How to Avoid Emotional Eating

by Valerie Demetros

Cake solves everything because stressed spelled backwards is dessert.

“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy ice cream and that’s kind of the same thing.”

We’ve heard them all, and sometimes even those sayings above can be comforting. But there is a difference between comforting yourself with a bit of dessert and emotional eating that derails your wellness goals.

Emotional eating often comes from a trigger or event that causes you to turn to food as a source of comfort, causing distress after the fact.

If you’re worried that your stress eating may be getting out of hand, the first thing to do is pay attention. Take note of whether you are truly hungry or just want to eat, and how your day or thoughts are impacting how much and what you’re eating. Try to identify what is driving the behavior.

Be gentle with yourself. You’re allowed to experience stress, anger, fear, etc.

Here are a few ideas to intercept the desire to grab that doughnut or cookie when stressed.

Drink water

It’s the oldest trick in the book, but drinking a full glass of water can help. Most people don’t drink enough water anyway and dehydration can feel like hunger. Flavor your water with fruit if you need a treat.


Grab a notepad and write things down. Write in bullet points what is stressing you out and why. This can clarify where the stress is coming from and can give you perspective.

Brew tea

Just the actions of making a cup of tea can calm your nerves. And choose a soothing tea like peppermint or chamomile to increase the effects. Close your eyes, breathe in the aroma and feel your shoulders loosen and your breathing relax.

Take a walk

When the urge to eat out of stress attacks, head outside and go for a walk or run. Exercise releases endorphins that can stimulate relaxation, help you sleep better — and the fresh air is a natural stress reducer. As an added bonus, the snacks are back at home.

If you can’t go for a walk, try doing planks or jumping jacks to get your heart rate up and endorphins pumping.

Think it over

Research shows that the pleasure you get from eating comfort foods lasts only three minutes.

Keep that in mind and ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Also, ask yourself if you are actually hungry or just bored, sad or upset.

Stock your cabinets

If you know you will be snacking at some point, make sure you have low-calorie finger foods on hand like baby carrots, string cheese or celery. Crunching on celery doesn’t take the place of crunching on chips, but it can be satisfying and a good substitute.

Treat yourself

If chocolate is your comfort food, get a small amount of quality chocolate and limit your intake. Make it a special treat just for these moments. Just remember to stick to your limit.

Eat regularly

Try not to skip meals, making you hungrier and easily emotional. Skipping meals can lower your blood sugar and make you “hangry,” leading to bad choices.

Eat at the table

Eating in front of the TV can cause you to overeat. If you decide to snack, give yourself a certain amount and stick to it, then sit and eat.