Here’s 10 Ways to Help You Stop Stress Eating

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Being overweight increases your risk of getting many health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, and some cancers.

Gaining a few pounds here and there might not seem to serious, but if it carries on, it can add up to health problems over time.

There are a few ways that you can tell if your weight is putting you at risk for health problems:

Check your Body Mass Index

The BMI is one way to tell whether you are at a normal weight or whether you are overweight. It is a calculation based on your weight and height. The categories in the body mass index are:

normal weight: BMI of 18.5 to 24.9

overweight: BMI of 25 to 29.9

obesity: BMI of 30 or higher

However, the body mass index is only useful for the general population, if you are very muscular or naturally very lean, you might get a value which suggests you are overweight or underweight respectively.

Waist Size

Your waist size is an important number to know. Having too much fat around your abdomen increases the risk of heart disease. Women with a waist size of more than 35 inches and men with a waist size of more than 40 inches have higher risk of developing diseases related to obesity, according to studies.

How to manage your weight

For some people, managing their weight can be a lifelong battle. But weight gain is not inevitable. Studies have found that people who lose weight, and manage to keep it off, do these things to stay lean:

Build some lean muscle

Maintain or increase your metabolism by building some lean muscle. Muscle is a more metabolic tissue than fat, which means that it needs more calories to maintain it. Add some resistance training to your gym programme, especially as you get older, as muscle mass decreases.

Eat more filling foods

A study of 284 women, which was carried out by the University of Pittsburgh, found that people who avoided weight gain were those who chose foods that kept them feeling fuller for longer. They ate foods containing a lot of fibre, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and lean protein, which is also satiating.

Avoid temptations, but do give in occasionally

The same study also found that women who controlled their weight best were good at avoiding naughty treats, however, they did not ban them from their diet completely, they just made better choices, and better choices about when to indulge. To avoid the temptation of naughty snacks, plan ahead when eating out, and don’t purchase foods you have a weakness for.

Watch the calories  

Studies have shown that tracking calorie consumption is another successful way to manage your weight. One study showed that women who kept the weight they had lost off, limited saturated fat intake, and had a calories intake of less than 1800 calories per day.

Plan your meals in advance

Planning means for the week ahead makes you less likely to reach for convenience food or eat unhealthy meals because you are too tired to cook.

Follow a progressive exercise plan

Melt those pounds off  and you will feel satiated

The recommended amount of exercise is 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week, but some studies show that the people who were most successful at managing their weight did at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. This doesn’t have to be done in one go, a 20-minute walk to the shops, and a 40-minute exercise class or bike ride would help you meet your quota.

Keep an eye on your portions

A study carried out by the CDC of over 4000 adults, found that those who lost more weight tended to measure portions, especially of more calorific foods. Portion sizes in restaurants tend to be large, and at home, it’s easy to over serve rice and pasta. Always weigh out food where possible.

Weigh yourself every day

The same study found that the people who managed their weight best weighed themselves once per day. This can be a way of monitoring any loss or gain effectively, but make sure that it does not border on obsession. Your weight may fluctuate for a number of reasons, including fluid retention or loss, and changes due to your menstrual cycle. If you find that you are becoming obsessive, weigh yourself once per week, at the same time of day, and while you’re wearing the same clothes.

Eat dairy

According to a study of 338 adults, people who ate 3 or more servings of low fat dairy each day were more likely to keep weight off. This has the added benefit of promoting strong and healthy bones.

Use your plate as a guide

If you doubt your ability to count calories or portions properly, use your plate as a servings guide. Fill half of the plate with vegetables, and the rest should be the carbs and protein. You will automatically take in fewer calories but the vegetables will fill you up.

Binge eating

Many people are driven to eat by stress, anger, sadness, or boredom. If you ignore the signal to stop eating or that you’re not hungry, this will surely lead to weight gain and health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and an increased risk of some cancers.

Binge eating or emotional eating will cause someone to overeat on a regular basis. People who eat this way tend to eat large amounts of food in a short space of time, even when they aren’t hungry.

Signs of emotional eating

Anyone can be affected by emotional eating or binge eating disorder

eating much faster than normal

eating until you feel uncomfortably full

eating a large amount of food when you’re not hungry at all

eating alone or in secret because you’re ashamed of the way you eat

Experiencing feelings of self-loathing, guilt, shame or disgust after binge eating.

What happens when you binge or emotional eat?

Someone who binge eats may go as far as to plan a binge and plan which foods they want to eat. A person who binges might feel like they are in a daze and unable to remember how much they ate after the event. Someone who emotional eats will normally feel unable to control their eating.

What help is out there?

If you binge often, speak to your doctor, especially if it’s affecting your physical and mental health. Most people are able to eat normally with treatment and support.

Treating emotional eating

The main treatments for emotional eating are:

self-help programmes

This might involve using a book or online course, or joining a self-help support group

Psychological therapy

Antidepressant medication, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

What causes emotional eating?

It’s not completely clear what causes binge eating, but, like most eating problems, it’s usually a way of coping with feelings of unhappiness and low self-esteem.

Risk factors for emotional eating include:

having low self-esteem and a lack of confidence

depression or anxiety

feelings of stress, anger, boredom, or loneliness

dissatisfaction with your body and feeling under pressure to have a ‘perfect’ figure

stressful or traumatic events in the past

having a family history of eating disorders/problems

Binge eating can sometimes occur after following a strict diet, particularly if you ended up skipping meals, cut out certain foods, or just didn’t eat enough food. These are unhealthy and unsustainable ways to lose weight and it may mean you’re more likely to binge at another time.  

Who’s affected by emotional eating?

