Staying Healthy

Let’s Talk Stress: What is emotional eating?

We’ve all been there – completely smashing it with our diet plan, but all of a sudden, a stressful event or situation means that we end up falling off the wagon and reaching for the comfort food.  

Many people turn to food to cope with their stress,  because eating foods we enjoy can alleviate our moods and make us feel better. But sometimes, overeating and emotional eating can cause difficulties in reaching our health goals.  

Read on to learn more about emotional eating, and how to manage it effectively.  

What is stress?  

Stress is defined as the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure. Although a small amount of stress can be helpful; the problem arises when we experience too many pressures, but we don’t have enough resources to help us manage them.  

When our pressures build and we experience them for an extended period, that’s when our mind and body start suffering. Research shows that persistent, long-term stress not only affect our mental wellbeing and could lead to the development of mental health conditions, but it can also raise our blood pressure and blood glucose levels, which could increase the risk of developing more serious health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes 

What does stress look like?  

The symptoms of stress are often very vague because we all experience stress differently. There are, however, some common symptoms to look out for. Physical symptoms we might experience are things like headaches, dizziness, problems with digestion, chest pain and rapid heartbeat; mental symptoms include inability to focus, constantly worrying and feeling overwhelmed.   

Often these symptoms can lead to changes in behaviour, such as drinking and smoking, being snappy, and changes in sleeping pattern. Stress can also lead to emotional eating and changes in eating patterns.  

What is emotional eating?  

During stressful periods, or times when we’re stuck at home, it can be incredibly tempting to start comfort eating. It’s only natural that a lot of us may be turning to our favourite snacks for a little pick me up at the moment! There are 2 problems with this: we often dampen the problem, rather than solve it; we often reach for processed foods that are high in calories, fat and sugar to fill the void or make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, which leads to feelings of guilt and shame afterwards.   

However, while stress eating or even emotional eating can make us feel comforted for a short period of time, it can move us further away from our weight loss goals. Plus, there’s the added risk that you’ll feel incredibly guilty afterwards, which isn’t the best thing for your mental health, particularly if you were feeling a little fragile to begin with. 

How to manage emotional eating:  

1.Create a routine:  

Planning our meals and eating at regular intervals leaves less room for spontaneous snacks and overeating. Eating healthier snacks such as our exante snack shots filled with fibre and protein can also help with reducing hunger and feeling fuller for longer.  

2. Keep a food diary:  

If you’re finding yourself stress or emotional eat on a regular basis, it can be a good idea to keep a food and mood diary. By writing down what you’re eating, it will help you identify any patterns between your mood and the food you eat. Write down what you eat, when you eat it, and how you were feeling when you ate it. From there, you’ll be able to work out any triggers that cause you to stress eat. 

3. Practice mindfulness:  

Before you head to the food cupboard, try and delay it by a few minutes and just check in with yourself. Ask yourself whether or not you’re physically hungry and how you’re feeling at the moment. While it may not necessarily stop you from giving in to the craving, it may help you identify why it’s there and help you become more aware of what you can do as an alternative, and that’s a step in the right direction! We’d also recommend having a glass of water to ensure you are not feeling dehydrated, why not add a Burst sachet to make them ever tastier? 

4. Manage your stress: 

 It may be an obvious one but when it comes to preventing stress eating, one of the best things you can do is – you guessed it – manage your stress. Everyone will be different in what works for them – for some it will be gentle exercise, for others it might be breathing techniques. It may be that you try a number of different techniques before you find something that actually works for you, but you’ll get there. 

It is important to be gentle with yourself and not be overly restrictive. If you’re in need of some extra support, our closed Facebook group is an incredibly supportive place where you can chat to other people who are following our exante diet plans 

It’s great for giving each other some well needed support and finding company while reaching your health goals.  

Lujain Alhassan

Lujain Alhassan

Writer and expert

Lujain is a Registered Nutritionist (ANutr) with a BSc in Nutrition from the University of Leeds. With a keen interest in Diabetes and performance nutrition, Lujain works closely with our team and medical partners as our in-house nutritionist and nutrition coordinator.