Emotional Eating From Stress: How to Stop It

Last updated: 05-23-2020

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Emotional Eating From Stress: How to Stop It

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Know What's Happening
Some people eat less when they're under stress. Others need the distraction of comfort food or fattening snacks when things aren't going right. Because the effect is temporary, you may find yourself eating when you’re not hungry, or without thinking about it. That can lead to unhealthy decisions. So always be aware of what you're eating and why you're eating it.
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Keep a Food Diary
Write down everything you eat during the day. Also note what time you ate it and where you were when you did. A food diary is a great tool to help you track your habits and patterns. Are you snacking between meals? Is food a constant companion? You’ll start to see how healthy -- or unhealthy -- your food choices are. Better yet, it will help you set goals that can really help. 
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Check if You're Really Hungry
If you just ate a big meal and are still reaching for snacks, ask yourself: Are you hungry, or are your emotions causing the cravings? You may want to do something different until the urge passes, like take a walk or call a friend. Or you could try to drink some water. Your body may be trying to tell you it’s dehydrated.
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Get Support
Make sure you have family and friends who can keep you positive and focused in times of stress. It can really help you stick to a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that people with high-stress jobs have better mental health when they have strong support networks.
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Focus on Your Goals
Don’t get too hung up on things like calorie counts, menu planning, and watching the scale. It might make you lose track of the lifestyle changes you're after. In fact, being stuck in a food rut can lead to more cravings. Don’t be afraid to try new foods, or different ways of preparing old favorites. Make sure to reward yourself with a healthy treat if you reach a key goal.   
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Don't Tempt Yourself
Remove the urge to snack on unhealthy foods by keeping them out of your home. Worried about making bad choices when you shop? Stick to a strict grocery list of healthy foods, and never visit the grocery store when you’re hungry or in a bad mood.
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Make Healthy Choices
Have an abundant supply of good-for-you nibblers at the ready if you get hungry between meals. Things like fruit, vegetables with a low-fat dip, nuts, or even unbuttered popcorn are perfect. Or try low-fat versions of the foods you already enjoy.
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Don't Be So Hard on Yourself
Don’t obsess over your failures. Instead, learn from your mistakes. Don’t let one or two missteps create more stress. Instead, focus on the big picture and recognize how you can break your stress-eating cycle.
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Make Substitutes
If you’re craving pizza, try putting tomato sauce, veggies, and part-skim mozzarella on pita bread. Really want tacos? Make a taco salad instead, using beans, tomatoes, cheese, and hot sauce. If you have a sweet tooth, try “fun size” versions of the real thing or mini ice cream bars as a substitute. You’ll still get the pleasure of your favorite foods without wrecking your diet.
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Meditate
When the urge to eat hits you, try some relaxation techniques. Mindful meditation can ease stress and help fight the impulse that triggers stress eating. Choose a quiet place to sit and observe your thoughts and your breathing. Don't judge how you feel. Just notice what you're thinking and ease your focus back to your breathing.
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Work Up a Sweat
A good workout triggers your body to make chemicals called endorphins that interact with your brain to calm and relax you. What's more, it'll make you feel good about yourself. Worried about wear and tear on your body? Try yoga or tai chi. They're both low-impact ways to work up a good sweat.
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Talk It Out
Don’t be afraid to discuss your eating habits with your doctor or a mental health professional. They may be able to provide therapy and tips to help you identify what’s causing your stress. They can also give you ideas on how to make better food choices and reach your healthy goals.
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