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6 Strategies to Overcome Stress Eating

In the previous article, I discussed the reasons WHY increased stress levels can lead to weight gain. In this article, I want to take a moment to provide you with six concrete strategies that you can start using TODAY to overcome the tendency to stress eat.

Strategy #1: Manage Your Mood

Managing your mood is one of the most important keys to controlling overeating. Moods that tend to trigger emotional eating are: depression, anxiety, anger, boredom, and loneliness. These emotions are best managed by taking a proactive approach. In order to combat negative moods proactively, you need to make time in your daily life to do the things that make you feel happy and calm. Ask yourself, “what am I doing or who am I with when I am feeling my best?” For some people that might be going for a walk. For others it is listening to music. Some people may find happiness and calm from practicing meditation. And for others it is catching up with friends. The “what you are doing” matters far less than the feeling that you get from doing it. Once you know your “what,” schedule it and stick to it without compromise, just like you would a business appointment!

Strategy #2: Get Enough Sleep

Most overeating occurs when our energy is low. Sleep is one of the most important influences on our energy level. Therefore, if you are someone who chronically does not get enough sleep or does not get enough high-quality sleep, you are likely walking around in a constant state of mild-to-moderate (if not severe) fatigue. Most people require between 7-8 hours of sleep to function at their best levels, with some needing even more. I will be discussing ways to improve your quality and quantity of sleep in a future article, so stay tuned!

Strategy #3: Beware of the 4:30 Dip

Like our second strategy, strategy #3 also relates to our energy level. One recent study noted that the majority of overeating and poor food choices occurred later in the afternoon when our energy begins to dip. The average time was 4:30 in the afternoon. Knowing that energy levels tend to take a dip around this time, it is wise to prepare ahead. If your work schedule allows, try building in a short 15-30 minute nap around the time that you typically feel your energy start to drop. If that is not possible, a few moments of meditation and stepping away from your computer can do wonders. As well, keeping healthy food options prepared and available can help you avoid an overeating/ poor food choice scenario. This is especially true because overeating is most likely to occur when individuals are moderately hungry and it has been about 4 hours since their last meal.

Strategy #4: Stop Cutting Calories!

Studies on the subject of overeating have identified one type of person, the so-called “restrained eater,” as the most likely to overindulge when experiencing stress and negative moods. The profile of a restrained eater is a person who diets often and whose weight fluctuates frequently. Instead of restraining your eating as a strategy for losing weight, it is much better to focus on incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your everyday diet. These nutrient-dense foods will leave you far more satisfied and less likely to crave the high-sugar and high-fat food options.

Strategy #5: Take a Walk

Next time you are feeling like stress eating, take a walk. I know, I know. That is probably the exact opposite of what you want to do. I get it. When your day has gone wrong, and you are feeling all the negative emotions, and your energy level is completely sapped, sitting on the couch with a bag of chips or a bowl of ice cream sounds like a much better plan than taking a walk. But trust me, it will help!

In both animals and humans, exercise has been shown to elevate brain serotonin, the key hormone in stabilizing our mood, our feelings of well-being, and our happiness . Exercise helps us to reduce tension and control the negative effects of stress, allowing us to feel pleasure. Studies indicate that as little as 10 minutes of exercise can impact our energy levels for the following 60 minutes. So, next time you are feeling like crashing on the couch with your favorite high-calorie or high-sugar food, try this: rate your energy level and stress level on a scale of 1-10. Then, take a short 10-minute walk. Oftentimes, this will increase your energy level enough to encourage you to go further. If so, embrace it and go for longer. Then, when you return from your walk, rate your energy and stress level again on that same 1-10 scale. I am certain you will be feeling much better. (As a side note, I always think that it is better to get outside and walk versus hopping on a treadmill. The change in scenery and the fresh air can work wonders on your mood!)

Strategy #6: Keep a Mood Journal

Keep a simple journal handy, preferably something small that you can keep in your purse so that you always have it with you. When you find yourself having a strong urge to stress eat, immediately document the events leading up to that moment. What happened? Who were you with? What thoughts were going through your head? Give as much detail as you can. As well, jot down your energy level and stress level, each using the 1-10 rating scale. If you do give in to the urge to stress eat, note that as well. Over time, you will likely see a pattern in your unique stress eating triggers. By becoming more aware of what scenarios result in stress eating episodes, you can proactively plan ahead for these by either avoiding the situations entirely or having a response ready (such as taking a walk, practicing mindfulness, or having a healthy snack).

If you think that you would benefit from one-on-one coaching to reduce your stress eating behaviors, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I am happy to help! -Amy

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