Stress eating happens when you use food as a coping mechanism to alleviate stress. Stress eating, or emotional eating, is when people take cues from their emotions to eat instead of hunger cues. Stress eating is usually a habit that was formed when someone was young and has become a noticeable pattern.
Stress eating can lead to excess weight gain and make weight loss difficult. The good news is the stress eating cycle can be broken. It may take hard work to “re-wire” your behaviors, but it can be done.
Here are some tips to stop stress eating for good.
#1 – Find alternatives for stress management
One of the first steps to stop stress eating is to find a healthier coping mechanism when you feel stressed.
Examples of healthy coping mechanisms include: exercising, reading, spending time outside or with animals or journaling. (see also: How to exercise when you are depressed)
Find something that will work for you and you can implement.
It may take some time to get in the habit of switching your reaction to stress, and that is normal.
The most important thing to remember is to keep doing your new pattern. Developing a new habit takes time, so be patient. Keep reinforcing a healthier reaction to stress.
#2 – Pause before eating
Besides working on healthy coping mechanisms for stress, another target for combatting stress eating is to increase awareness of what you put in your mouth.
When people stress eat, they are eating based on a reaction from emotion. Pausing before you eat will make you think about why you are eating.
Are you hungry? If not, work on putting the food down and learn why you are eating if you’re not hungry.
Get in tune with your body; sometimes people can lose touch with when they are truly hungry and what that feels like. Learn to stop eating when you’re full.
Pausing before you eat something can help you shift from mindlessly eating when you feel stressed to eating when your body needs energy.
#3 – Use a food journal
Writing down your food intake, what time you ate and how much you ate can give a real eye opener to food intake. Humans are not great at remembering everything we ate during the day and how much. By writing it down and seeing it on paper, you can see where/when your stress eating occurs.
Write everything down, even if it’s just a bite or two of something. This can show what food groups you may be over indulging in or food groups you are lacking through the day.
Using a food journal will also make you think twice before you eat something because you have to write it down! Use a food journal, whether paper or electronic, for at least a few days to notice any patterns.
An even more helpful addition to just writing your food intake down is to also write down your emotions, how hungry you are when you eat something and how full you are when you stop.
#4 – Don’t keep your temptations at home
This is a simple tip: don’t buy or keep junk food at home. If it’s out of sight, it is (or turns into) out of mind. If cookies are your weak point, don’t keep them in the house. It may be hard at first, but after a while you won’t miss your go to junk food.
If treats at the office or break room are an issue, avoid the break room or ask work colleagues to place the candy jar out of sight. Simple environment changes that make reaching for food when you’re stressed can help break stress eating patterns.
#5 -Surround yourself with support
Don’t be afraid to ask family, friends or co-workers to help you! Instead of eating something when you’re stressed, ask someone you feel comfortable with if you can call them instead when you are feeling stressed.
Having a loving support community can help you choose healthy behaviors when you are feeling weak. They can (lovingly) remind you of your goals and why you want to change your behaviors.
You may even inspire others to also change their eating behaviors to decrease stress eating!
How to stop stress eating for Good – Summary
Stress eating for many people is a learned behavior that has been developed over years. Because of this, it can seem hard to break the cycle of this learned behavior. Whenever you are trying to break any habit, keep in mind it takes time and consistency even if there are setbacks.
One of the first steps to breaking stress eating for good is to find healthier stress coping mechanisms instead of eating. This can vary, but some examples include exercise, reading, getting outside, volunteering, etc. Enforce this new behavior by practicing it often.
Pausing before eating and food journaling can also bring in mindfulness when eating to learn why you are putting food in your mouth.
Making environmental changes that support you during this transition is important. Don’t bring home or keep your tempting foods you turn to when you are stressed.
Find a support network that can help encourage you and keep you accountable for your goals.