13 Ways to Stop Emotional Eating from Stress

Does stress and anxiety make you reach for ‘comfort’ foods? Here’s how to break the cycle.


We must eat to survive, but over time, we’ve found pleasure in our food choices.

Eating during times of stress can help ease emotions, but the binge-guilt-binge cycle that can follow gets in the way of our efforts to eat healthy.

Here are some tips and tricks to help you stop “eating your feelings.”

1. Know what’s happening

Some people eat less when they’re under stress, but others need the distraction of comfort food or fattening snacks when things aren’t going right.

Because the effect is temporary, you may find yourself eating when you’re not hungry, or without thinking about it.

That can lead to unhealthy decisions, so always be aware of what you’re eating and why you’re eating it.

2. Keep a food diary

Write down everything you eat during the day and note what time you ate it and where you were when you did.

A food diary is a great tool to help you track your habits and patterns: are you snacking between meals or is food a constant companion?

You’ll start to see how healthy — or unhealthy — your food choices are. Better yet, it will help you set goals that can really help.

3. Are you really hungry?

If you just ate a big meal and are still reaching for snacks, ask yourself: are you hungry, or are your emotions causing the cravings?

You may want to do something different until the urge passes, like take a walk or call a friend.

Or you could try to drink some water as your body may be trying to tell you it’s dehydrated.

4. Get support

Make sure you have family and friends who can keep you positive and focused in times of stress because it can really help you stick to a healthy lifestyle.

Research shows that people with high-stress jobs have better mental health when they have strong support networks.

5. Focus on your goals

Don’t get too hung up on things like calorie counts, menu planning, and watching the scales because it might make you lose track of the lifestyle changes you’re after.

In fact, being stuck in a food rut can lead to more cravings so don’t be afraid to try new foods, or different ways of preparing old favourites. Make sure to reward yourself with a healthy treat if you reach a key goal.

6. Don’t tempt yourself

Remove the urge to snack on unhealthy foods by keeping them out of your house,  your car and at work.

If you are worried about making bad choices when you shop then stick to a strict grocery list of healthy foods, and never go shopping when you’re hungry or in a bad mood.

7. Make healthy choices

Have an abundant supply of good-for-you nibbles at the ready if you get hungry between meals.

Things like fruit, vegetables with a low-fat dip, nuts, or even unbuttered popcorn are perfect. Or try low-fat versions of the foods you already enjoy.

8. Don’t be so hard on yourself

Don’t obsess over your failures and don’t let one or two setbacks create more stress.

Instead, learn from your mistakes and focus on the big picture and recognize how you can break your stress-eating cycle.

9. Try substituting

If you’re craving pizza, try putting tomato sauce, chopped mushrooms, peppers, onions  and low fat mozzarella or other cheese on pita bread and grill for a couple of minutes.

Really want tacos? Make a taco salad instead, using beans, tomatoes, cheese, and hot sauce.

If you have a sweet tooth, try “fun size” versions of the real thing or mini ice cream bars as a substitute. You’ll still get the pleasure of your favourite foods without wrecking your diet.

10. Meditate

Mindful meditation can ease stress and help fight the impulse that triggers stress eating.

When the urge to eat hits you, try some relaxation techniques: choose a quiet place to sit and observe your thoughts and your breathing.

Don’t judge how you feel but just notice what you’re thinking and ease your focus back to your breathing.

11. Work up a sweat

A good workout triggers your body to make chemicals called endorphins that interact with your brain to calm and relax you.

What’s more, it’ll make you feel good about yourself but if you’re worried about wear and tear on your body then try yoga or tai chi. They’re both low-impact ways to work up a sweat.

12.  Talk it out

Don’t be afraid to discuss your eating habits with a professional; either your doctor or a counsellor.

They may be able to provide therapy and tips to help you identify what’s causing your stress. They can also give you ideas on how to make better food choices and reach your healthy goals.

13. Check your hormone balance

Food cravings are often linked to hormonal changes, either during your menstrual cycle or later at menopause.

Sugar cravings can become more common and if your hormones are out of balance it can definitely affect your stress levels, which in turn can affect your weight, sleep and other hormone related issues.