Tips for beating stress eating

August 24, 2020 Providence Nutrition Team

  • World events and day-to-day living are currently a recipe for stress eating.
  • Be aware of the causes of stress eating.
  • Find tips to help you beat stress eating.

[3 MIN READ] 

Most people would agree that these are stressful times. The COVID-19 pandemic, job losses, political and social divides and uncertainty about the year ahead are major stressors. And those are only the world issues. There are also the ones that hit closer to home: conflicts with family members, work deadlines, endless errands … the list goes on. 

It’s all a recipe for stress — and for stress eating. 

When you’re stressed, it’s pretty normal to sometimes seek comfort in food. But if you find yourself overeating often, this stress eating can lead to health problems that affect your body and mind.

What causes stress eating?

Stress doesn’t affect everyone’s appetite the same way. For some people, stress can actually cause them to ignore hunger cues and stop eating for periods of time. Then there are those who become stress (over)eaters.

One of the major culprits when it comes to stress eating is cortisol. This stress hormone causes cravings for foods that are full of sugar, fat and salt. 

One of the major culprits when it comes to stress eating is cortisol. This stress hormone causes cravings for foods that are full of sugar, fat and salt. That’s because the brain is trying to get the fuel it needs to fight the threat it perceives as causing stress. It’s the “fight or flight” approach. 

5 tips to help you beat stress eating

There are usually things that trigger stress eating. The first step is to be mindful of those triggers and arm yourself with ways to be aware of and fight the urge to eat because you’re stressed. Here are a few tactics that may help.  

  • Know your triggers. Understand the reasons you may be eating from stress. Pay attention to when and why you’re eating. Do you reach for something sweet or salty after an argument with a family member or coworker? Are you anxious after watching the evening news? Are you really hungry or are you reacting to a situation? Take a brief break to pay attention to your feelings at that moment. When you’re more aware of triggers, it may help keep you from eating too much the next time. 

Foods with B vitamins can help relieve stress by affecting brain cells and nerves. Stock up on B-rich foods such as avocados, bananas, chicken, fish and dark green, leafy veggies. 

  • Add “B” to beat stress. Foods with B vitamins can help relieve stress by affecting brain cells and nerves. Stock up on B-rich foods such as avocados, bananas, chicken, fish and dark green, leafy veggies. Or check with your doctor about adding a vitamin B supplement to your diet.
  • Make time for mindfulness. Being more aware of your eating patterns and food intake is key to helping you avoid stress eating. Eat in a less distracting environment — away from the TV or computer screen — to keep your focus on the food and your eating habits. This is something that’s more important than ever if you’re concerned about stress eating.
  • Take away tempting foods. Having cookies and candies, chips and snack crackers in your line of sight may tempt you to overeat when you’re stressed out. Although an indulgent treat is fine every now and then, those foods can cause a part of your brain to give in to cravings and then overeat. In a perfect world, you’d have only healthy snacks.  But for now, put away the sugary, salty snacks so they’re a little more “out of sight, out of mind.”
  • Don’t be too hard on your diet. It may seem like a contradiction, but one of the most important things you can do to keep from stress eating is to avoid restricting your food intake. Otherwise, you may end up bingeing on high-calorie foods, especially if you’re already under stress.

Be kind to your mind — and body

During these trying times, now is not the time to be hard on yourself. Show yourself compassion and keep in mind that you’re doing the best you can to deal with life’s stresses. Self-compassion can also mean you avoid food restrictions, stop focusing on your weaknesses and keep from comparing yourself to others. Another way to be kind to yourself while you’re under stress is to eat nutritious foods that can help keep your mind and body healthy.  

If the stress seems overwhelming, get counseling from a professional. A counselor can help you deal with overeating and give you new coping skills for whatever life may throw your way — whether it’s a global pandemic or something that hits closer to home. 

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COVID-19, social unrest and family or work problems can create stress that leads to mindless munching. Share your thoughts about it @providence. #stress

Related resources:

Tips for overcoming the strains of working virtually

How to avoid overeating when working from home

13 Ways to Prevent Stress Eating When You’re Stuck at Home

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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