Stress eating can be a vicious cycle. Overeating becomes a coping mechanism, creating more problems (in weight and overall health). But it doesn't have to be this way.
If you want to break the stressful eating cycle and take control of your food intake, you can take steps. Here are ways to stop stress eating, take control of your eating habits, and change your relationship with food.
Learn to recognize triggers
Stop stress eating by learning to recognize your stress triggers and then remove them from your life. Write down all the things that cause you to overeat and then plan to avoid them as much as possible to eliminate unhealthy snacking behaviors altogether. For instance, if you tend to eat a whole box of cookies when you're sad and stressed, avoid going to the store where they are sold.
Exercise to reduce stress
Eating might be a way to cope with stress, but it doesn't have to be. Exercise can be a great way to manage negative emotions, increase energy and release pent-up tension. Not only that, it can help you burn off the excess calories you're consuming when you stress eat. Try exercising for at least 30 minutes three times a week. For instance, try walking, swimming, cycling, or playing a sport.
Change your eating habits
If you continuously reach for junk food for stress relief, it's important that you start making conscious decisions about the foods you eat. Eating healthy will not only help to manage stress but also keep your body healthy and energized. Try to eat a combination of protein, whole grains, and fresh vegetables at each meal and snack to keep your energy levels up without the crash of sugar and other processed foods.
Develop an eating plan
Stop stress eating by knowing what foods will calm your body down and not add to the stressful feelings causing you to overeat. Find out your triggers, then pick a healthy and balanced eating plan to meet your needs without putting pressure on you. A good plan should include the food groups you like and the foods you think will be healthy, and your schedule should also fit so that you don't feel guilty about eating.
Maintain a healthy meal schedule
Try to have regular mealtimes and force yourself to change your eating schedule if you normally snack in front of the television or computer. Having a normal schedule will help prevent emotional eating when you're feeling stressed and ensure you get enough to eat. A healthy meal schedule also helps prevent you from eating when you're bored or lonely.
Replace food with something else
Stop stress eating by occupying your mind with other activities when you feel like overeating. Try listening to music, going outside for a walk, reading a book, working on an interesting project, or playing sports. This will help you feel more relaxed, making it less likely that you'll reach for a snack. For instance, try making a list of what you need to do and keeping it within arm's reach. Work on the list instead of reaching for food.
Dehydration can cause you to feel hungry and then overeat. So, ensure you are drinking enough water throughout the day to keep your body functioning normally, especially if you're under a lot of stress and overindulging in food. Aim for eight glasses of water daily to feel full and satisfied with what you eat. Staying dehydrated also increases blood sugar levels which can cause you to crave sugary foods.
Practice portion control
Stop stress eating by practicing portion control. If you are eating out, choose a healthy item from the menu and don't order something because it's on sale or your favorite. Be aware of what size portions are, and don't eat until you are uncomfortably full. You don't have to eat everything on your plate, especially if you're not hungry or full. A healthy meal plan should be based on the right number of servings and portions.
Stop stress eating by getting organized and planning meals in advance. Keep healthy snacks in your car, office, and home so you don't have to eat junk food when you're out at work or in a stressful situation. Include the right type of food in all the places you eat, and ensure it's at the right temperature for serving. Having a healthy and nutritional meal before you go to work, school, or eating out will leave you feeling satisfied and prevent you from mindlessly stuffing yourself with fried food.
Move toward positive goals
Stop stress eating by moving toward positive goals. If your goal is to eat better, pay attention to how you feel when your body is full and satisfied by food that's good for it. Reward yourself for small successes on your journey towards better health rather than overeating when you're stressed. Set yourself up for success by gradually increasing your healthy eating habits and making them a habit. Be aware of what you're eating and how it makes you feel, and then plan the next meal accordingly.
Stress eating can cause weight gain and lead to health issues. But it's important to manage stress effectively, so you don't use food to cope with it. If you keep reaching for junk food when you're feeling stressed, it's best to seek professional help to stop the cycle of stress and unhealthy eating behaviors.