How To Stop Emotional & Stress Eating

Stress Eating Definition

Stress eating is consuming food as a stress-coping behavior when you are not hungry. Sometimes called emotional eating, stress-eating refers to allowing your stress levels to dictate when and how much food you consume.

Emotional Eating Definition

Much like stress eating, emotional eating is when one turns to food for comfort, when not necessarily hungry. When you’re feeling down, a bag of cookies, candy or potato chips can look enticing but it’s important to learn other tactics to manage feelings rather than turn to food.

Is stress about the coronavirus affecting your eating? If you’ve eaten to deal with stress or emotions, you’re not alone. It’s common for Americans to experience changes in their eating patterns during any high-stress environment, including an infectious disease outbreak.

How to Stop Emotional & Stress Eating

Emotional/stress eating, also known as comfort eating, involves eating as a means of dealing with or suppressing uncomfortable feelings, including stress. High-calorie foods with low nutritional value, like sugary and salty junk foods, are typical choices for emotional eating. Sugars and fats release opioids, so the calming effect we get from those “comfort” foods is real and addictive. This can present challenges at any time in our life, but it can quickly derail a healthy diet or weight loss effort.

Emotional and stress eating are usually triggered by everyday life events like those encountered in relationships and the workplace, as well as problems with our health and finances. Fatigue brought on by lack of sleep can be another trigger. Major life events, though occurring less frequently, can also spark emotional eating.

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Overcoming Emotional Eating: How to Stop Stress Eating

1 – Acknowledge Comfort Eating

Awareness of emotional eating is a necessary first step. Taken a step further, mindfulness is a focused awareness of any activity. Train yourself to be mindful in your eating, by noticing whether or not you’re eating because you’re hungry. If not, is the food in front of you helping suppress something that happened today? “I am eating because I’m hungry,” is different than “I’m eating because I had a disagreement with my boss.” 

2 – Start a Food Diary

A food diary can be a useful tool in strengthening awareness of the relationship between emotions and eating. Expressing emotions is generally frowned upon in our culture, so we tend to suppress them with food or other negative behaviors. Writing them down is a classic technique to express emotions. This is an important step on the list of how to stop stress eating.

3 – Try Talking to Someone About It

If you don’t have a lot of practice in this area, acknowledging and addressing feelings can be difficult, especially at first. Try talking about them with a trusted friend or family member who will empathize with your feelings. It doesn’t have to solve your present issue, but just sharing your burden can lighten it as well as provide a new perspective and can be a large step for emotional eating help.

4 – Replace Food with Healthy Distractions

Take a walk, go for a run or read a book. Even laughing at a rerun of your favorite sitcom will alleviate your emotional discomfort temporarily. Even a temporary distraction can put some space between you and the trigger, providing a different perspective than when you were initially impacted.

5 – Sleep!

Making sure you sleep 7-8 hours per night goes a long way in reducing stress. Lack of sleep can heighten existing stresses or create new ones. Cortisol is the hormone released to help our bodies deal with stress. It also triggers cravings for fried, sweet and salty foods. Over long periods of time, cortisol also increases blood sugar. This could intensify other factors of emotional eating that lead to type 2 diabetes – including unhealthy eating and being overweight, which is why it’s important that you’re learning about different ways to stop comfort eating.

Life comes with a wide range of challenges, creating stress and other emotional discomforts. Positive and healthy coping with those discomforts can make a big difference in how we get through them.

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We understand that, for many people, maintaining a healthy weight is a lifelong struggle. An estimated 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight and Baptist Health offers bariatric services to our patients who want to start the journey towards a healthier life. Find a doctor or schedule an eVisit with our bariatric care staff to choose the weight loss option that is best suited for your needs. For your convenience, Baptist Health is offering virtual care visits, free online weight loss seminars so you can take the first steps toward a healthier, happier you.

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