Do you eat when you are feeling stress? You are not alone and there is a very good reason for it. Stress causes the adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol, which increases your appetite. If stress is persistent, cortisol levels in your body will stay elevated and your appetite stays high too. So how can you prevent or stop stress eating?

3 Steps to Stop Stress Eating

Step 1: Decrease Stress

There are actually a few steps that you can take to reduce your stress levels. Here are a few ideas:

  • Try meditation: Meditation reduces stress and may also help people become more mindful of food choices. With practice, a person may be able to better curb the impulse to grab a fat- and sugar-loaded comfort food.
  • Exercise: Intense exercise increases cortisol levels temporarily, but low-intensity exercise seems to reduce them, thus reducing appetite.
  • Get support: Friends, family, and other sources of social support seem to have a buffering effect on the stress that people experience.

Step 2: Eat When You Are Hungry

How can something so simple be so hard to follow? Learning how to adhere to this principle requires us to revert back to our eating behaviors as very young children. When we were hungry, we ate; when we were not hungry, we didn’t.

Irregular eating patterns (i.e. skipping meals, grazing, etc.) distort our body’s normal hunger sensations so if you’ve had irregular eating patterns for a long time, you may no longer know what the sensation of hunger feels like. In order to get back in touch with our body’s hunger cues, you’ll likely need to focus on feeding your body regularly. Restoring regular eating patterns will help ensure the natural hunger cues return. We often provide our patients with a hunger scale to help them assess their hunger—talk to your Registered Dietitian if you think this might be helpful to you.

Step 3: Ask Yourself: Is It Physical or Emotional Hunger?

  • Physical hunger develops slowly and most anything (i.e. fruits, vegetables etc.) will satisfy physical hunger.
  • Emotional hunger develops rapidly and usually will only be satisfied by a particular food (i.e. cake, candy, chips etc.).
  • If you aren’t truly physically hungry, what does your body need at this moment? Encouragement? Rest? Nurturing?
  • Every time you’re faced with an opportunity to eat something that you know is less than optimal, pause and consider how you are going to feel 5 minutes after eating it? An hour after eating it?

Never forget that you are in control of your eating behaviors, and the food is NOT in control of you!


Image courtesy of Francesco on Flickr