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Weight Management

​​How to Stop Stress Eating​

Herbalife 19 October 2023

Stress eating doesn’t usually take away stress, and if it’s done too often, it can also add kilojoules. Here are some tips to beat this habit.

Emotional Eating: It Happens

Emotional eating happens to many of us from time to time. Maybe you’ve cheered yourself up with a bowl of ice cream after an unusually tough day or sneaked a few French fries from your best friend’s plate while recapping a disastrous date. But when emotional eating gets out of hand – when eating is the first and most common response to negative thoughts and feelings – it’s time to take stock.

Is It Emotional or Physical Hunger?

There are few tell-tale signs that can help you distinguish emotional hunger/stress eating from true physical hunger.

  1. Emotional stress eating usually comes on suddenly. You start feeling stressed or tense, and wham! You’re craving nachos. On the other hand, physical hunger tends to come on gradually. You’re starting to feel hungry but you can wait to eat, which gives you some time to choose wisely and satisfy that hunger with something that’s good for you. 
  2. Stress eating usually causes a craving for a food that’s sugary, fatty and high kilojoule– and often very specific (not simply “chocolate,” but “a slice of triple layer fudge cake”). 
  3. Once your physical hunger is satisfied and your stomach is comfortably full, it’s a signal that you’ve had enough and you tend to stop eating. But when emotions are the driver, it’s easy to ignore what your stomach is telling you. 
  4. Stress eating might lift your mood momentarily – then, just as quickly, shame and guilt often move in. On the other hand, when you finish a meal that’s satisfied your physical hunger, you don’t usually feel guilty afterwards for having eaten. 

Tips For Dealing with Stress Eating Behaviours

  1. Keep a food journal – A food journal can really help you see what triggers your stress eating. Whenever you feel the need to eat, make a note of how hungry you are on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = I’m faint with hunger; 10 = I’m so stuffed I have to loosen my clothing). 
  2. Own up to your feelings – You know that emotions are the trigger for your stress eating, so why not acknowledge them? It’s okay to be mad or lonely or bored sometimes. The feelings may be unpleasant but not dangerous. 
  3. Work on your coping skills – When stress strikes, try asking yourself, “What’s the worst thing that will happen if I don’t eat?”. Yes, your stress level might rise a bit, but the feeling will pass. Practice tolerating your emotions. 
  4. Find alternatives to eating – Take a few moments to reflect on your feelings and think of ways you can solve your problem. Make a list of things you can do instead of eating, like walking, listening to music or meditating. 
  5. Unlearn your bad habits – Emotional eaters continually reinforce the idea that the best way to treat negative emotions is with food. And like other bad habits, stress eating happens before you’ve even had a chance to think about it. So, you need to “un-learn” your bad habits and practice doing something other than eating when a bad day strikes.
  6. Wait it out – Stress eaters are often afraid that if they don’t satisfy the urge to eat, the craving will just get worse. But when they practice delaying tactics, they’re often surprised that the urge simply passes.