Stress Eating: How to Manage and Stop It


Sometimes I look at Facebook or Instagram (I hope you will join me at both!) and think that everyone’s life just seems to be sailing along without any problems. Then I remember that people put things on Facebook that they want others to see and often times leave off the negative things.

I do that too. I think a lot of us do.

Our Facebook/Instagram persona and real life can be quite different.

Real life is sometimes smooth, sometimes rough, and a lot of times it is a bit of both.

That’s true for me lately. We’ve had some really busy times with school getting closer to finishing up, kids going on trips, musical performances, and financial challenges (think replacing a very expensive geothermal air conditioning unit) that required us to make some tough choices.

Financial difficulties can be stressful, busy times can be stressful, and health problems can definitely add stress to your life.

What impact does stress have on your weight loss efforts? If you are like most people, stress can definitely affect your weight, and not in a good way. Here’s a quote from an article the Mayo Clinic website.

While the immediate . . . response to acute stress can be a temporary loss of appetite, more and more we are coming to recognize that for some people, chronic stress can be tied to an increase in appetite — and stress-induced weight gain,” says Elissa Epel, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco.

I know that stress eating is very common.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ve had a hard week and I deserve this treat,” as they stuff themselves at a restaurant. I used to do that. I also used to break out the secret stash of candy and eat as much as I could before anyone saw me when I was feeling stressed.

Stressful times do not have to mean weight gain. In fact, when you gain weight during stressful times you are likely adding to your stress.

I often tell people that one good thing about having to lose a LOT of weight was that it took me a long time. During the time I lost 158 pounds I experienced all the holidays, all the birthdays, all the social events, and a lot of stress. Learning to handle those situations and still lose weight was very valuable because it taught me that even though stress eating was one of my habits, it was a habit that I could control and even remove.

You may be asking how I managed those stressful times without gaining weight or falling off the wagon. Well, it wasn’t easy. But I did it and you can too.

Although I didn’t have a “list” to go by at the time, I have put together a list of tips to help you stay focused on your weight loss effort during stressful times.

1. Do Not Shove the Stress Deep Down – Acknowledge that you are stressed. This always helps me because trying to shove the stress deep down and pretend it isn’t there often causes more stress.

2. Stay Active – Exercise is a proven stress reducer and a surefire way to keep yourself out of the kitchen or away from restaurants. After all, it’s pretty hard to eat if you are lifting weights, walking, or swimming.

3. Get Enough Sleep  – Not getting enough sleep negatively affects your weight in the best of circumstances and likely has an even more detrimental effect when you are stressed. Make yourself go to bed at a reasonable hour and avoid burning the candle at both ends.

4. Get Help – Ask for support from friends and family to manage your stress and avoid overeating. Depending on your relationships, you can ask friends to hold you accountable, keep your kids for a few hours, or brainstorm on ideas for solving the problem that is stressing you out.

5. Eat in Moderation – If you just cannot avoid the cookies or ice cream when stressed out, remind yourself  of the importance of portion control. One cookie won’t hurt your diet for the long term but box after box of cookies surely will.

6. Feed Yourself Healthy Foods – Eating a well balanced diet helps you control your calories as well as giving your body the nutrients it needs. High calorie junk food may taste good going down but it can cause your blood sugar to crash, your appetite to increase and increase your stress level from the guilt you feel after eating it.

7. Recognize the Warning Signs – Know yourself well enough to recognize the signs of stress in your body. You may feel anxious, find sleep difficult, or find yourself snapping at people.

There are a lot of ways to deal with stress and you need to find what works for you. I am still a stress eater but I am a stress eater who usually controls the urge using some of these techniques.

What techniques have you found to help you avoid stress eating? Diane

5 thoughts on “Stress Eating: How to Manage and Stop It

  1. Judy says:

    Hi Diane,

    Another insightful article. Thank you so much.

    One thing that is helping me in the area of stress eating is to have taken time to think through the situations I know will stress me and have an action plan. For instance I know if my sister gets upset with me it would always send me over the edge. Now after spending some time thinking that through I know that regardless of her ‘voice’ the intent of her heart is good. I also know that most often it has nothing to do with me but is an off shoot of other stresses in her life. These realizations are my first immediate thoughts now when she is upset. Another one is that while I can understand someone else, I have no control over them. What I can do as it is part of my nature and planning ahead is to recognize it when it happens, respond in a calm way, take care of myself and pray for us both.

    So I would say planning ahead and then staying conscious of what is happening and examining the reasons behind the feelings and addressing them beats trying to fill those black holes with food.

  2. Jenn says:

    I am a stress-eater, too, and recently had two major medical diagnoses in my immediate family.

    What works well for me is keeping my hands busy, preferably away from the kitchen. For example, I will write in a journal, clean, or do a manicure.

    Keeping my kitchen counter clean helps a lot, too! I’m a fan of food behaviorist Brian Wansink, who teaches way to design your space to stop mindless eating.

    Did you know keeping a cereal box inside the cabinet versus on the countertop can help you lose 20 pounds in 1 year? Wow!

    • judy says:

      Thanks for the reference of Brian Wansink. I’m going to look him up. I agree. I don’t keep food on my counters either although my husband has one corner by the latte machine in our add-on kitchen room where we set his treats. That never entices me because I consider it his area/his stuff and I never think about touching it.

  3. Kerstin says:

    This is very helpful! I am also a stress eater, when I am feeling overwhelmed I tend to procrastinate a lot and fill that procrastination with eating. Making lists and setting a timer for certain tasks helps make me more focused which in turn makes me less inclined to reach for food.

    Last November my mom passed away unexpectedly and this could have easily sent me off the deep end. It was a very stressful time, both emotionally and task-wise as there was a lot to do in a short period of time. What saved me was the fact that I had already been on my weight-loss program for a few months at that point, it is hard to explain, but I found it easier to deal with everything because I was feeling better within myself and my body, I did go off track for a couple of months afterwards but I find it very comforting to know that I can handle stress and not use it as an excuse to fall into the abyss of binging and mindless eating.

  4. kathy coatney says:

    Diane thanks for the great blog. I’ve added one more to your list for myself. I will sit down and be aware of what I’m eating before I eat. I tend to when I’m stressed just eat mindlessly and end up eating far more than if I’m paying attention.

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