How To Stop Stress Eating

Everyone deals with stress. No matter how old or young you are, what your job is, whether you have kids or not, where you live, how much money you have… stress is the great equalizer. And despite popular belief, stress is actually really good for us. It keeps us focused, helps us get things done, and makes our brains and bodies stay alert.

But there is such a thing as too much stress; I’m sure we’ve all felt it before. It’s in these types of overly stressful situations that we often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms – alcohol, smoking, procrastinating, and… eating.

The problem with these coping mechanisms, however, is that they don’t get to the root of the problem. They’re a quick fix, not a long-term solution, for dealing with stressors. Not dealing with deep-rooted stress can wreak havoc on the mind and body, causing poor sleep, anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, lowered immunity, and much more. 

But don’t worry! There are healthy ways to manage stress and curb stress eating, which I’ll be sharing in this post. If you read this post the whole way through and practice the techniques I share, there’s a good chance that you’ll be healthier than a lot of the population!

What is stress eating and why does it matter?

Stress eating, a form of emotional eating, is usually described as the act of overeating due to mental stress. Oftentimes, when people stress eat, they are not really hungry but use food as a way to cope with their stressful situation. This is often a result of seeing others using food to cope with heavy emotions. My favorite example of this is the classic eating a tub of ice cream on the couch after a break up.

Most people choose to eat easy-to-grab, processed foods when stressed, which is why stress eating can result in high blood pressure, weight gain, low energy, and… yep, even more stress.

Think about it: when you’re stressed and overwhelmed, you don’t want to spend half an hour cooking in the kitchen. You don’t even feel like you have the time! Plus, you want food that’s going to make you feel good and provide a quick hit of dopamine, which is almost always something with a lot of sugar or salt – or both. 

And while you might feel better while you’re eating, the food isn’t getting to the root of the problem – the stress that caused you to eat in the first place. In fact, stress eating is often part of a vicious cycle. 

Feel stressed → Eat something salty or sugary → Keep eating because it feels good → Eventually feel bad because you overate and on top of that, you’re STILL stressed

This is why it’s so important to know how to manage stress and stop stress eating altogether!

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How to stop stress eating

Here are some tips to manage and stop stress eating!

Manage stress

Stress eating only happens when stress gets out of control. So the easiest way to stop stress eating is to manage your stress in healthy, effective ways. This will take time because it’s a trial and error process; you have to try things out to see what works best. 

You probably already know of some things that help you when you’re stressed, but I’ll give you a few ideas (some that help me and some that I know help others):

  • Going outside: Feeling the fresh air, soaking up the sun, and just a simple change in your environment can go a long way. Bonus points if you “ground” (put your bare feet on the ground) while you’re out there. 
  • Going for a walk or run: Both of these help me clear my head, but a particularly challenging run helps more if I’m having big feelings (such as frustration) and I just need to get some energy out. It doesn’t have to be long; in fact, sometimes running 1-mile nearly all-out is more helpful than any meditation I’ve ever done. 
  • Meditate: Speaking of meditation… Lots of people enjoy and swear by this practice! I am not one of them. I know the many, many benefits meditation has to offer – which is why I do it sometimes – but I find it really hard to sit still during them! Plus, I’ve found other ways that help me manage my stress that I actually enjoy doing on a regular basis. This is what I mean when I say stress management is a trial and error process! My favorite apps for Meditation are Headspace and Medito
  • Breathwork: This is similar to meditation, but you’re more active in it which is why I enjoy it a bit more! If you’ve never done breathwork before, it’s essentially just changing the way you breathe to move energy throughout your body and begin to feel differently. There are so many benefits to breathwork, just like there are for meditation; so if you’re curious, I’d say give it a try! I really like the app Breathwrk for breathwork practice. 
  • Journaling: I’ve found journaling to be really helpful in the past, but it’s the most helpful when you do it every day. The great thing about journaling is you can do it however you want! You can follow guided journal prompts or brain dump whatever is in your head onto paper! Plus, it’s super accessible – all you need is something to write with and a piece of paper, OR you can use an app on your phone/tablet/laptop.
  • Journaling continued/ list making: If you have a hard time falling asleep at night because you feel stressed and overwhelmed about all the things you have to do the next day, start writing down all of the tasks you would like to get done the next day before you go to bed! This will help your brain relax because it knows that you don’t have to remember all of this during the night; you have it all written down to remember the next day!
  • Spend time with loved ones: Did you know that one of the greatest predictors of how long we will live and how healthy we will be is the quality of the relationships we have? Our social circle not only influences our beliefs and our habits, but they also influence how long we’ll live! Those of us who have strong, healthy relationships with our families and friends are more likely to live longer, healthier lives. So choose your friends wisely, and make sure to spend time with those you love most. 
  • Don’t fill every space in your calendar: If you’re anything like me, you love to be busy. House projects, side hustles, a 9-5, school, whatever it is… you want your calendar to be full. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!! BUT don’t fill up every blank space in your calendar. Make sure you always have time to relax, unwind, and spend time alone doing something “unproductive” that fills your cup. 
  • Move your body: Physiologically, moving our bodies is what we’re SUPPOSED to do when we’re stressed. However, most of us do the exact opposite. We lay down in bed and scroll on our phones, or we sit on the couch and binge-watch the newest show on Netflix. The next time you’re stressed, I challenge you to MOVE. In any way you want. My personal favorite for stress reduction is yoga. 
  • Have fun: So many of us grow up and start to take things WAY too seriously. What happened to the fun-loving kids we all once were? Let’s get back to that! Ask yourself: what did I enjoy doing as a kid? Riding your bike? Playing board games? Coloring? Whatever it is, go do more of that!

