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If you are stressed and trying to lose or maintain your weight, then to manage stress eating is a challenge that you may face daily. Eating for emotional reasons is common and it makes it harder to stay fit and healthy. 

However, before you can address stress eating, it is important to identify and acknowledge it. Also, if you are struggling with extreme stress or anxiety that you are having a difficult time managing on your own, then it may help to talk to a therapist who can help you learn how to cope with negative emotions and reduce stress levels. 

You can actually talk to a therapist online from the comfort of your own home at BetterHelp. Seeking help could be a decision that helps you improve your mental health, which can, in turn, improve your eating habits and lifestyle. 

Identifying stress eating can help tremendously to know what can cause it. Then, you can be on the lookout for the signs and use management and coping techniques to improve your behaviour. 

stressed lady at a desk

What Causes Stress Eating?

Stress eating or emotional eating occurs during times of emotional distress. This could be grief, shame, sadness, confusion, anxiety, stress, or other negative emotions or a combination of these feelings.  Sometimes, people eat in order to avoid the stressors or problems in their lives or just to avoid taking uncomfortable actions in order to solve a problem.

Food offers comfort in times of high stress. However, the most comforting types of food (gravy, cake, ice cream, pizza, and more) are generally not very healthy choices, especially if you are trying to lose or maintain your weight. 

Emotional eating can be okay, but only on occasion. If you find yourself turning to food when you first feel stressed or emotional, then you may want to address the underlying issue.

If the emotional or stress eating is causing you to gain unwanted weight or contributing to distress, then it is likely an issue that needs to be resolved and you can manage stress eating. 

How to Identify and manage Stress Eating

Sometimes it can be difficult to see when your regular eating due to nutritional needs and hunger ends and the emotional or stress eating begins. However, there are some things that you can keep in mind to help you identify your own stress-eating behaviours. 

If you eat as soon as you feel negative emotions or experience conflict without feeling hungry prior to those feelings, then there is a good chance that you are stress eating and searching for comfort in food. The same is true for strong cravings when you become upset or have an urge to eat in response to memories, stress, or reminders or trauma. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of people eat when they are bored. If you find yourself heading to the kitchen during commercial breaks or when you have nothing else to do, then there may be an issue with your eating habits. 

How to manage Stress Eating

There are some things that you may be able to do in order to curb your stress eating habits or control your emotional eating so that it does not negatively impact your life and well-being. It is important to understand that it may take significant effort to change these habits, especially if they have been a part of you for years. 

Also, keep in mind that you need to make sure to eat when you are actually hungry. Do not try to starve yourself because you are afraid of stress eating. When you are not eating enough healthy foods, then you may find yourself eating too much comfort foods in order to compensate, which can do more harm than good. 

The first thing you need to do is locate and examine the source of the emotional distress or stressful feelings. You may have a trigger that causes you to imagine comfort food or to eat more than you should. It could be a person, a situation, a thought, or a memory. Anything can be a trigger. 

If you have a hard time identifying the source of your stress, you may find it helpful to write your thoughts and experiences in a journal. This can help you see patterns for when you eat certain types of foods and the events that proceeded those behaviours. You can also write down the way the foods made you feel before, during, and after eating. This can not only help you identify stressors and triggers but may also help you look at stress eating from an objective perspective. 

After you identify the cause of the stress, then you will need to find healthier ways to cope. You may be able to avoid some triggers, but it is impossible to avoid stress and negative emotions for your entire life. So you have to learn how to deal with them in a healthy way. 

You may want to find a support system. This can help you to know there are other people out there that care. There are even groups that share similar interests or problems that you may find helpful. Anybody to talk to can take some of the burdens off of you. 

Learning healthy mindfulness meditation techniques may also help. This can help you be aware of the present moment, which can reduce stress and ease the thoughts associated with unhealthy eating behaviours. 

Conclusion

Stress and emotional eating are common problems, but that does not mean that you cannot curb those desires and eating habits by addressing the cause of the stress. This can be beneficial, not only to your weight and lifestyle but to your stress and anxiety levels and well-being. 

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