Stress & Emotional Eating


Many people turn to eating food, usually high in fat and sugar, to help them cope with stress. Over time, those extra calories and fat can lead to weight gain. Other people do the exact opposite when faced with stress—eating less food than usual or skipping meals altogether. Whether you’re eating too much or too little, using food to help you deal with emotions, such as stress, may lead to poor weight management.

Physical vs emotional hunger

Making a connection between eating and your feelings is not always easy. Using a journal can help. Be sure to write down:

• What you ate

• How much you ate

• How you felt at that time (such as being stressed, bored, or anxious)

If you discover that you’re eating due to stress:

Find a replacement activity to do instead. Take a 10-minute break to reenergize. Listen to some feel-good tunes. Do an activity that you enjoy until the urge to eat passes.

Take a moment before reaching for food. Do you rush through the day without giving yourself a chance to unwind? Take a few minutes when you get home to relax before you eat. Then think about how you’re feeling at that time.

Get rid of the foods that tempt you. Find yourself reaching for the same foods when feeling stressed? Keep them out of the house so you will not be tempted to eat them.

Eat a balanced diet. Eating a balanced diet—one that contains foods from all of the major food groups—helps give your body the nutrition and energy it needs to fight stress. Having regular meals, carrying nutritious snacks, and planning your meals also may be helpful.

Breaking the cycle

Breaking the cycle of emotional eating can be challenging. However, there are many professionals you can turn to for support.

These include:

Counselors and therapists who can teach you healthier ways to deal with stress

Dietitians and nutritionists who can help you make healthy food choices

Fitness experts who can get your body’s feel-good chemicals moving

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