Stress Eating. Why We Do it and What can be Done Instead

Have you ever gotten home after a rough day at work and thought to yourself, “I deserve a treat”? Many of us live busy lives and have several things going on at once, which leaves us feeling stressed and our minds jumbled with endless thoughts. One way we try to relieve stress is through indulging in something we don’t regularly eat (ice cream, chocolate bar, potato chips etc.). This is known as stress eating. This type of stress relief is very common, however, it’s only good at distracting our minds temporarily from what’s going on in our busy lives.

When we indulge in something, our senses take over and every stress in the world seems to go away. Sight, smell, texture and of course taste are what attracts us to that specific “cheat” food. Before we make the choice to eat, it’s important to consider other ways to cope with stress. If you still find yourself reaching for your favorite (not-so-healthy) food, it’s essential to eat it slowly, enjoy every bite, and consciously think about how much is being eaten. The more aware we are of what we’re eating and why we’re eating it, the better chance there is at stopping after just a few bites.

Many people don’t realize the calories they’re consuming by quickly grabbing a few cookies off the counter until after they’ve already eaten them. That choice can leave us feeling regretful because many of us lack mindfulness, which means having the ability to keep our minds focused on what we’re doing in the moment. A clear mind is a great start when making healthful choices.

 It’s okay to splurge every now and then on a bowl of ice cream or chocolate bar, but controlling stress eating with a bit of mindfulness will help reduce weight gain and in turn leave us happier and our bodies healthier. Before you decide to stop stress eating all together, start by simply practicing mindfulness when you feel the urge to reach for your favorite food. Being conscious and aware of your choices can lessen the chances of over eating. If you’re looking for other ways to help reduce stress, here are a few suggestions:

Other ways to relax and find relief from stress:

·       Talk to a friend, being verbal about what’s stressful in your life can be enough to make you feel relieved

·       Listen to music

·       Take up a hobby: Painting, writing, reading, yoga, meditation

·       Exercise: Take up boxing, Tae kwon do, or push yourself to run farther or lift heavier than you usually do



Albers S. 50 more ways to soothe yourself without food. Oakland, CA. New Harbinger Publications, Inc; 2015.


This blog is written by Tracy Zaniewski, a student intern of Valley Nutrition Counseling with a major in Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst