As we mentioned in our last post, April is Stress Awareness Month. We discussed the Stress Response and what it means for our health – now we’ll take a look at emotional or stress-eating.

We’ve been in the midst of a pandemic for at least a month now, and you aren’t alone if this experience has heightened your stress levels. Our schedules and lives have been upended, there’s a ton of uncertainty, and a lot is out of our control. For many people, increased levels of stress and uncertainty means more stress eating. You might find yourself more often reaching for foods, often energy-dense (that is, high in calories, low in nutrients), as a way to soothe your emotions. While eating can be a way of coping with stressful situations, it doesn’t have to be your only one.

Food can be a positive coping mechanism if you feel in control while eating and also feel physically and/or mentally better after eating. However, this may not always be the case. Emotional eating eating can induce feelings of guilt and shame, and may not help address the root cause of the stress.

If you find yourself turning to food in response to uncomfortable emotions, you’re not alone. Here’s how to manage or make peace with emotional eating.

Check in with your emotions before reaching for food. Ask yourself, am I hungry? Do I have any physical signs of hunger? If not, what emotion am I feeling? Stress, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, or something else? Check in with yourself. It’s so easy, especially right now, to get overwhelmed with emotions. Once you identify the emotion, try an activity to address it. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, take a walk outside (if you are able). Call a friend or family member, try a short meditation, read a book or magazine. Come up with a list of stress-relieving activities and post this on your fridge or somewhere you’re likely to see it. Most importantly, allow yourself the space to feel this emotion. It’s ok to feel confused and stressed right now.

Be gentle with yourself. If you do find yourself eating in response to uncomfortable emotions, it’s ok. You don’t need to dwell on it, but think about how it made you feel. Journal or take mental notes – how did eating that food make you feel physically and emotionally? Did it help with your emotion? Be curious, but don’t be judgmental. Remember, a lot is uncertain right now. 

Be preventative with stress. Try incorporating short meditations into your daily routine. Utilize screen time restrictions on your phone to stay focused and balanced emotionally. Log off of social media if you need to!

Practice self care. Despite what you see on Instagram, self-care doesn’t just mean face masks and bubble baths. Giving yourself time and space to feel with your emotions is also an excellent way to care for yourself. Seek out professional help if necessary, 

What’s going on in the world right now is unprecedented, so give yourself some time and grace to adapt. If you feel that you are struggling with food and nutrition during this time, consider speaking with a therapist or dietitian, who can help you navigate emotions and eating habits.