Stress levels are at any time high these days, which has led to a rampant increase is stress eating.
Eating in a state of stress typically involves gorging on lots of high calorie foods that do little to support our fitness/physique goals or actually reduce stress in our lives.
Here are 12 ways to stop stress eating and how to better deal with stress in the future.
12 Tips to Stop Stress Eating
#1 Identify the Source of Stress
The next time you’re feeling stressed and about to dive headfirst into a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream, stop and ask yourself, “why am I stressed?”
Common sources of stress in daily life include:
- Social media
- Watching the news
By identifying what is causing you to stress eat, you can take steps to limit or reduce your exposure to those stressors as well as begin to identify ways to fix those things that are causing you stress.
#2 Remember Your “Why”
When you’re feeling stressed, it’s easy to get lost in the moment and forget what your larger goals and aspirations are.
If you’re reading this article, then chances are high you’re interested in building muscle, losing fat, and living a fit and healthy life.
So, the next time you’re stressed, try to remove yourself from the situation and remember why you wanted to start eating healthy and getting fit in the first place.
It may also help to post reminders throughout your house, car, and/or office, so that you have a physical reminder the next time you're tempted to stress eat.
#3 Clean Out the Kitchen
Clutter is a source of stress for many individuals, and when people are stressed, they gravitate towards food.
One way to combat this is to clean and declutter your kitchen by removing all the junk food, or at the very least putting it in a not-very-easy to reach location. By making yourself have to work that much harder to get to the junk food, you’re more likely to stop and think about why you’re feeling stressed as well as if you really “need” to eat that bag of ding-dongs or ho-hos.
As an added benefit, you’ll also have a nice, clean kitchen ready for you to cook your healthy, delicious meals!
Another option still is to place healthier choices out in plain view. Place a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter. Have sliced vegetables prepped and ready in the refrigerator.
Meditation is a sublime way to reduce stress as it helps calm the body and mind and takes the focus away from food.
Research has even shown that meditation may help have fewer occasions of emotional eating.
If you’re just getting started with meditation, it may be helpful to use a guided meditation app, such as Unplug or Headspace.
Now, many individuals are anxious about trying meditation because they don’t feel ready for it or don’t think they’ll be able to do it for a whole hour. The great thing about meditation is that you can start with as little as 5-10 minutes per day. Then as your practice grows, you can start to do longer sessions, if you wish.
In addition to meditation, breathing drills are another way to reduce stress and limit stress eating.
The next time you encounter something stress, stop and take a few moments to gather your wits about you by taking several slow, deep, controlled breaths.
Focus on the inhalation and exhalation.
One of our favorite breathing drills is called box breathing where you breathe in through your nose while counting to four slowly. Hold your breath for four seconds, and then slowly exhale over 4 seconds. Repeat this cycle 1-3 times.
Deep breathing may seem incredibly simple, but research shows it actually effective for reducing stress and cortisol levels.
#6 Phone a Friend
In times of stress, instead of turning to food, try picking up the phone and calling a friend or family member. These support systems can be vital to your success.
Discuss your struggles and challenges with them and see what suggestions they might offer to help you deal with what’s stressing you out.
#7 Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is essential for a lot of things -- performance, cognition, health, productivity.
Sleep also plays a big role in your body’s hunger and satiety cues.
Research has found that sleep deprivation makes individuals crave higher calorie foods and feel less satiety after eating. This is due in large part to disruptions in the hunger and satiety hormones, ghrelin and leptin.
Sleep deprivation also increases levels of cortisol, which further exacerbates feelings of stress.
Make it a goal to get 7-9 quality hours of sleep each and every night.
If you need help getting to sleep, try some of the following ideas:
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine in the afternoon & night
- Limit blue light exposure 2 hours before bed
- Limit sources of stress (email, texts, social media, news)
- Establish a bedtime ritual
- Make your room cool & dark
- Wear loose, comfortable clothes
You can also invest in a premium-quality nighttime relaxation and recovery aid, such as 1UP Beauty Dream or Recharge PM. These sleep support supplements contain effective ingredients like melatonin, theanine, and 5-HTP which are known to help lower feelings of stress and promote feelings of deep relaxation, thereby allowing you to achieve quality sleep each and every night.
Exercise is great for a number of reasons, but perhaps one of the most important (particularly in regards to the topic at hand) reasons exercise is great is that it is a fantastic stress reliever.
Performing just a few minutes of exercise can do wonders to take your mind off stress eating as exercise creates a flood of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.
Some good options for quick workouts could be a walk around the neighborhood or a quick 10 or 15-minute HIIT session. The latter also offers the benefit of boosting metabolism for several hours, which helps you burn more calories during the day!
#9 Create a New Routine
When we get stressed, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode and we default to a certain set of patterns that we’ve been accustomed to doing each time we’re stressed.
For some, it’s hitting the drive-thru. For others, it’s heading to the pantry or freezer for some guilty pleasure. Both of these situations result in stress eating.
Why not try overhauling your conventional stress response with a new routine.
Instead of rummaging through the pantry or freezer or plopping down in front of the TV when you’re feeling stressed, why not head outside for a walk, or sit down with a good book, or take a warm bath.
If you’re prone to hit up the drive-thru or local takeout joint on your way home from work, try taking a different route or picking a new healthy place to get food from.
#10 Be a Busy Body
Stress eating is often a default for individuals looking to while away the time watching TV or pass boredom. This doesn’t do much to actually improve your mood or support your health and fitness goals.
Instead of sitting around munching on snacks, try to do something that keeps your hands busy. Even as little as 10-15 minutes is enough to distract your brain from thinking it’s hungry.
The activity can be fun and frivolous, like a coloring book or puzzle book. It could also be sewing, knitting, or any number of other arts, crafts, or activities that involve your hands.
#11 Maintain a Regular Meal Schedule
For many individuals, having erratic eating patterns where they go for long periods without eating can lead to stress eating.
Creating a meal plan and schedule helps ensure that you’re always nourishing your body with quality foods that fill you up and keep you energized until it’s time for the next meal. This also has the added benefit of avoiding those pesky hunger pangs which can derail your diet!
Good options for your regular meals throughout the day include lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
1UP Appetite Suppressant is a natural, stimulant free aid that helps reduce appetite and cravings. It also includes 5-HTP which supports serotonin production -- a neurotransmitter that improves mood and feelings of well-being, which helps combat stress eating.
#12 Savor Your Food
Stress eating usually entails pounding down lots of high-calorie, highly palatable foods. But, if you stop and think back to your last stress eating episode, do you actually remember what the food tasted like?
Did you actually enjoy it, or were you too stressed to register what you were actually putting in your mouth?
The next time you’re tempted to stress eat, lean into it and eat
But, just take one bite.
One meaningful, mindful bite. A bite where you stop to appreciate the food you’re eating. Savor the texture, taste, and pleasure it brings to you.
Then stop and think about how it makes you feel.
Repeat this process with another bite, paying attention to how each bite makes you feel.
With this mindful approach to eating, you’ll be less likely to overeat, even when you’re feeling stressed.
- Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., Nackers, L. M., & Corsica, J. A. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating Behaviors, 15(2), 197-204. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005
- Ma, X., Yue, Z., Gong, Z., Zhang, H., Duan, N., Shi, Y., Wei, G., & Li, Y. (2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
- Schmid SM, Hallschmid M, Jauch-Chara K, Born J, Schultes B. A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men. J Sleep Res. 2008 Sep;17(3):331-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00662.x. Epub 2008 Jun 28. PMID: 18564298.