What is Stress Eating and How Can You Stop Doing It?

Stress Eating

Most people like food and we should like it because we need it to live. However, there is a difference between eating for nutrition and eating because of stress or other negative emotions.

If you eat more or eat unhealthier choices when you are stressed out, then you probably want to learn how to develop healthier habits and ways to cope with your negative emotions. But first, what is emotional or stress eating and how is it different than eating when hungry?

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating when stress levels are high is a common response because food can offer us pleasure and comfort. However, when we stress eat, we tend to go for unhealthy options like foods high in fat, salt, and sugar.

This type of eating is just a way to make us feel better and is not for the purpose of sustaining life or satiating hunger. While it can sometimes make us feel okay temporarily, it can often make us feel worse in the long run. It is not a healthy way to cope and can contribute to weight gain, fatigue, and reduced physical and mental well-being.

To properly address your stress and emotional eating habits, you will have to know the difference between this type of eating and eating from physical hunger. There are some things you can look for to distinguish eating out of stress or negative emotions and eating for nourishment.

Physical hunger usually comes on gradually as you digest the last meal that you ate. Emotional hunger, on the other hand, is often sudden. In addition, emotional hunger often involves cravings for specific types of foods. These comfort foods rarely include things like vegetables or lean proteins.

When stress hunger strikes, we may find that we eat without thinking. We may consume 1000 calories without ever fully enjoying it or even noticing how much we are consuming. When we are full, it does not ease stress or emotional hunger. This can cause us to drastically overeat until we feel sick or bloated.

When we feel physically hungry, it is characterized by the pang in the stomach. With stress eating, the cravings and desires often begin and end within the thoughts of your mind. These thoughts can be overwhelming and distracting.

When we eat because of stress, we may feel shameful afterwards. We are unlikely to feel ashamed when we eat because of physical hunger, but with emotional eating we can regret the calories, the fat, the sugar, and more.

Now that you know what emotional and stress eating are, let’s look at some things you can do to help.

Consider Therapy

While therapy may seem drastic, it can be an effective way to treat underlying anxieties and stress that may be contributing to overeating. This may be a way to not only reduce your stress eating and replace it with healthier behaviors, but it can also improve your overall well-being and allow you to live a better life.

You can find a qualified therapist at BetterHelp and speak with them from the comfort of your home. Taking control of your life and mental health by speaking to a mental health professional can do wonders for your life.

Be Aware

Awareness is an important step towards positive change. Try to examine your beliefs and behaviors in order to identify the ways that emotional eating impacts your well-being. Since people often stress eat without being very aware of it, this is a great way to inspect your eating habits to see how much you are consuming.

Try to also think of the ways that you feel when you begin to reach for a tub of ice cream. Different stressors or emotions may contribute to the stress eating more than others. This can help you recognize when you are eating for the wrong reasons.

What situations, places, feelings, or other triggers cause you to stress eat. Once you identify these triggers, you are more likely to be able to either avoid them or at least recognize them so that you can curb your negative or unhealthy behaviors.

Keep a Journal

Keeping a diary or journal can also help with the awareness aspect, but it can also help you track your positive moods and other aspects that you may not be able to otherwise thoughtfully examine.

It is important to constantly write in the journal so that you can identify when you feel regret or shame, what triggered the stress eating, and how much you ate. You can even keep a chart that identifies what you eat or wanted to eat, what upset you, and the way that you feel both before and after.

You will likely see a pattern emerge in the journal. You may find that you are always in similar situations when the stress hunger creeps up on you or that you always feel a certain way afterward. This can help you change your habits and strive towards healthier eating.

Learn Healthy Coping Methods

If we eat when we are stressed, it is best to address the stress itself. This will, in turn, reduce the frequency and severity of your stress and emotional eating. We can reduce stress by using relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation and focused breathing strategies.

We can also turn to our support system when we experience distressing emotions or high levels of stress. Talking to a friends can go a long way towards feeling better. They may be able to offer guidance as well or just lend you an ear to talk to.

Finally, try taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep and exercising enough. This can help us reduce our stress levels and also helps to regulate our mood. In addition, the exercise will burn additional calories if you do catch yourself stress eating.


Stress eating is common, and it can be frustrating and make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. It can also lead to regret and shame and is not a healthy way to cope with stress or other negative emotions.

The best thing you can do is to identify triggers, thought patterns, and habits that may be leading to your stress eating. You can also try therapy or healthy coping methods to help with the underlying stress.

Author Marie Miguel’s Biography:

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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