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How to Avoid Stress Eating When Your Stress Is High

Stress can cause us to react in unhealthy ways, including stress eating. This advice can help you gain control.

Updated December 01, 2021

By Erin Wickersham, RD, Registered Dietitian—Virtua Nutrition

Stress can cause us to react in unhealthy ways, including stress eating. 

If you find that you’re eating when you’re not hungry, or grazing, nibbling, or snacking without thinking about it, you may be stress eating. If you are, don’t let it add to your stress. It’s actually normal. Almost everyone has periods of stress or emotional eating, so you shouldn't feel guilty about it.

It is, however, something you want to control, which you can do using the acronym STAR:

  • Stop what you’re doing. Our habits live in our subconscious, and we don’t even realize what we’re doing
  • Take a deep breath. By pausing and thinking about the situation, you can evaluate it more clearly.
  • Ask yourself what you’re really looking for right now to figure out why you’re reaching for food. Maybe you’re tired or overwhelmed.
  • Redirect yourself with a different activity. Once you figure out why you’re reaching for food, find a different activity to help you cope.

Here are a few activities to redirect your stress:

  • Call or Facetime a friend.
  • Start a new book (or read a chapter in one you’re currently reading).
  • Take a walk.
  • Meditate.
  • Do a chore you’ve been putting off—do some laundry or clear the dish rack.
  • If you’re tired, go to bed early or take a power nap.
  • Work a puzzle or play a game.
  • Watch your favorite movie or show.

You also can help yourself by maintaining your normal meal patterns and eating nourishing foods. When you’re more nourished, you’re more satisfied and less likely to have cravings.

Dealing with extra stress now and then is normal—and so is stress eating. Don’t deny yourself your favorite snack but be mindful that the snack doesn't solve the underlying issue.

By finding non-food strategies to cope with the stressor, you'll be able to enjoy your favorite snacks while controlling stress or emotional eating.