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How to Stop Stress Eating When Things Get Stressful

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Want to know the secret to losing weight and keeping it off for good? Learn how to stop stress eating!

Have you ever found yourself standing at your refrigerator door, a cookie in one hand and leftovers from dinner in your other? When you start to feel anxious or stressed out, do you start to feel hungry?  Do you start craving for one of your favorite foods? If so, you may be a stress eater.

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How To Stop Stress Eating 101

Stress eating is a problem that many women struggle with. Our culture and sometimes our own bodies equate certain types of food and even the act of eating with feeling safe and comfortable: hence the term “comfort food.”

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This type of eating is compulsive and can be a major source of weight gain if you are consuming more calories than you are burning during a day.  Women who live stressful lives are more likely to be emotional eaters. Why? Because they have more triggers in their lives that cause them to eat. How can you know if you are an emotional eater? And can you learn how to stop stress eating?

Are you an emotional eater?

These are the most common signs of emotional eating:

  1. Eating when you’re not hungry. Even if you know your body is not hungry, you still find yourself seeking out something to eat. If you are being triggered to eat, think about whether or not you actually feel physically hungry. 
  1. You eat until you find a food that satisfies your cravings. You may ignore the feeling of fullness in your stomach and continue eating, even trying foods that you know you don’t like, because you are looking to satisfy something other than your physical hunger. 
  1. Anger, boredom, stress, sadness, etc. triggers you to eat. When you get sad news, do you reach for the tub of ice cream? 
  1. You are eating mechanically, without thinking about the food you’re putting into your mouth. Most emotional eaters do not even realize they are eating as much as they are, until they start to feel sick or the bag or box is empty. You may not even care how to food tastes or if you are feeling fully, you just keep eating. 

How To Stop Stress Eating?

Here are five ways to curb the impulse to eat emotionally:

  1. Pay attention.
    Pay attention to how often you find yourself in the kitchen, pantry, break room, or vending machine room throughout the day. So much of emotional eating is mindless. You do it without really thinking about it. Make a commitment to start paying real attention to what you are eating and when. Easier said than done, right? One great way to make yourself more aware of how much and how often you are eating is to keep a food journal. Tip: Keep it somewhere you can always see it. 

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  1. Substitute another activity.
    Emotional eating is, at its core, a coping mechanism. In order to stop emotional eating, you need to find a different coping mechanism for the emotions that are driving you to eat. For example, if you are starting to feel anxious about an upcoming meeting, take a walk. You can walk around the office or around your neighborhood, instead of eating something. When you feel the impulse to grab something to eat and you know you are not actually hungry, trying massaging your hands or neck instead. Find something that distracts you and do that instead. 

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  1. Learn what it feels like to actually be hungry.
    There is a big difference between being hungry and the emotional impulse to eat. If you haven’t actually been really hungry in a while, try this.  Abstain from eating long enough that you really learn what it feels like to be physically, instead of just mentally, hungry. If your stomach isn’t rumbling and you’ve eaten within the last three hours, you probably aren’t actually hungry. 

Watch Out For Emotional Triggers & Get Support!

  1. Don’t get bored.
    Boredom is one of the major progenitors of emotional eating. When you live a stressful life or are dealing with one specific difficult situation, boredom can cause you to stew in those bad feelings. Instead of letting yourself get bored, find a positive hobby.  Use a relaxing hobby such a gardening to fill your time or stop procrastinating those big tasks that you need to get done. While not all boredom is bad, if you find that you can’t be bored without feeling the impulse to eat, you need to find something else to do with your time. 

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  1. Ask for support.
    Building a support system is the best way to keep yourself from emotional eating. Whether at the office or at home, find someone who you can talk to when you start feeling like you want to eat. At home, throw out the tempting junk food.  Use portion control bowls when you feel like ( and deserve) a treat! You might still feel the desire, but if there’s nothing immediately on hand to eat, you’ll be dissuaded long enough for the craving to pass.

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  1. Terrific tips Darlene. Mindless eating is so easy to do with or without triggers!

  2. Love it. I’m terrible when it comes to this. Thanks for the tips.

  3. This is such a great post! I am definitely an emotional eater. When I am fearful or worried, I am not hungry at all. In fact, I have trouble eating. When I am bored, angry or upset in another way – I stress eat. Love these tips — they are very doable! Thank you!

  4. Darlene Berkel says:

    @Paula Thanks for the positive response. I struggle with this at times too.

    @Ellen Glad you enjoyed the tips and can put them to work. Keep me posted on how it goes. 🙂

    @Sue You are NOT alone! Many women struggle with stress eating (myself included). The key is to be aware of the issue and to know what to do to combat it or at least minimize it. Thanks for sharing.

    @Haralee. I fully agree. It’s easy to get “trapped” in mindless eating. Knowledge is power! 🙂

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