April 8


How to Stop Stress Eating: 8 Proven Methods That Really Work

By Harry Heijligers

April 8, 2022

How to stop stress eating when stress is unavoidable?

We all feel stressed out sometimes…
whether it's due to work, school, relationships, money, health, etc.

Emotional eating happens when stress causes us to eat emotionally, instead of rationally.
We eat when we feel sad, angry, frustrated, anxious, or depressed.

We may overeat because we're trying to cope with our emotions.
Or we may eat because we're bored, lonely, tired, or hungry.

When we eat emotionally, we often don't realize what we're doing.
We think we're simply coping with our feelings, but we're actually feeding those negative emotions.

In this article, I will show you how to stop stress eating, so please read on:


What is stress eating?

Stress eating is when you overeat when you're stressed out. It's a bad habit that many people fall into when they feel anxious, angry, sad, or frustrated. While eating something comforting when you're feeling down may seem reasonable, it's terrible. Instead, try to focus on calming yourself down by taking deep breaths and relaxing. If you still feel stressed after that, take a walk outside or go for a run. By doing these things, you will be able to clear your mind and relax before eating again.

Why is it important to learn how to stop stress eating?

Unfortunately, stress eating is the cause of a negative vicious cycle that leads to weight gain, feeling guilty, stressed, and so on. To break this cycle, you need to learn how to stop stress eating.

Let me explain:

how to stop stress eating cycle

Stress eating leads to weight gain.

We know that stress affects our bodies, but we often ignore its effect on our appetite. When we suffer from stress, our bodies release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Both of these hormones help us survive dangerous situations. However, they also increase our appetite. So, when we are stressed, we usually eat more food because we think that it will keep us safe. Unfortunately, this only makes matters worse. For starters, it leads to weight gain.

Weight gain leads to feeling guilty.

After we overeat, the next thing that happens is that we feel bad about ourselves. We feel guilty about overeating, and we try to compensate for it by restricting our diets. But, while we restrict our diets, we still feel guilty. And, guess what? The guilt continues to build up until we eventually give up altogether. This makes you feel more stressed.

Feeling guilty leads to feeling stressed.

We feel stressed because we feel guilty. We feel guilty about being fat, so we avoid social activities and spend our days alone. We feel guilty about spending money on unhealthy foods, so we cut back on shopping. We feel guilty about overeating, so we skip meals or go without lunch. All of this leads to feeling stressed. This makes us feel even more wanting to go stress eating.

Feeling stressed leads to more stress eating.

If we have been feeling stressed out all day, we will be looking for something to calm down. We will probably reach for some comfort food. That means we'll end up eating more calories than usual. This leads to feeling even more stressed. Then we'll eat even more. And so on.

And then the cycle starts again. This is a negative reinforcing cycle.

If you want to feel less stressed, stay thin and healthy, and feel less guilty...
then it's time for you to break this negative vicious cycle and start dealing with your stress eating.

Check out this article to learn how!

Step 1: Recognize the signs of emotional eating

Recognizing the signs of emotional eating helps you avoid it.

If you notice yourself eating emotionally…
ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I eating because I'm bored, lonely, tired, or hungry?
  • Do I feel guilty about my food choices?
  • Is there something else going on besides stress?
  • Are my cravings stronger than usual?
  • Is my stomach growling?
  • Do I crave sweets, salty foods, or fatty foods?
  • Does my mouth water when I see food?
  • Do I eat more than usual?

Step 2: Identify your triggers

Once you recognize that you're eating emotionally…
you need to identify your triggers.

What situations cause you to overeat emotionally?

Are you stressed out at work? Do you feel lonely? Are you bored? Are you tired?

What makes you want to eat emotionally?

Triggers include stress, boredom, loneliness, anger, sadness, and fear. External factors can trigger these emotions, such as work deadlines, family problems, or relationship issues. They can also be internal factors, such as feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

To stop emotional eating...

identify the triggers that cause you to start eating emotionally.

Then, take steps to eliminate those triggers.

Step 3: Make a plan

Next, create a plan to deal with your triggers.

Write down everything you know about them.

For example, if you're stressed out at work, write down what's causing you to be stressed.
Is it a coworker? A project? A deadline?

