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5 Tips for Identifying (and Curbing) a Stress Eating Habit

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Stress is a normal part of life and something everyone experiences occasionally — but if you want to stop stress eating, here are five tips that can help.

by Autumn Jones


Ever notice yourself suddenly craving something sweet to help take the edge off a long day? You're definitely not the only one!

Due to the powerful connection between emotions and food, lots of people are tempted to reach for a treat when life gets intense. That's why it's so important to be aware of what triggers emotional munching. Understanding cravings can help you stop stress eating when you feel a little frazzled.

Now, there's nothing wrong with enjoying some fries every so often. In fact, an occasional splurge is something to be savored and enjoyed! What you want to look out for is forming a habit of overeating every time you feel less than awesome. As Mayo Clinic points out, "your emotions can become so tied to your eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you're angry or stressed without thinking about what you're doing."

Stress is a normal part of life and something everyone experiences occasionally. It's totally normal to look for a way to make yourself feel better — and food is a convenient distraction from dealing with heavy emotions or processing personal issues. But if you want to avoid making stress eating your default mode, there are several ways you can help yourself change this pattern. Here are five strategies that can help.

1. Be a Mindful Eater

Adopting a thoughtful approach to eating is a great solution for stress eating because it brings your mind and body into the present moment. Using mindful eating tips like sitting down, chewing slowly, and focusing solely on your food can nudge you to really pay attention to what you're putting in your mouth and, most importantly, why!

2. Prepare Healthy Alternatives

If your goal is to stop stress eating unhealthy foods, try subbing in nutritious items when cravings hit. As Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests, preparing healthy snacks in advance gives you something good to reach for when you have the urge to munch after a hard day at work. This can provide your body with the fuel to handle what's ahead.

3. Get Moving

Next time you find yourself staring into the fridge because of stress, use it as a cue to go for walk, hit the gym, or start a spontaneous dance party! As Mayo Clinic explains, exercise can reduce stress and improve mood. Moving your body can help to clear your head and deal with whatever it is that's causing you stress.

4. Try Meditation

According to the American Psychological Association, 33 percent of adults who overeat (or eat unhealthy foods) because of stress say they do so in an effort to distract themselves. When you're feeling stressed and begin craving an unhealthy snack, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and clear your mind. This can help you move in a positive direction. Meditation reduces stress and quiets the mind, which can help you gain insight into why you might be stressed — instead of simply reacting to it.

5. Find Support

If stress and stress eating are persistent challenges in your life, don't hesitate to find someone you can rely on for support! Calling or spending time with a trusted friend or family member can be just the thing you need when you're faced with life's overwhelming moments — but it's also important to know when it's time to reach out to a professional. If chatting with your partner or coworker isn't helping you feel much better, search for a counselor or mental health professional in your area who can provide you with the care you need (and deserve).

Lastly, remember to cut yourself some slack. If you do fall into the habit of stress eating, don't beat yourself up and don't try to overcompensate by skipping meals altogether — that's likely to create even more stress! Be kind to yourself and focus on making small changes to your lifestyle. They can add up quickly!