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Emotional Eating or True Hunger?

Food is supposed to be something we use to satisfy our hunger and provide our bodies with valuable vitamins and nutrients. But for many people, food has become more than just fuel for the daily activities of life.

Some people turn to food to handle overwhelming emotions, like stress. For these emotional eaters, eating as a way to deal with stress can easily lead to overeating. As the stress of life builds, stress eating can lead to becoming overweight or even obese if left unchecked.


Are you eating because you’re hungry, or because you’re stressed?

Think about the times when you’re most likely to snack or reach for comfort foods. Do you tend to turn to food after a particularly rough day? If you grew up in a household where food was used to manage emotions, you’re more likely to eat to handle stress as an adult.


But there may be more than environmental factors at play. In some people, stress actually triggers a hormone in the body that’s related to hunger. It’s this combination of nature and nurture that can make stress eating an almost automatic behavior for some people.


The next time you find yourself reaching for food, stop and examine your motives. How long has it been since you ate? Are you feeling anxious or stressed at the moment? Identifying your underlying reasons for eating is the first step to preventing overeating and the resulting weight gain.


Breaking the Stress Eating Habit

Stress eating describes a pattern of behavior where you eat because you feel stressed, rather than because you’re hungry. If you tend to use food to cope with negative emotions, you may find that you’re overeating and gaining weight during stressful times in your life. How can you break the habit of stress eating?


The best way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a new, better habit. The next time you find yourself turning to food in a stressful situation, stop and consider engaging in another activity until the craving passes. The more often you do this, the more you’ll find yourself turning to healthy alternatives instead of stress eating.


Plan ahead – “what activity will you turn to the next time stress hunger strikes?


Stress Eating: Finding Alternatives to Food

  • Exercise. Working out can help alleviate the feelings associated with stress. People who exercise regularly also tend to be less stressed in the first place. The next time you feel the urge to soothe yourself with a chocolate bar, head out for a brisk walk instead.
  • Relax. Deep breathing, yoga, meditation, or peaceful visualization are great ways to relieve stress without adding to your daily calorie count. Try making a playlist of soothing music that you can turn on the next time stress hits.
  • Distract yourself. Keep your hands and your mind busy until the craving for food passes. Read a book, call a friend, or do a load of laundry. You might also consider playing a game to take your mind off your stress for a while.


Developing the habit of stress eating probably took years, and it will take some time for you to completely break the habit. Enlist the help of friends and family and remove the temptation of your favorite snack foods from your house to help you stay on track.