If you’re someone who commonly experiences stress, it’s important to understand it so you can work through it. Emotional eating as a result of stress or anxiety every once in a while isn’t a big deal, but doing it consistently can become a serious issue if not dealt with. It’s important to have a healthy relationship with food to avoid the potential for disordered eating in the future. Here’s how to avoid stress eating.
1. Search for the root of your stress
The first step toward managing stress eating is understanding why it’s happening in the first place. Identifying the root cause can help you nip it in the bud by removing the stressor. Once you know what’s making you stressed in the first place, you can see if there’s a way to remove it. If you can’t remove the stressor — which is likely, especially if it’s your job, school or a person close to you — you can at least know why you’re stressed so you can be prepared to manage it with something other than food.
2. Practice mindful eating
Eating mindfully means truly paying attention to the food you eat, and it starts with the grocery store. According to Harvard Medical School, when practicing mindful eating you’re putting thought into everything that goes into your mouth and appreciating all of it. This means eating only when you’re hungry — but not so starving that you gorge — taking small bites, and thoroughly chewing everything. When you look at your food while you eat and eat it slowly, you’re more likely to eat a bit less because you’ll be more aware of when you’re full.
3. Stock the fridge with healthy options
Set yourself up for success by keeping plenty of healthy foods in the house. You’re more likely to eat what’s available to you immediately, especially if you’re stressed and don’t want to think about what to put in your mouth. When you go grocery shopping, make sure to find plenty of foods that pack nutritional value and are still tasty enough that you’ll eat them (rather than let them go to waste). Reach for fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, popcorn and more nutritious foods. If you usually lean toward sweets when you’re stress eating, eat fresh fruit instead. It’s a great swap for sugary foods.
4. Identify and watch out for triggers
To identify your triggers, you must first know what they are, so you’ll have to be really self-aware. Common triggers for stress eating are stressful situations — especially the ones that you’ve previously identified as your stressors — boredom, certain social settings and bad eating habits. It’s easy to eat when you’re bored, simply because you have nothing else to do, which is less about stress and more about restlessness. Social settings can also be troubling, especially if you’ll be around people who stress you out to the point of overeating or if you’ll be surrounded by anxiety-inducing situations that will get to you. As for bad habits, these could be anything that you know you currently experience, like making excuses for yourself.
5. Stick to a normal eating schedule
Having a routine can have a positive effect on your life, according to Northwestern Medicine. Creating a routine for yourself can lower stress levels in general, which means having a regular eating schedule can help you twofold. The routine will remove any stress related to not knowing what you’ll eat and when, plus it’ll keep you on track so you’re not eating here and there on a whim. If you eat mindfully on a schedule, you’ll help your body get into a routine of eating and appreciating only what it needs when it needs it.
6. Don’t put restrictions on your eating
Though you want to eat mindfully and healthily, it’s important to not seriously restrict your eating, both in quantity and variety. It’s okay to eat junk food here and there. It’s OK to have splurge meals while eating healthy the rest of the time. Allow yourself these treats — and the grace that comes along with it. You shouldn’t feel guilty for eating treats. Studies have shown that restrictive eating can lead to disordered eating, which will affect your overall physical and mental health.
7. Prioritize hydration
If you’re feeling pulled toward anxiety eating while you’re stressed out, reroute and get a glass of water first. There are a few reasons you should do this. First of all, your body needs a lot of water — about 12 to 15 cups a day — so it’s always a good idea to grab a glass. Second of all, it’s common to mistake thirst for hunger. Many people will eat, thinking they’re hungry, when actually their body is thirsty, so go ahead and have that glass of water just in case. Thirdly, if you drink a glass of water first, it’ll take up space in your stomach, so if you eat right after, you’ll probably eat less because you’re fuller faster.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.