6 Ways to Stop Stress Eating

Esther Kane
by Esther Kane
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6 Ways to Stop Stress Eating

In a previous article, I discussed why we turn to food for emotional reasons. If you really want to be free of this self-destructive habit for good, you need to increase awareness in your eating— this means tuning into your thoughts and feelings on a regular basis, and making needed adjustments to prevent you from reaching for the cookies whenever you’re having a rough moment.

When we fight with ourselves about digging into the cookie bag, the two parts of the mind at work are the emotional and the rational. The “emotional mind” drives us when we do things without thinking them through first; these actions are based on how we happen to be feeling at that particular moment: For example, “Feel sad—must eat cookies.” The “rational mind” is at work when we take the time to think things through before acting: For example, “I know I want to eat cookies right now, but it won’t solve my mood and I’ll feel bad about myself afterwards.”

The goal of eating with increased awareness (EWIA) is to have these two parts work together harmoniously. Ideally, we want to increase our awareness of what is going on for us emotionally, while at the same time, use our rational minds to solve the problem at hand. This is where EWIA can help us make good food choices that leave us feeling healthy, peaceful and in control. Of course, like any new skill, EWIA takes time and practice in order for us to be successful. Even though it may feel awkward and difficult at first, over time, it can become as second nature as brushing our teeth.

EWIA is not so much about being aware of what foods are on our plates but, rather, awareness of what and how much we’re eating and why we’re eating it. If you’ve ever practiced meditation, you’re familiar with how your mind tends to wander, and can appreciate the discipline required to keep bringing it back to the present moment. The same thing happens when we eat without conscious intention and awareness.

Here are two major, relatable roadblocks to EWIA. For each one, I will give you tools you can use to bring more awareness to food and the eating experience.

EWIA Roadblock #1: Distracted Eating

Who among us doesn’t multitask on a daily basis, especially while we are eating? In today’s fast-paced world, the preparation and consumption of food seems to be little more than an inconvenience in our stressed-out, busy lives.

Do you eat while also:

  • Watching television?
  • Working?
  • Being totally stressed out?

To help you let go of distracted eating, try the following:

  1. Only eat while sitting, and focus solely on the act of eating your meal.
  2. Eat away from your work area: in a lunchroom, restaurant or outside.
  3. Take a few deep breaths before you eat to calm and center yourself.

EWIA Roadblock #2: Eating Without Enjoyment

A 2006 survey showed that Americans are eating more but enjoying it less. Just 39% of adults said they enjoyed eating “a great deal,” down from the 48% who said the same in a 1989 survey.

To help you eat with more enjoyment, try the following:

  1. Take a minute before each meal and ask yourself what food you’d really enjoy eating at that moment, and try having that particular food if you can get it.
  2. When eating something you really love and enjoy, eat it very slowly and enjoy the senses that go along with it like taste, texture, temperature, etc. Try to really be in the moment while enjoying the food.
  3. Choose a small portion of your favorite foods to experiment with and notice how satisfying less can be when you slow down the eating experience and really enjoy it.

About the Author

Esther Kane
Esther Kane

Esther Kane is a psychotherapist with almost 20 years experience specializing in food, weight and body image, and is the author of It’s Not About the Food: A Woman’s Guide to Making Peace with Food and Our Bodies. She is one of Canada’s foremost experts on eating disorders, especially orthorexia, the obsession with healthy eating.

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11 responses to “6 Ways to Stop Stress Eating”

  1. Avatar Kate says:

    Great article. Also practice things like chewing for longer, taking smaller bites, have a pause between bites-it all aids to appreciate your food more so you feel more satisfied.

  2. Avatar ttttrick says:

    I took vegs. meerly,I could eat again.Or.some times I ate less the maeasure for me had turned to calm small.

  3. Avatar ttttrick says:

    I eat veg.s or I eat less, for me it looks calm food measurment.

  4. I mostly eat through absolute boredom. If I get distracted, for example called into a meeting or get engrossed in something I’m working on, the “hunger” disappears. Sadly when it’s on my mind, I am resisting temptation literally every second….and I all too often cave in 🙁

    • Avatar Esther Kane says:

      Another good point- boredom eating. Next time it happens, try asking yourself, “Am I physically hungry or just bored?” What would feel better than eating right now? I.e. what would cure the boredom?

    • Avatar Tyler Mueller says:

      I think a lot of us struggle from this, and we will always eat more when we are bored. My roommate is terrible with this. He will be sitting on the couch just relaxing and in the matter of hours he will get up and check the refrigerator, and drawers in our kitchen at least three different times. I feel if he was working on homework or doing something productive he wouldn’t always have that little hunger inside where he needs to eat. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Avatar Tyler Mueller says:

    Thanks for writing a great article. I am very guilty for eating while distracted. If I am at home normally I will have the TV running while I am eating which I’m sure causes myself to eat more food than I want. I also tend to eat when I’m driving just because I have a very busy schedule and it helps me consume some time. I also like the idea of eating food that you enjoy. I think this will help because it should fill you up. I always heard that eating slowly and enjoying your food is suggested, and once again I am not very good at this. I feel like it will allow myself to become fuller faster, but most importantly allow myself to enjoy the food I am eating. When I am stressed I like to procrastinate which a lot of the time will include eating. I know this is unhealthy for myself but after reading this article hopefully I can try using your tips to stop stress eating.

    • Avatar Esther Kane says:

      Thanks Tyler. So glad the article was helpful to you. You make some great points. Remember, awareness is the first step to changing ingrained habits. Best of luck!

  6. Avatar #datamine says:

    I’m eating healthy which is why I don’t enjoy eating anymore; at least that’s how I’d respond to such a survey 😛

  7. Avatar Cindy says:

    I have a problem with getting a pint of ice cream most nights with a candy bar or hostess cake things. How can I break this. My body screams for it & really, it doesn’t satisfy me. Late night, lonely, wanting comfort.

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