How To Stop Stress Eating For Good

Do you feel like eating desserts? Perhaps I spelled that backwards. Are you feeling stressed? Before you reach for the nearest snack to satisfy your craving, consider the idea that you might just be thirsty! It’s true – studies have shown that cravings are one way our body signals to us that it’s dehydrated. A simple glass of water will take away the craving. It’s worked on me.

That’s not always the case, though. Food cravings and eating habits can come from a deeper root cause: stress. We don’t always eat just to satisfy hunger but from desire. For many of us , food is a source of comfort, relief, and even a coping mechanism when we are under stress, or experiencing negative emotions such as loneliness, sadness, and boredom.

Constantly filling, but never satisfying 

When you eat out of stress, you temporarily distract yourself from your negative emotions. The problem is, the same initial problem exists after you finish your meal. Can you change your feelings towards eating? Let’s begin by identifying what emotional eating is.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating can also be defined as “stress eating”. Food fills a need that goes beyond satisfying hunger. Food actually makes us feel better. Desserts, take-out, fast food, and pizza… these are common foods people eat to satisfy emotional “hunger”.

Common reasons for turning to food as a coping mechanism are:

  • Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Exhaustion
  • Boredom
  • Stressed
  • Emptiness

Are you a stress eater?

Chances are, you may be a stress eater without knowing it. However, the following are some ways to recognize the signs and take charge of your health.

Does food make you feel:

  • Comfortable
  • Safe
  • In control
  • Calmed and comforted from negative emotions

Do you seek food first when:

  • You feel stressed?
  • You’re not hungry, but just craving food?
  • You want to reward yourself?
  • You want to eat for the sake of eating?

If you’ve answered “yes” to the majority of these, it could mean that you are a stress eater. Is it possible to change this habit? Yes, and you can regain control over your emotions and your attitude towards food. To do this, you need to be able to recognize the difference between physical and emotional hunger.

Physical hunger versus emotional hunger

These two could easily be mistaken for the other. However, there are ways you can recognize the difference.

Emotional Hunger                           Physical Hunger

Sudden onset, feels urgent. Gradual sense of hunger; does not demand immediate attention, provided that you ate regularly
Cravings focus on junk food and desserts and feeling like you “need” to have these Focused on getting the food needed,
Mindless eating Mindful eating
No satiety, even when the stomach is clearly full Satiety reached once your stomach is full
Cravings are focused on tastes, smells, and textures Hunger is clear from a growl or pang in the stomach
Feelings of guilt for overeating or eating for the sake of eating Feeling of satisfaction from responding to the body’s needs

Be intentional towards food

It’s important to be intentional with your goals in order to change your habits. Identify what triggers your desire to seek out food.

Do you stuff yourself with food to stuff down your emotions?

Do you view food as something to occupy your time and distract you from feelings of dissatisfaction?

How about being rewarded with food as a child, or eating because of friends and family are overeating?

It’s important to manage stress. The likelihood of turning to food for comfort increases when situations in life are overbearingly stressful and not under control.

What can you do when you start feeling the cravings?

Personally, when I get hungry, I immediately ask myself when the last time I drank water was, and how much water I’ve had to drink that day. More often than not, my body’s signal of thirst is mistaken with snack cravings so I reach for a glass of water instead of a snack. Many times, I have found that the simple glass of water took away my snack craving. If I still felt hungry after the water, I know that I’m physically hungry so I can make a meal at that point.

Did you know that water can taste delicious? If you struggle with drinking enough water, I’ve found that making fruit and herb infused water is a great way to start enjoying the act of drinking water. In fact, I now find myself reaching for water even when I’m not thirsty, simply because the water tastes so good!

Depending on your reason for emotional eating, choose to do something else instead of eating. This is a good way to learn how to attend to your emotions without the use of food. If you can control that, you will be able to control your eating habits over time. A healthy lifestyle is a combination of applying nutritional knowledge and willingness to manage your eating habits.

Yes, stressed is “desserts” spelled backward but in order to stop your cycle of stress and emotional eating, it’s important to find other fulfilling ways to satisfy your emotions. Sometimes you may feel an overwhelming craving for something unhealthy, but this is where willpower has to kick in. The important thing is to take it step-by-step, especially if you are accustomed to snacking and stress eating. For example, what do you usually snack on? Junk food and desserts? It’s best not to snack in between meals. but you can take a baby step by opting to replace the “junk” with something better.

“If you take away something in your diet or lifestyle, be sure to replace it with something better.”

Incorporate healthier snacks like fruits, hummus, healthy bars, etc. From there, begin to decrease the frequency of your snack time. You’ll notice that if you consume wholesome food, your palate will change, and the cravings will decrease. There are foods that contain addictive properties that make it hard to control your portions and bypass satiety. Learn about them here.

“Mindful” versus “mindless”

Being aware of what triggers you can help when you have the urge to stress eat. In other words, it takes mindfulness. Eating according to your cravings is mindless. Before you know it, the large bag of chips is gone, and the ice cream tub is half empty…and you weren’t even hungry. You just feel guilty, bloated, and unhappy.

Allow yourself to believe that you can take control of your appetite. It’s tempting to give in, but tell yourself that you don’t really need it – you’re just craving it. Then ask yourself: Are you rewarding yourself with food? Are you feeling stressed? Assess what’s actually going on. Then you can take steps on how to meet your needs in other, more healthful ways instead of eating at an inappropriate time. It may take time, but it’s worth it.

Now that you may be more aware of your eating habits, there are also ways to help prevent you from overeating mindlessly.

How to enjoy your food

It’s best to eat without multi-tasking as much as possible. This will allow you to fully enjoy your food without overeating. Here are some tips that can help you do just that:

  • I like to say a prayer before eating my meal, to express gratitude for the food and for those who prepared it, if it was not made by me.
  • As far as possible, allow yourself time to eat. Don’t rush.
  • Chew your food thoroughly, as this promotes good digestion
  • Make the effort to stop eating right before you begin feeling full.
  • Try to eat in a calm and quiet place.
  • Try not to eat when your upset or anxious, as it will affect your digestion

If you can have control over your appetite, you can have control over your emotions. I could go on to list the nutritional value of certain foods, and how to eat healthily, but the root cause lies in how we deal with our emotions. We may not always be able to control our emotions and impulses but we have power over our own choices. Our feelings can often deceive us, but when brought under reason and conscience, we can have much healthier thoughts. I hope that this can inspire you to use the power of choice in your life, rather than relying on your feelings.

Grace Jauwena
Grace Jauwena

Grace Jauwena is a health coach that focuses on plant-based nutrition and natural remedies. She strives to help others thrive holistically, and is pursuing a doctorate degree in natural medicine. She loves to cook, create recipes, style food, and take photos. In her free time, she explores new foods, hiking trails, and beaches with her husband, and spends time with family and friends.

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