Strategies you can adopt immediately to beat emotional eating

Anyone can be affected by emotional eating or binge eating disorder, although it’s more common in women than men.

Binge eating disorder tends to first occur during early adulthood, but many people don’t seek help until they’re in their 30s or 40s.

It’s estimated that you have a 1 in 30 to 1 in 50 chance of developing binge eating disorder at some point in your life.

The health risks of emotional eating

Binge eating is associated with psychological issues, including depression and anxiety which might get worse if you continue to binge eat.

Weight gain is a common physical effect of binge eating, which can lead to obesity. Being obese then puts you at risk of getting a number of serious physical health problems, including:

high cholesterol and high blood pressure

diabetes

osteoarthritis

some types of cancer, especially breast cancer and bowel cancer

You can beat emotional eating

It is possible to get back in control of your eating. The surprising part for a lot of people, is when they learn that their problems are not about food at all.

You might not even realise that you have a problem, but if you regularly eat until you are uncomfortable, it’s a sign that you might have a problem. Another sign is if you are gaining weight but you don’t know why. Think about how you are feeling emotionally, and think about whether this might be affecting your eating.

Strategies you can adopt immediately to beat emotional eating

Be kind to yourself. Once you realise that you have a problem with your eating, learn to comfort yourself in other ways, don’t beat yourself up about it.

Think about what thoughts and feelings you have before you eat. Are you eating as a reaction to negative thoughts or feelings? Make a list of current stressors in your life, and think about how you can take back control of your life. If you can change what is stressing you out, do it. If you can’t, you can control the way you think about it. If you notice that something is stressing you out, you can choose how you respond to it, rather than reacting to it by eating.

Consider speaking to a counsellor, so you can better understand what is going on, and what the best ways to handle it are.

If you get an urge to eat, just pause. Check in with how you are feeling. What is making you want to eat? Even if you feel sad or bored, you aren’t powerless. You have the option to ride it out. Give the compulsion to eat time to pass. You will immediately feel more in control.

Another good idea is to wear an elastic band around your wrist and snap it whenever you feel the urge to eat. This is a cue to think about what is going on and to stay strong.

10 tips to help you stop emotional eating

We are all familiar with hunger pangs, and most of us known when we feel hungry. But sometimes, people eat for other reasons, to fill a void. They eat when they are sad, low, stressed, or bored, and it is easy to turn to food as comfort.

Food is often used as a reward when we are children. How many times were you told, ‘clear your plate and you can have dessert?’ It’s ingrained in us.

But emotional causes more problems than it solves. Here are 10 tips to help you stop emotional eating, and to help you to know when you are truly hungry.

1. Do eat when you feel hungry

People who eat for emotional reasons tend not to eat when they are actually hungry. It’s a habit that they get into and the wrong things can trigger their eating. You can train yourself to only eat when your body tells you that you need to. Hold off, until you recognise real hunger pangs and you will slowly learn when it’s the right time to eat.

2. Keep a food journal

Keep a log of what you eat, when you eat it, and how you were feeling at the time

Keep a log of what you eat, when you eat it, and how you were feeling at the time. This will help you to identify any triggers for your emotional eating. This also puts you back in control, because you have the responsibility for recording every single thing that you put in your mouth.

3. Put new habits in place

Create a new routine to avoid overeating triggers. Replace eating with active pursuits, so instead of meeting friends for coffee and cake, take some healthy snacks and go for a walk.

4. Eat small meals throughout the day

Make sure that the changes in your mood aren’t caused by peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels. Eat healthy, balanced meals, little and often, to keep your energy and mood balanced throughout the day.

5. Be mindful when you eat

When you do eat, pay attention to what you are eating. If you eat while you are doing something else, you automatically eat more because you don’t register what you have eaten. Many emotional eaters don’t realise how much they have eaten.

6. Wait before you eat

Rehydration Solution Recipe

If you feel the need to eat, have a glass of water, wait 10 minutes, then if you are still hungry, eat. Studies show that it takes around 10 minutes for cravings to subside, including emotional cravings.

7. Banish temptations from your home

If you have a weakness for chocolate or crisps, don’t have them in your home. Instead, have a stockpile of healthy snacks to much on when cravings hit.

8. Don’t eat just because others are

If someone brings cakes or sweets into the office, or offers you a biscuit, and you aren’t hungry, say so! Sure, it takes a lot of willpower, but the key to stopping emotional eating is to learn to eat only when your body actually physically indicates that you are hungry.

9. Get support from friends or family

Breaking a habit is harder if you go it alone, and many studies show that peer support is critical to success for some people. Tell a close friend or family member about your issues, so you always have someone to talk to, especially if you relapse into comfort eating.

10. Understand the underlying reasons why you comfort eat

Emotional eating can be a way of temporarily making yourself feel better if you feel sad. People mask their feelings with food. Look at how you are feeling, and why you are feeling that way, and address how you feel to break the cycle.

Final thoughts

Eating problems are almost never just to do with eating

Eating problems are almost never just to do with eating. More often than not, they are related to feelings of boredom, stress, or unhappiness. They can also be related to more serious psychological issues such as depression and anxiety.

Food is used as a comforter and as a reward when we are children, and we form the association at an early age that it makes us feel better. It’s a comfort blanket. Some people take this with them into adulthood, where food fills a void.

Treating yourself now and again, and eating ‘naughty’ foods is not a problem. It does become a problem when you eat until you are stuffed, even when you aren’t hungry, and you can’t remember what you have eaten.

Eating in this way leads to weight gain, and all of the health issues that come with it.

But it is possible to get back in control of your eating, by first confronting the underlying triggers. There is no good physical health without good emotional health.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.