How do you stop emotional eating?

Develop a plan to handle the triggers you identified in the previous step.

Write down what you can do to manage your stress.

Step 4: Practice self-care

Self-care is essential during times of stress.

Take care of yourself. Physically. Mentally. And spiritually.

Eat well, exercise regularly, sleep enough, and take breaks.

Make sure you're getting enough rest to stay calm and focused.

Take time to relax and unwind. Spend some quality time with loved ones.

Step 5: Find support

Stress makes it easy to fall into a pattern of emotional eating.

We might reach for food to cope with our feelings...

but this doesn't always solve the problem.

In fact, it usually just makes us feel worse.

Instead of reaching for foods that aren't healthy...

try finding ways to deal with stress in other ways.

For example, exercise, meditate, talk to friends, or write down your thoughts.

These activities will help you calm yourself down...

and you'll be less likely to turn to unhealthy foods in times of distress.

If you're struggling with emotional eating...

it's helpful to remember that everyone has bad days.

If you let yourself slip once in a while, don't be hard on yourself.

Instead, focus on taking care of yourself and making healthier choices.

You deserve to eat well and live a happy life.

Seek out people who understand what you're going through. Talk to them about your situation.

They can provide you with advice and encouragement.

Ask them to listen without judgment.

Step 6: Avoid distractions

Distractions trigger emotional eating because they take your mind off your current situation.

If you're struggling with emotional eating...

you might find yourself distracted by other things when you eat.

It could be the television, a friend calling, or a phone call from work.

Whatever it is, try to avoid these distractions while you eat.

Try sitting alone or in a quiet room where you won't be tempted by other things.

Don't let anyone distract you either.

If someone tries to talk to you...

tell them that you're busy and you'll catch up later.

Avoiding distractions will help you focus on your food, and you'll eat less.

Step 7: Be realistic

Don't expect to change overnight. It takes time to develop healthy habits.

It can be tough to stay motivated during times of stress.

It's easy to lose sight of our goals if we're under too much pressure or feeling overwhelmed.

One thing that helps me to maintain my motivation is to focus on small successes along the way.

For example, if I'm having trouble sticking to a diet plan, I might try eating healthier foods today instead of focusing on the big picture.

That way it's easier to see where you're making progress.

Be patient with yourself.

Step 8: Reward yourself

Reward yourself for sticking to your plan.

Give yourself a treat after each step you complete.

Eating mindfully means taking time to enjoy each bite of food instead of letting stress eat away at your self-control.

It's easy to fall into emotional eating when you feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed.

But if you're determined to stop emotional eating from stressing you out...

try rewarding yourself after every mindful meal.

Consider rewarding yourself with a small treat, such as chocolate or wine.

The key here is to reward yourself without feeling guilty or depriving yourself.

Make sure that you choose a joy that you really enjoy, and don't overdo it.

Once you've rewarded yourself, you'll be less likely to indulge in unhealthy snacks when you feel stressed.

Remember, you're worth it.

Bonus Tips to avoid emotional eating

Here are a few bonus tips on how to stop stress eating:

  • Eat slowly: Take your time when you eat. Don't rush through meals. Slow down and savor each bite.
  • Focus on food: Instead of thinking about work or problems, focus on your food. Notice its texture, smell, and taste.
  • Think positive thoughts: Remind yourself that you're strong enough to handle whatever comes your way.
  • Get physical exercise: Exercise releases endorphins, which reduce stress and help you feel better overall.
  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness means paying attention to your body and surroundings. This helps you notice when you're feeling stressed and gives you control over your emotions.
  • Use relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques include deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, tai chi, massage, and visualization.
  • Make healthy choices: Choose nutritious, delicious, and satisfying foods.


In this article, I have shown you how to stop stress eating in 8 simple steps.

Try them out yourself and let me know in the comments below, if you have other tips.

Harry Heijligers

About the author

Harry Heijligers has more than 25 years of experience as a Project Manager and more than 17 years of experience as an NLP Trainer. He has a Dutch blog about NLP here: HarryHeijligers.com.
If you'd like to know about the Smart Leadership Hut, please check this: Smart Leadership Hut.

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