Health & Wellness Articles

De-Stress in 3 Minutes or Less

Stop Emotional Eating Before It Starts


Minute 1: Stay Grounded
Emotional eating happens when you lose your connection to your grounded self. Stress itself is not what makes you reach for something to eat. In fact, stress is often a good thing and your grounded self knows this! We need the physical stress of exercise to keep our bodies in good shape just as we need the stress of intellectual and emotional challenges to keep our minds healthy.

Nine times out of ten, what really leads to emotional eating is getting caught in a "mind storm" of worst-case scenarios, projections, misinterpretations, and all the emotional overreactions that come with these thoughts. This "storm" turns a manageable challenge into something that makes you feel helpless, overwhelmed, ashamed or afraid—and sends you to the kitchen to find something to stuff those extreme feelings. When you can stay grounded in the moment of stress, you have many more options.

Here are some simple ideas to keep you grounded when something (or someone) pushes your buttons and your feelings start to spiral out of control:
  • Take a few deep breaths. (You can also count to 10, if that helps.) If the stressful situation involves someone else, take a timeout and agree to continue the discussion in a few minutes.
  • Remind yourself where you are. Take a look around, noticing and naming the colors and shapes in the space around you.
  • Notice the physical sensations you are experiencing. Whether it's a sinking feeling, turmoil in your stomach, tension in your hands or jaw, restricted breathing, or heat on the back of your neck, try to name the feelings that go with the sensation. Is that sinking feeling fear, or dread? Is the heat a symptom of anger?
The idea here is to stay in your body and in the moment—with what’s real—instead of going inside your mind where all those unreal scenarios are just waiting to get spun out-of-control.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • Stress eating is the ONE thing I have struggled with over the years. I like the advice to reconnect with yourself bc I think I do tend to unplug my rational thinking to use food to relax or destress. Just taking a moment to pause can sometimes break that automatic response. Thanks! - 2/11/2016 4:51:59 PM
  • Thanks! I've seen a positive effect just from reading this article. I will use these techniques in the future. - 2/4/2016 7:03:28 AM
  • After a little cool down walk, I like to talk it out with my husband, or sister. They often make me see things from a different point of view. - 1/19/2016 7:39:21 PM
  • I'm the Great Wanna-Be Fixer of other people's problems. But I don't fix my overweight problems. Time to spark myself. - 11/1/2015 12:18:52 PM
  • Very good article. Ironically, what's a trigger to one isn't a trigger to another.

    I've learned something valuable over the years:

    Knowing and doing aren't the same thing.

    I can know why I do something but it doesn't stop me from doing it. For me, when I feel down, I do something that helps me feel competent - even if it's cleaning the kitchen sink so that it's sparkly.

    Or I don't want to exercise. I just go for "five minutes" and once I get going, I feel better and am out for what I had planned usually.

    Good stuff. - 2/2/2015 12:04:48 PM
    Dean Anderson, you have just become my favorite writer of all time! :x:x that"s not only for this article, but for all of them! you are a genius and i want to put into practice every piece of advice you gave me in your articles! thank you once again and PLEASE keep writing!:-) - 1/10/2015 6:35:38 PM
  • Excellent advice that I have actually used. Couple of others--
    1) When dealing with an emotional or angry person, listen for the content of what they are saying (remove the emotion) and respond to the content, your calm response not only prevents you from getting entangled it also makes it difficult for them to stay emotional.
    2) Deactivate triggers. Generally these are caused by something in our past that we don't recognize but our emotions do. In a "mind storm" (love that term) and/or physical response, notice them and acknowledge them. Think back to what happened that triggered them. Jot it down. If you are in a quiet place, jot down the mind storm too, but as you do, more will pop into your head. Sometimes the thoughts will be painful, follow them. Acknowledge all the reactions you have they are valuable. In the end, you may get down to the root of why your emotions were triggered which once you acknowledge it you can take steps to unplug the trigger. It sometimes takes the trigger getting pulled a few times while you are working to disable it to get it fully unplugged. Each time you will notice that your emotional reaction lasts for a shorter time and less intense. - 11/19/2014 8:03:11 AM
    Useful tips. I actually don't resort to eating or binging when criticized or upset. - 9/20/2014 1:50:31 PM
  • These are great tips and will be useful as I battle stress. Thinking back, I often make things bigger than they need to be. - 8/31/2014 1:39:42 AM
  • These are all great tips. If your emotional eating results in eating a few hundred extra calories in a sitting or day, then these tips are very helpful. If you find yourself bingeing and eating several hundred to thousands of extra calories in a sitting or day on a regular basis, then it is probably time to seek professional help because you may be looking at an eating disorder which is extremely serious and life-threatening. We all overeat or binge on occasion but we may need more than these tips if it is a regular habit. - 8/27/2014 2:39:38 PM
  • I'm a closet emotional eater. No problem when others are around. I like this verse from the Bible as a guide, "Make no provision for the flesh." The only solution for me is never to bring my trigger foods in the house. When I violate this rule, it's a given I'm going to eat and eat and EAT until it's gone. - 8/24/2014 2:07:36 AM
    You've actually hit the nail on the head. Emotional eating is one of the causes of obesity.When I'm upset and not up and doing, I turn to food.
    Thanks and great article. - 8/8/2014 5:27:57 PM
  • I could have used this information on Saturday. I don't know what started my emotional eating. Well maybe I do know. My DH is stressing over his eye appointment which I had to rearrange my work schedule because I have to drive him home due to drops in his eyes. I started out good by coloring my hair but then I saw tastykakes in the basket and I ate a pack. I haven't done that in a long time. Live and learn. They didn't even taste good. I was back on track yesterday. Thank goodness. - 7/21/2014 12:57:06 PM
  • This is just what I was looking for! I wish I could print it on the palm of my hand. - 5/31/2014 12:01:43 PM
    I have found that these stress relieving tips can help just about any issue that may be showing its ugly head. Personally, meditating, yoga and focused breathing has worked very well. Thanks for ”spelling it out" - 2/11/2014 12:08:23 AM

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