Nov - Dec 2019

Stop Stress Eating for Good

By Abbe Breiter, MS RD LDN

Stress (n.), as defined by Webster is ‘a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.’ Stress usually has a negative connotation, but it can have a positive one as well. A new job, buying a home, having a baby, or losing a lot of weight are all happy events but can be just as stressful as a death in the family. When a person feels stressed, certain hormones are released in the body to prepare for a “fight or flight” reaction. Most of us do not get into a physical fight nor do we tend to physically run away so the body is left to deal with these increased levels of hormones.


Stress increases the brain’s need for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that induces a feeling of calm. To step up serotonin, your body requires carbohydrates, thus causing cravings for foods such as pasta, potatoes, cookies and cakes. Wouldn’t it be better on your waistline to steer your body towards healthier choices to satisfy those cravings? Stress can also lead to erratic eating habits. It can set the stage for a feeding frenzy. Too often we neglect to schedule time to sit down and eat real meals or eat more than a handful of this or that throughout the day. Blood sugars plummet and we become so ravenous that we eat everything and anything in sight. We may also have been conditioned during childhood to see food as a reward for something well done or a remedy for sadness or injury. The following are some helpful tips to avoid “stress eating:”


Modify your diet to eliminate or significantly reduce comfort foods that are high in fat.


  • Don’t skip meals. You are more likely to overeat at dinner if you pass on breakfast and lunch.
  • Pay attention to eating a balanced diet.
  • Eliminate eating in front of the TV.
  • Find ways other than eating to relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Try to be aware of what your personal overeating triggers are.
  • Eating for comfort doesn’t have to be harmful. Redefine comfort food; relax with herbal tea or a bowl of nuts, instead of ice cream.
  • Put yourself on a meal plan with regular mealtime slots at the same time everyday. This will keep your blood sugar up and give you a sense of control. Even better, the night before a frantic day, write down when and what you plan to eat.
  • Rid your home and office of finger foods.
  • Do not allow yourself to eat while standing.
  • Do a u-turn when you find yourself heading for the kitchen or vending machine. Do something else for 10 minutes: phone a friend or take a walk up and down the stairs.
  • Change the way you deal with food in relation to stress.
  • Turn to non-food soothers: exercise, bubble bath, calming music, a novel or a magazine.