Do you want to learn how to stop stress eating? Are your eating habits triggered by your stress and anxiety? Let’s look at ways to help control stress eating and focus on mindful eating to stay healthy.

stop stress eating

Stop Stress Eating

Do you find yourself turning to chips, chocolate, or candy when you are stressed and emotional? You aren’t alone.

What is Stress Eating?

Stress eating, or emotional eating, is turning to food for comfort during times of struggle, worry, anger, overwhelm or even boredom.

Eating because of stressful situations is using food to cope when emotions seem overwhelming.

According to HelpGuide.org, emotional eating can be defined this way:

Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. In fact, it usually makes you feel worse. Afterward, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but you also feel guilty for overeating. – helpguide.org

Are You an Emotional Eater?

For most of my life, I was an emotional eater, and I spent years stuck in a cycle of this unhealthy behavior.

I was 100 pounds overweight and I didn’t get there for no reason. I compulsively overate and engaged in binge eating on a regular basis.

I loved food and I hated food. I used food. Food was my drug.

Other times, food was simply my go-to thing because enjoying food, eating for entertainment, and overeating was what I had always done.

Sara Borgstede Before after 100 pound weight loss

Before and After 100+ pound weight loss.

Why Do I Keep Stress Eating?

While stress can cause some people to lose their appetite, for many of us prolonged stress can cause us to mindlessly eat throughout the day.

According to Harvard Health, studies have shown that physical and emotional distress increases people’s intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both. These foods have a physical calming effect that brings actual comfort.

 

Learn How to Stop Stress Eating

While it’s true that eating junk foods has a calming effect, that doesn’t mean you need to continue to engage in this unhealthy behavior.

I learned how to overcome emotional eating and you can, too.

Remember that is a behavior you have learned and reinforced many times over,  often for years. Changing your habits will take time but it’s well worth the effort.

Now 100 pound lighter, I run a Christian weight loss program called Faithful Finish Lines. In our program, we teach women to use a method called the 3 Ps when tempted to emotionally eat.

Use the 3Ps to stop food cravings and mindless eating:

  1. Pause. In the moment, the desire to overeat feels strong, but it doesn’t last long when you resist giving into the temptation. Practice doing other things instead of turning to food. (See our list below for suggestions.)
  2. Pray. Ask God for help.
  3. Plan. While food looks so good in the moment, remember that you don’t have to act on that immediate desire. Instead, plan to eat it tomorrow when you can work it into a healthy day’s eating.

What Can I Do to Reduce Stress Instead of Eating?

Keep a list of substitutes for food for when you are stressed. At first, it won’t be easy to choose a new behavior, but the more you practice the more this will become a habit.

Give yourself credit for any small changes you make.

At first for me, this looked like pausing for 5 minutes. Often I would still engage in overeating, but the more I practiced the more I was able to stretch out the time before I would eat.

Eventually I was able to reduce the amount I ate or even not turn to food at all.

Here are some activities you can do instead of eat.

Focus on Healthy Foods

Remember that the more you eat junk food, processed foods, and fast food, the worse you feel.

The trouble is those foods taste good in the moment and you want to feel better RIGHT NOW because you feel bad. I get it. While your head knows you need to eat healthy foods, there’s not much motivation in the immediate situation.

Focus on making small, realistic changes in this area. Remind yourself that each time  you make a healthier choices, you are building habits that will make it easier to resist junk food in the future.

Get Back on Track Fast

When you do overeat or binge, plan to get back on track as soon as possible. Don’t wait until tomorrow, next week or next month. Instead, get back on track right at the next meal.

Here’s a step by step guide for how to get back on track after binge eating, and it even has a free PDF printable Back on Track checklist.

Tips To Avoid Stress Eating

If you are waiting around for the day you are going to wake up and suddenly FEEL like eating better and exercising, I’ve got news for you. It’s not going to happen.

You aren’t going to make a drastic want-to turn-around.

Tens of thousands of times, you have conditioned your brain and body to the response that when you get certain foods (chocolate, ice cream, chips, bread), you calm down and relax.

After 10,000 times, those channels in your brain are pretty deep. That might seem depressing, but there is hope! Anything that is learned can be unlearned.

Cocaine addicts relax when they first see the pipe. They don’t give a crap about food. You have conditioned yourself, that’s all. It’s not genetically engineered into your body that you HAVE to be addicted to food or overweight your whole life.

Start conditioning yourself to something else. Maybe you’ll start to relax as soon as you walk into Bible Study or pick up your journal. Maybe you’ll calm down when you pick up your art supplies or your yoga mat.

Sweating out your stress might actually help you consume fewer calories later on. So get out and get some exercise before you start for the fridge.

To change your eating habits, own the process.

Add something healthy to your diet instead of taking something away.

You can find 100 diets out there that are all about restriction and those all have their place. However, if you are in the midst of depression and barely cope with day to day life, that might not be for you just yet.

Start with adding in something healthy. It’s so much more positive!

For example:

  • Add 3 servings of fruit per day. (Try smoothies or stir into oatmeal.)
  • Add 2 servings of veggies per day. (Salads, on sandwiches.)
  • Add 2 servings on whole grains per day. (Whole wheat pasta, brown rice)
  • Add several glasses of water per day. (Add lemon, lime, berries or cucumber to your water. Try one of these infuser bottles.)
Sara's calendar, tracking fruits and veggies

Here’s how I am currently tracking. Veggies get a green star, fruits a pink star, circle workouts in purple. (By the way, this is an Erin Condren calendar, which I love!)

When you are ready, the next steps to take to stop stress eating and for healthy eating will be available for you.

Have you taken steps to stop stress eating? I’d love to hear about it. Share in the comments below.

The Hope Toolbox

hope for depression

Today’s Bible Verse:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Today’s Journaling Prompt:

How has sadness, grief, or depression changed your eating patterns? What healthy changes do you want to make?

 

Pin this article on stress eating for later

How to Stop Stress Eating Junk Food

Series Navigation<< Why You Need More Mental FlexibilityHow to Exercise When You Don’t Feel Like It – 10 Workout Motivation Tips >>