Take Control of Stress Eating

Take Control of Stress Eating to Lose Weight

May 22, 2023

Are you ready to learn… nothing? What? What kind of opening statement is that for an article? If you are a stress eater, you want tools or skills or ideas for how to avoid eating when you’re stressed! Rest assured, you will be provided all those things – tools, skills, and ideas – as you continue to read. Here’s the thing. It’s almost certain you’ve heard or read about this topic many times. You’ve scrolled through lists, you may have listened to podcasts, and perhaps you’ve heard someone speak at a support group about how to prevent and take control of stress eating.

A lot of people mistakenly believe the adage, “When you know better, you do better.” That may be true sometimes, and yet having heard and read ways to avoid emotional eating is not enough to prevent most people from continuing to do so. Upset with deadlines, the boss, co-workers or the workload at the job? A quick trip to the vending machine may be the key to calm. Overwhelmed with kids and their never-ended activities, rendering you the personal driver to them and half  their teammates? A sweet beverage may ease the tension. Frustrated with family squabbles? Grabbing something sweet to savor, crunching salty snacks, or mindlessly popping tasty morsels into your mouth may help calm you down.

You know by now that eating unhealthy foods to deal with stress only leads to additional stress caused by self-loathing. Therefore, as you know, eating in response to stress is unproductive.

You also know many of the options suggested by experts for you to take control of stress eating. Some of the most encouraged ways to prevent stress eating include:

Deep breathing.

Engaging in a few minutes of slow, deep breathing allows you to calm your body and your mind. A calmer you translates to having a greater ability to think of options before reacting to stress by shoving food into your mouth.

Express your feelings.

Writing or talking about how you are feeling and what those emotions are about allow you to get the emotion out of you rather than swallowing your emotions along with excessive calories from junk food.


Taking a short walk down the hallway, up and down a flight of stairs, or around the parking lot can give you the moments you need to calm down enough to prevent you from consuming calories that will likely result in a bout of self-denigrating behavior. The same prevention of reactive, emotional eating can come from doing a few squats, stretching vigorously in the comfort of your office chair or lounger, or kicking your feet like a toddler and having a good old-fashioned temper tantrum, although it would be inadvisable to engage in this sort of behavior at your place of employment. Very helpful for you to take control of stress eating.

Get outside.

Taking in a change of scenery, inhaling some fresh air, and focusing on nature are all ways to give you the pause you need to rethink your habit of using food to do something food is literally incapable of doing: helping you work through issues. Food only delays decisions and most often increases your levels of stress.

Focus on an animal or a child.

Whether in person or online, watch a pleasant video or look at some heartwarming pictures of little children or animals. You’ll feel better and provide a few moments to recalibrate your nervous system and your thoughts.

Change your thoughts.

When you’re stressed, you are likely creating more tension for yourself by what you’re telling yourself. Try reminding yourself to calm down, relax, rethink the situation, not take things personally, make a healthy choice for your life and that taking a time-out for yourself will work to your benefit.

Literally relax your muscles.

Stress, anxiety, and tension cause your muscles to contract, thus making you feel even more stressed. Consciously and deliberately engaging in muscle relaxation exercises provides a double dose to prevent emotional eating. First, meditation or deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation techniques calm your body. The slow, deliberate thoughts necessary for muscle relaxation result in soothing your mind, providing you with the space you need to make a healthier decision for dealing with your stress than turning to food.

Ultimately, to prevent stress eating, you need to find a way to pause and prevent from impulsively reaching for food. You need to break a bad habit. In addition, you need to identify how you are feeling and choose to deal with the emotion in a healthy way. In other words, what you need to learn and put into practice is healthy coping skills.

You’ve heard these things. What prevents you from doing these things? Other than “It’s hard!” It is not easy to make this change, and yet that is what you need to do to make this important change. Avoiding stress eating can prevent significant weight regain following bariatric surgery. Besides, think of all the other hard things you do! If you have kids, well, enough said! If you have a job, you do a lot of hard things, including making sure you show up on time. Perhaps you care for aging parents, which can be difficult on many levels. You can do hard. It takes effort and a lot of practice. And you must want to make the change. You must want it really, badly!

Here is a 4-step method that will work to prevent stress eating if you put the effort into doing these steps. Take Control of Stress Eating:


Stand STILL.

Stop before you react by automatically reaching for food.

  • It will help if you keep your personal areas (your home, your car, your desk, your office) free of unhealthy, calorie-laden foods/treats.
  • Use sticky notes to place on your computer monitor, your refrigerator, and your cabinets to remind yourself to STOP before you automatically react.
  • Ask the people in your surroundings to remind you to STOP if they see you upset and heading for the vending machine or kitchen.
  • Use your phone and create a note with this 4-step method to help you follow through with making a healthy change.


Think. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What am I thinking?
  • What do I need emotionally?
  • How can I calm myself down so I can make a healthy decision?



Consider the options you have for calming yourself down, so you are better able to make a healthier decision that does not involve eating. Options include:

  • Deep breathing.
  • Talking to a friend.
  • Write about how you are feeling.
  • Ask for help.
  • Take a walk.
  • Do some squats, walk a flight of stairs, or do some stretching.
  • Look at cute pictures of kids or animals.
  • Meditate/Relax your muscles.
  • Change your thinking.
  • Do a web search for “healthy coping skills.”


Praise yourself.

When you put forth effort to avoid eating when you are stressed or highly emotional, give yourself praise. Celebrate the fact that you worked toward changing a harmful habit. Give yourself credit when you put forth effort.

You know the saying, “Go for progress, not perfection.” Accept the fact that quitting a negative habit like stress eating is difficult. Put forth the effort and recognize that you will have times when you’re able to avoid stress eating and other times you don’t. It’s okay as long as you keep putting forth effort! Any habit change requires diligence. Continued effort will result in more frequent success.

This is your health! It’s your responsibility. This Day. Every Day.

Connie Stapleton, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with nearly two decades of experience in the field of bariatric medicine.

Take Control of Stress Eating
connie stapleton


Connie Stapleton, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with nearly two decades of experience in the field of bariatric medicine. Dr. Stapleton is the author of three books, is a national and international speaker, and appears as the bariatric psychologist on three national television programs.  Read more articles by Connie Stapleton!