How to Stop Stress Eating

Author: Anna Frinzi

We, as humans, experience a plethora of emotions within a given day and it can be challenging to discern what each of these emotions mean specifically. There are the basic core emotions of fear, love, anger, sadness, surprise, joy that then ripple into many others that can be tough to identify. Understanding these emotions – and the way they affect our food choices – is not always easy.

Life is not perfect and the more negative emotions of sadness, anxiousness, sorrow, or depression sometimes lead us to poorer choices in food as we look to soothe ourselves emotionally. Choosing food to soothe us allows us to avoid the true emotion and creates a temporary sense of comfort that can lead to overeating. 

This is a perfectly normal response that many people have to stress. Today, we will give you a step-by-step guide to stop stress eating for good. 

Step 1: Identify Your Stress Eating Triggers and Cues

Triggers that lead to stress eating look different for everyone, and a beneficial starting point is to create a food journal to note when you tend to go for junk food or overeat. Think about the current stressors that may be part of your life and consider if they lead to specific food choices. Reflect on what purpose food or drink serves you throughout the day.

Ideally, you should be feeding yourself when experiencing physical hunger rather than attempting to nourish your hunger emotionally. When eating for emotional hunger, it can be due to uncontrolled stress, hiding from your feelings, learned childhood habits that you have continued into adulthood, or even due to social eating pressures. As we shift to the next step, it is to your advantage to learn the difference between emotional and physical hunger.

Step 2: Ask “Am I Hungry?”

The next time you decide to eat, take a pause and consider your emotional needs versus your physical needs with this hunger. When feeling hungry due to emotions, it is typically a sudden and urgent feeling that craves a specific food, usually junk food. This type of hunger is not satisfied even with overeating and it is normal to eat in excess and get to a place where you feel uncomfortably full. After engaging in this emotional hunger, you may experience emotions of guilt, shame, helplessness, or displeasure as the food did not nourish your body. It may feel satisfying in the moment but after reflecting on your emotions, you may realize that you are not proud of your eating habits. 

To overcome emotional hunger, knowing what physical hunger feels like can be a helpful tool. Normal physical hunger comes on more gradually and is not as urgent as emotional hunger. It can be satisfied with many different types of foods – rather than a specific comfort or junk food – so when feeling physically hungry, fill up on healthy choices! By learning to note your hunger levels, you can tell when you are full with true physical hunger and find a feeling of satisfaction when finished eating, rather than guilt. 

Step 3: Practice Stress Management 

After taking the time to note your emotions and patterns around eating, you may have realized that stress is indeed a factor that leads to unhealthy food choices. When thinking about these triggers, can you identify what is causing your high stress levels right now? Consider what types of stress management techniques can be incorporated into your routine to combat this stress in your life. 

Relieving stress can help improve how you feel and prevent the tendency to give into emotional hunger. Some potential stress relieving tactics could be finding a proper support system for when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Calling a friend, sending a text, or even mailing a letter can help boost those positive feelings and de-stress your mind. Practicing yoga, mindful breathing or meditation, exercising or any type of movement like stretching or dancing, connecting with nature, or listening to some relaxing music are some ideas to try out when feeling stressed. Check out this article for some additional ideas to relieve your stress from coaches here at Noom! 

Think about when you have been stressed in the past. What stress relieving strategies worked the best for you during that time? Try incorporating that technique next time you feel the desire to eat due to emotional hunger. 

Step 4: Eat Mindfully 

When working on strategies to stop stress eating, mindful eating is known to have a major positive impact. If you have confirmed that you are choosing food for the right reasons, specifically for physical hunger, try practicing a mindful eating technique. 

Mindful eating is a concept where you become fully present and aware of the food or drink you are consuming. With eating mindfully, best practice is to savor each bite, eat with little or no distractions, and make food choices that you are proud of. Practicing this mindfulness helps to pause, take it slow, and note your hunger levels before indulging in junk food or stress eating. If you are curious for further information on mindful eating techniques, feel free to check out Noom to learn more! 

Stop Stress Eating with Noom

Changing your eating habits will not occur overnight, and it will take time to identify your unique triggers and cues that can lead to stress eating. Emotional eating is not uncommon and many people experience it when they’re experiencing strong emotions, stress, boredom, anxiety, or any such displeasure. That’s why we spend a lot of time exploring the whys behind your food choices behind your food choices rather than prescribing an arbitrary set of food rules to follow at Noom. Reflecting on your routine and exploring what leads to overeating is a major accomplishment. Finding strategies that work for you will take time and we’re here to support you along the way!

Try a free two-week trial of Noom today and we can provide the guidance to identify these cues and create strategies that are personalized for you.

Note: If you are still struggling with your eating habits and they feel out of control, please consult your doctor and meet with a healthcare professional such as a therapist who can help identify your triggers and patterns with emotional eating, overeating, or an eating disorder. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) is an incredible resource with a hotline that can be utilized at any time.