways to boost your mental health.

Angela Paoli
Angela Paoli writes for Top10.com and is currently works as a tele-health Therapist Associate providing evidence-based treatments to diverse individuals who are experiencing anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, insomnia, ADHD, etc. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work and has over a decade of experience working as a licensed social worker and online therapist. She specializes in providing mental health services to US military members and their families.

The author of this article has been paid by Natural Intelligence to write this article. Neither the author nor Natural Intelligence provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or your local emergency number immediately.