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URMC / BHP / BHP Blog / April 2023 / Stress Eating – Tips to Control an Unhealthy Behavior

Stress Eating – Tips to Control an Unhealthy Behavior

By: George Nasra, MD

All of us have experienced overeating at one time or another. However, if you regularly overeat to the point of discomfort; eat to control stress; eat more than is needed to curb your hunger; or if you typically feel guilt and shame afterwards; you may be suffering from emotional eating. This is a common condition also referred to as binge eating disorder.

It is important to first state the following facts. Food is a recognized stress reliever and it is essential for our survival. I say this to remind everyone that food is not the problem. There is no such thing as “good food” and “bad food.” Eating becomes a problem when we engage in consuming large amounts of food under stress, without necessarily being hungry. It’s also problematic when eating becomes mindless and automatic, as opposed to a mindful behavior. 

The following tips are designed to help you regain control over your eating habits and therefore decrease the chance of binging and/or excessive eating.

1. Eating should be “a pure experience.” Never engage in any other activity (for example, watching TV, reading, talking on the phone etc.) while eating. This will help you savor your food better, and avoid automatic eating.

2. Confine eating to one room in the house, and within that room try to have a specific place for eating (if possible try to avoid any other activities but eating in that space). Avoid eating regularly in a place where you usually work, for example desk, office, etc.

3. Decide on the amount of food to be eaten before you start. For example, slice just enough bread for the amount you want to eat. Place all you intend to eat on the table. If you need seconds (bread or other), wait until you are done with your meal first, then think if it makes sense to eat more. The same applies to cereals, etc. Do not eat from containers. If eating by yourself, prepare one portion at a time.

4. Practice leaving food on the table. This should be done slowly when you feel ready. Do not feel guilty that you are being wasteful. This amount of food is minimal compared to the food you eat, but do not want.

5. Throw away leftovers. Keeping leftovers may set you up for later snacking. Discard leftover food or make it inedible as soon as possible after each meal.

6. Limit exposure to “danger food.” Keep as little “problem food” as possible in the house. If you need to have such food (for children, other members of the family, etc.), it should be stored immediately, kept out of sight, and in one room.

7. Stick to a shopping list. Plan your shopping and compose your list only after you have had a meal, not on an empty stomach. Never decide what to buy while in the store. Try to select foods that need preparation rather than easy to eat items. If you find your control is poor, take just enough money to buy the items on the shopping list.

8. Avoid being the food dispenser for others. As much as possible, try to have other members of the family help, or if kids are old enough, have them pack their own food.

Another way to avoid stress eating is by not skipping meals. In addition to stress, hunger is an important trigger to binging. To avoid binging due to hunger, follow the Rule of Threes: eat 3 small meals and 3 snacks daily. Also, try not to spend more than 3 hours without some food being consumed. This may seem counterintuitive; however the idea is to have half of a fruit, a few dried raisins, or a small portion of a meal on a regular basis.  This is the best remedy to stress eating, which would lead to the consumption of large amounts of unnecessary calories.

If you find that your emotional eating is triggered by depression, anxiety or stress and you would like to obtain a consultation from our team of professionals, you can contact Behavioral Health Partners at 276-6900.

All of us have experienced overeating at one time or another. But if you regularly overeat to the point of discomfort, or eat to control stress, you may be suffering from emotional eating. This common condition is also referred to as binge eating disorder. The February blog post from Behavioral Health Partners (BHP) shares tips for controlling stress eating. Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-Uproviding eligible individuals with mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression.


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