How to Manage Stress and Emotional Eating While Staying at Home

As we continue to diligently practice social distancing and following “Safer at Home” guidelines, it’s likely that many of us will feel additional stress while navigating our “new normal.” This pandemic has undoubtedly added stress to all of our lives but learning how you cope with it can make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger. Since May is mental health month, it’s a great time to be talking about stress management.

Getting stressed out occasionally is one thing, but when stress becomes chronic—when we face, for instance, unrelenting work demands, anxiety over our health or constantly worry about our finances—it can really take a toll on our body and our minds.

Boredom and stress can trigger emotional eating, particularly when you’re stuck at home and surrounded by food all day long. Whether you’re ordering in comfort foods that are higher in calories than your usual meals or cooking at home with limited ingredients you have on-hand, you may be eating differently than you used to. Stress eating, or emotional eating, however, can creep up on you without your knowing it, and could negatively impact your health.

So, what is stress eating? It’s pretty much what it sounds like—it’s when you eat in order to escape whatever bad feelings you’re experiencing, in the hope that food will make you feel better. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision, but more often it’s just a mindless response to a vague, negative emotion that you can’t quite put your finger on. Stress can bring on fatigue or depression, so heathy eating might take a back seat to foods that are comforting. Those high calorie comfort foods can stimulate the release of certain chemicals in the brain that make us feel good, but also make us want to keep eating. In a vicious cycle, overeating can lead to weight gain—increasing stress and which, in turn, can lead to more overeating.

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The most important thing everyone should be doing right now is taking the best possible care of themselves. Here are five ways to curb your stress and practice good eating habits to keep yourself healthy:

  1. Own up to your feelings. You know that emotions are the trigger for your stress eating, so why not acknowledge them? It’s OK to feel mad, lonely or bored sometimes. The feelings may be unpleasant but they’re not dangerous, and you don’t always need to ‘fix’ them. Let your emotions come and go without judging them.
  2. Find alternatives for eating. A brisk walk or a cup of herbal tea might work instead. If you feel the need to eat, try hard crunchy foods – they help relieve stress by putting tight jaw muscles to work. Try snacking on a handful of almonds, soy nuts or baby carrots.
  3. Eat regularly and don’t skip meals. Give yourself permission to eat. When you’re stressed it’s easy to put meals off or even skip them all together—but energy levels will suffer as a result, and you might even end up overeating when you do finally eat. If stress is an appetite-killer, try eating smaller amounts of food more often during the day.
  4. Cut back on caffeine. People often feel a lack of energy when they’re stressed and turn to caffeine as a pick-me-up, but it can disrupt your sleep at night. If caffeine keeps you awake at night, drink decaffeinated coffees and teas.
  5. Practice ‘mindful eating:’ When you eat mindfully, you try to become more aware of your internal signals of hunger and fullness, and also become more in tune with what triggers you to eat in the first place. Mindful eating can help you avoid overeating and allow you to enjoy your food more—even when you eat less. You can also learn to pay more attention to what you’re choosing to put into your body.
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Remember, this is not the time to be restricting your intake, but a time to focus on eating the most nutrient-dense foods you can in order to optimize nutrition to support a healthy immune system. Stay hydrated, get adequate rest and exercise, and use methods such as meditation to help you relax.

For more nutrition tips from Susan Bowerman visit

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