Understand your triggers

Obviously the number one trigger for stress eating is feeling stressed, but there are many different kinds of stress and things that stress us out. Understanding which stressors lead to unnecessary eating can make a world of difference. 

For example, some people only stress eat when they’re worried about something work-related. Others may only stress eat at night when they’re tired and more likely to give in to their cravings versus in the morning when they’re feeling energized.

Think back on the last time you ate when stressed and ask yourself, what were you stressing about? Work, school, kids, a family emergency? Knowing what kind of event is likely to result in stress eating will give you the self-awareness to prepare and plan ahead of time when you know that stressor is going to be present. 

Find other ways to deal with stress in the moment

We eat when we’re stressed because that’s how we learned to cope. That’s what we’ve found takes the edge off, or makes us feel better – temporarily. So if the goal is to stop stress eating, we need to learn another way to cope. 

Whatever your new way of coping with stress is, it shouldn’t be time-consuming and it will ideally be something that you can do anywhere. We want it to be quick and easy to do; if it’s too hard, we risk falling back into our stress eating habits very quickly. 

Some examples of alternative ways to deal with stress in the moment: 

  • List 10 things you’re grateful for. 
  • Say a prayer.
  • Drink some water. 
  • Read a book. 
  • Get some fresh air. 
  • Call a friend. 
  • Put your phone down.
  • Take a nap. 
  • Move the energy through your body with a dance break!

If doing one of these doesn’t help and you still feel the urge to stress eat, try another one! Oftentimes, when we’re stressed, we just need a little distraction and these do just that.

Create an implementation intention (aka an action plan)

Stress makes us do crazy things and changing our habits is hard, which is why it’s super important to have an action plan prepared ahead of time. What this looks like is this: 

When I am feeling ___, I will ___. (You fill in the blanks – the more specific, the better!)

For example ⤵

When I am feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork, I will take a homework break and go for a 5 minute walk. 

When I am feeling overstimulated by my dogs and children, I will list 10 things I’m grateful for. 

When I am feeling stressed at work, I will take 5 deep breaths and drink some water. 

Only keep food that you know you won’t overeat when stressed

This strategy for eliminating stress eating is too often overlooked! What kind of foods do you tend to go for when stressed? Most people would answer with anything that has a lot of sugar or salt and is really easy to prepare or grab and go!

Not many people (at least that I know) tend to overeat grilled chicken and broccoli when they’re stressed. Although maybe we should since high-protein diets can help with sugar cravings…

While this is a helpful strategy, it’s not a surefire way to end stress eating. What if you’re stressed at work and there’s a box of donuts sitting on the conference table? You can’t control every environment you’re in, but you can control your actions. 

This is why I recommend getting to the root of the problem and making stress management your priority.  

How to stop stress eating
Tips for stopping stress eating

One Last Reminder

Changing your eating habits is hard, and it’s not something that happens overnight. You’re not going to be perfect, and that’s okay. Be patient and kind with yourself, and celebrate the small wins along the way! You deserve to be healthy and happy, and I’m so proud of you for starting! (:

Don’t want to do this alone? Learn more about my 1:1 Weight Loss Coaching program here


Author bio:

Marissa is a certified online health coach and personal trainer who, above all else, loves to help people feel better through habit change. Her unique approach to nutrition and fitness includes mindset as a fundamental element to success, as Marissa struggled with disordered eating in the past. Recently, she made the decision to become a weight loss coach after starting her own weight loss journey, which she has started sharing on Instagram and TikTok @movemorewithmars. You can also follow her blog here.

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