How Can I Manage Stress Eating?

Lately, you’ve been concerned about your stress eating habits. Eating tends to make you feel more at ease and relaxed. It tends to bring you to a better mood at least on the surface. You comfort eat in order to achieve these feelings, but you end up feeling regretful and disappointed.

Of course, you should be able to eat whatever your heart desires! When it turns into a compulsion, where you eat during stressful periods, eat to feel relaxed, or eat to compensate for feelings of sadness, it’s becoming a problem in your life. 

You’ve been feeling depressed lately and all you can think about that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside is a nice big bowl of spinach and artichoke dip. Maybe, you enjoy smaller snacks in larger quantities to enjoy while watching your favorite show. 

Comfort and stress eating is a coping mechanism used to deal with anxiety, boredom, loneliness, or unhappiness. By eating comfort foods, you are positively associating the psychological effects of comfort and pleasure with the food of choice. Major life events or even the hassles of daily life can lead to one comfort eating.

two people sitting by a plate with a sandwich and drink

Maybe your stress eating looks like this..

You are feeling worn out from your day today. Maybe you feel like you weren’t as productive as you could’ve been, and you’re shaming yourself for it. You felt anxious all day – too anxious to leave the house, but too anxious to do something at home.

Therefore, you laid in bed, taking naps and watching videos on your phone. You feel like you were undeserving of this restful period, and you start to get even more worried or nervous about it. It’s nearly 4pm, and you feel like you didn’t get one assignment done that needed be.

In response to this distress, you imagine yourself eating a small red velvet bundt cake. Maybe, you are craving McDonalds fries. Either way, you know you’re going to eat something junky yet delicious right now. Food is something that can make you feel more at ease. 

You may not be hungry at the moment, but just the thought of warm food filling up is enough to make your mind at ease. You go out and obtain your treats, only to feel guilty for doing so in the first place..

The truth is, stress eating affects both men and women and can be caused by a number of factors. 

Stress eating ranges in levels of  as well. It can look like sneaking in a sweet treat to feel relief throughout your day, or curling up under a blanket and eating a bigger amount of food than you normally would. Not to confuse comfort eating with binge eating, but you could very well be eating more than the suggested amount as it provides you with comfort and relaxation. 

You may be wondering, why do I feel so comfortable with food, and nothing else? Well, eating is easy. You can go out and buy whatever food your heart desires, and indulge because it tastes good and you enjoy eating it. 

Negative emotions can lead to a feeling of emptiness in you, and the food is what is “filling” you up. It may be doing so literally, but it does not fill that true void. Comfort eating can be triggered by environments causing you social anxiety or distress, using food to resolve negative self talk, and not understanding the difference between natural hunger and comfort eating. 

a table filled with plates of breakfast items

Natural hunger occurs slowly throughout the day where you have a desire for a variety of foods. With natural hunger you experience the sensation of fullness and have no negative emotions with having just ate. This natural hunger comes and goes multiple times per day, and eating at set times like breakfast, lunch, and dinner help keep you content.

Comfort eating comes about abruptly, usually after something brings you distress or anxiety. It could be a thought of something triggering or something has happened that made you want to retreat and eat. With comfort eating, you usually only crave certain, special foods that you know would put your mind at ease. You could binge on this food and not feel a cue to stop eating, feeling guilty or shameful after. 

It can be easy to experience negative self talk if you’re stress eating. Read how to conquer negative self talk in these situations.

How can you manage your stress eating? Here are 7 tips! Our team of therapists in Simi Valley, Ca are here to support you through anxiety therapy

Tip One: Set realistic goals and expectations 

Now, you don’t need to attempt to cut the comfort food out of your life entirely, as that may not be realistic for you long term. You should be able to enjoy the foods you love, however you likely need to place a limit on them.

Be practical with your goals and expectations. You can set plans for yourself to indulge with your comfort food only a few days a week, or maybe even 1 day a week to start. The temptations may be there, and it will be hard to resist. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you give in, but also practice self-discipline. 

Set goals for yourself to manage your comfort food by only eating it certain days of the week at certain times. For example, only on Wednesday evenings. 

Try to eat less of the food. If you like opening a family sized bag of chips as your comfort food, switch to a smaller individual sized bag. This will help reduce the feelings of guilt and shame if you do indulge, as you only indulged in a portion of it. 

chips packets

Our Simi Valley therapists are able to help support you with this. 

Tip Two: Make a list of healthy foods you enjoy snacking on

Browse the grocery store to see what foods catch your eye that are deemed healthy. This could be Cuties (mandarins), apples and peanut butter, or oatmeal. Although they may not be as buttery, sweety, or savory, they are a great place holder for your comfort foods. 

There are lots of good snack foods full of fiber and nutrients that you can use to fill the position for your comfort food. Maybe your comfort food is Oreos, and you usually eat 12 at a time. 

Tip Three: Practice Mindfulness

Be mindful about what you eat, when you eat, and how you talk to yourself when you eat. Keep note of what you experience throughout your day. You could do this on your phone through a Notes app or through a food journal.

Practice mindfulness through meditation and exercise helping your body connect to the moments. This can help you feel less anxiety and stress and therefore may help with stress eating as well. Increasing mindfulness practices can also help you become more aware and have more internal resources in the moments you tend to stress eat. As a result you may be more likely to reevaluate your decisions. 

Our Simi Valley Psychologists are big on helping our clients utilize mindfulness in their daily life. We know the benefits of mindfulness on one’s confidence, internal ease, and happiness levels. 

Tip Four: Stay Hydrated

Make sure to stay hydrated throughout the day as it will curb unnecessary food cravings. Consider trying out tea or investing in a high quality water bottle such as a Hydroflask so that you can have cold water throughout the day.

Oftentimes, our bodies can confuse the necessity for water as being hungry which further deprives us. Make sure to stay hydrated! 

Tip Five: Plan out your day, mealtimes, and activities

Make a daily routine for yourself to follow. It doesn’t have to be perfect everyday, but it can look like planning a wake up call, planning an activity such as going for a walk, jog, or exercise, planning breakfast, planning lunch, planning a snack break, planning another activity, planning dinner, planning down-time, and planning when to go to bed. Having a routine helps you feel on track and productive which may reduce the need for stress eating. 

kids eating in a long dinning hall

Tip Six: Take your common comfort foods out of your pantry and replace them

If you are consistently buying the same comfort foods, it’s time to do a little pantry detox. Find all the comfort foods that you are struggling to manage with, take out a small portion, and get rid of the rest. 

The goal is to keep comfort foods at a minimum, and not at your readily convenience.

Tip Seven: Work on being positive and loving yourself

Through it all, it is important to not be too hard on yourself. You need to be gentle with yourself and acknowledge the progress you have made. It won’t be an easy task, but with consistency and determination, you can make it happen. 

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At our therapy practice in Simi Valley, Ca we offer Child therapy and family counseling, Teen therapy, Anxiety Treatment, Depression Therapy, Marriage Counseling, and Neuropsychological Testing

Written by,

Simi Psychological Group team member