Stress Eating Solutions

Emotional eating-we all do it from time to time. Almost as if it’s human nature… or foods are being engineered to make you want them more (interesting article here from Precision Nutrition)


Either way, it is easy to turn to food in times of stress, sadness, grief, boredom, or high anxiety to find some comfort. And it works… right?




For a (very) brief moment in time those uncomfortable feelings and emotions are buried. But here’s the thing: when you stress eat, you are actually using food to solve a problem. A problem that food cannot solve.


This article is to guide you through three different strategies to help you navigate the complex cycle of emotional eating.


Strategy #1: Allow yourself to overeat

I know what you’re thinking-overeat? Hear me out.


Our brains like patterns and so many of our emotions, actions, and thoughts just happen automatically because our brains are on autopilot. When our brains are triggered, they automatically dictate a given behavior. In this case the behavior we’re focusing on is stress-eating. The most obvious trigger is the actual feeling of being hungry including everything from a grumbling stomach, to feeling weak and shaky.


BUT stress eating usually comes after other types of triggers, like certain sights, smells, people, and emotions. A perfect example of this is finding yourself snacking on your favorite chips during your weekly conference call for work week after week. Considering the call is the same day and time each week, with the same co-workers, these triggers automatically have you grabbing that bag every Friday afternoon.

Try this - give yourself permission to overeat WITH the understanding that it as a learning experience. A great way to track yourself is to journal (or document in your notes app) what happens and how you’re feeling before, during, and after your stress eating. Doing this will help you identify triggers and should also help lessen any guilt or shame you may feel connected to overeating. Like most things in life, when we’re told (or tell ourselves) we can’t have something, it makes us want it more. The same goes for overeating. It becomes less urgent and much more manageable when you remove your own pressures and expectations.


It may take a few tries at this to identify what your triggers are, and that’s okay! When you do discover them, then you have to decide how to handle them. For example, if you enjoy late-night snacking while watching Netflix, try to switch up your routine, turn off the tv for the last hours of your evening and enjoy something else, like reading, before bed. If your trigger isn’t easy to change or avoid, being aware of the trigger may be enough to help you use the next couple of strategies.


Strategy #2: Create a nourishment menu


Make a list of things you may feel deprived of (physically, mentally, emotionally) during your day to day duties and activities that provide you with some type of nourishment. For example, maybe you don’t take time to get fresh air like you’d like to. Or maybe it’s something as simple as not taking the time to drink enough water. It could even be something as simple as listening to your favorite song or podcast for a few minutes. This is your nourishment list.


Before you dive into a stress eating episode, choose one thing from your list. These simple actions can help disrupt the trigger/behavior cycle that you’ve been experiencing and possibly fill some of the voids that you have previously been filling with food.


Let’s face it-it can be SO easy to turn to food in times of crisis, high stress, grief, etc. But by using your nourishment menu, you’re feeding your mind and body with things that are much more health-conscious and productive. Keep in mind everyone’s menu will look different, but some examples of actions to add include:

  • Take a few deep breaths
  • Drink a glass of water
  • Play with your pet
  • Do some quick stretches
  • Listen to your favorite song or podcast
  • Go for a walk
  • Call a friend

The most effective way to use your menu is to fill it with actions that directly line up with your goals and values. For example, let’s say you choose to call a friend before engaging in stress eating. Make sure the friend you choose to call is supportive of your health and fitness goals! Who knows? After talking with that friend you may not feel the need to stress eat after all!

Keep in mind, as you create and implement your nourishment menu, it needs to be easy and simple. All the actions you decide to include should feel doable and be able to be completed in a short amount of time (I’m talking 15 minutes, tops).

For instance, if you want to take a short walk, make sure you keep a pair of walking shoes near the door.


Drinking a glass of water before eating? Have a bottle or glass handy at your desk or work station.


Another tactic for holding yourself accountable with your menu? Post it somewhere you will see it… A LOT. The easiest spot that comes to my mind is on the refrigerator. You’ll have to look at your menu every time you open the door in hunt of the perfect snack.


Finally, tracking and taking notes on your progress using your nourishment menu. By recording your successes (and setbacks), you have an easy way to reflect on your progress at the end of each day and see where adjustments may need to be made.


Strategy #3: Take a self-compassionate approach


This one should go without saying, but having an attitude of generosity, honesty, and kindness toward yourself can have a major positive impact on your stress eating habits. A lot of clients we see struggling with stress eating have a lot of negative self-talk running through their minds.

“I guess I’ll have my nightly bowl of ice cream like I always do-why can’t I stop this?”

“I’m such an idiot for doing this…again.”


Sound familiar? The truth is, this negative self-talk turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy as the negative self-talk leads to more stress eating, that leads to more negative self-thoughts, creating an endless cycle.


I’m sure you’re sitting here thinking “How in the world do I practice self-compassion?” To start, there are three main elements that you can focus on:

  • Mindfulness, or being aware of what you’re doing, thinking, feeling, and experiencing, BUT not judging yourself for it.
  • Common humanity is acknowledging that you aren’t alone in your struggles. What you are currently dealing with is something everyone faces at some point in their lives.
  • Self-kindness, simply, is being generous and decent to yourself.

Here’s how this works in action:

  • “I’m feeling very stressed about my upcoming deadline at work, and those brownies are all I can think about” (Mindfulness)
  • “That’s okay, lots of people have a hard time resisting brownies” (Common humanity)
  • “Take a deep breath. Whether or not I choose to eat these brownies, it’s all going to be okay” (Self-kindness)

Just some clarification- Self-kindness does NOT give you an excuse to stress eat, but rather helps minimize your guilt associated with stress eating.


To sum this all up, it is completely normal to turn to food as a source of comfort during times of stress, anxiety, change, grief, etc. Afterall, food is often what we associate with the people we love most, happy memories, and our favorite places.


While this cycle is normal, it is obviously not something that will help us meet our health and fitness goals. Utilizing the strategies above, as well as checking in with our Powell Performance staff for some accountability, support and help! We will help you move further in the direction of wellness and break the common cycle of stress eating. 


Want to learn more? Schedule a FREE CONSULTATION today!


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