Physical hunger is a good way of determining when we need to eat to refuel our bodies. However, stress eating, or emotional eating, has become the norm in many people’s lives today.

While it’s true that daily stress can cause our appetites to decrease, it’s also true that many people seek comfort in food during times of stress, anxiety, and worry. And what can be more comforting than starchy, fatty, salty and sugary foods?

The problem is that if we eat when stressed our bodies take longer to digest foods since our ability to digest has slowed down. However, according to Harvard Health, “Stress also seems to affect food preferences. Numerous studies — granted, many of them in animals — have shown that physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both.”

Stress eating is eating to meet or stifle emotional needs, to make oneself feel better. Sadly this has become a regular occurrence in far too many people’s lives. Perhaps we make poor eating choices when stressed because we want a quick fix to gain maximum comfort.

There aren’t too many of us who want to chow down on a salad when really stressed. Instead we might turn to quick microwave meals, salty and sugary snacks, or fast food meals that promise happiness and comfort. Unfortunately, if this becomes the norm, as it has in so many people’s lives, it crowds out healthy and nutritious food from the diet and can cause a plethora of health issues somewhere down the line.

So, what is the answer? Is there any way to stop stress eating or eating for comfort? Below are some things to consider on your journey to health.

1. Question Your Stress

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Ask yourself, what am I so stressed about? Is your stress coming from something you can change? If so, what steps would you need to take to change or get rid or your stressors?

Make a list of steps you could take to more beyond the stress in your life. If the stress in your life is not easily changed, perhaps seek out a professional who can help you get back on track.

2. Clear Out the Cupboards

Sometimes stress eating is a vicious cycle – we are stressed so seek comfort in quick, easily accessible foods, which in turn can leave us stressed out by our poor choices, which can in turn lead us back to more poor dietary choices, and so on.

The answer to this cycle can be as simple as to clear out our cupboards and fridges of anything that would be considered a temptation. And if you find it hard to pass by all those colorful, shiny, tempting fast-food outlets perhaps take an alternate route to work or home. And by skipping out on all the fast-food and snacks, think of the money you could be saving!

3. Keep a Food Diary

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A food diary is one of the simplest ways to keep a track on what you are eating, and it doesn’t have to be hard to do. Simply get a notepad, write the date down and below this write down everything you eat in a day and the time you ate it. By doing this you will be able to see if there is a pattern emerging.

For example, if at 3:15pm everyday you eat a candy bar, followed by a doughnut, ask yourself why you are eating those “food” items at that time each day? You can add as much detail to your food diary as you like – for instance you can add the cost, how you felt before and after eating, and possible healthier alternatives.

4. Give Yourself a Budget

Perhaps you know that you spend far too much on quick, fast food. You could work out how much you need each day to eat a more nutritious diet and give yourself a weekly allowance based on this.

Plan your budget accordingly and keep a notebook to record what you buy and how much you spend. If you find you blow through your budget in a couple of days, then you could refer to your notes to discover where you went wrong.

5. Treat Yourself

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Unless it’s for specific health reasons, no matter what diet you are on you should allow yourself a little treat from time to time. I’m not suggesting that you eat salads religiously for six days a week, only to go and binge out on fatty foods on the seventh. What I mean is that you could treat yourself to something nice when you’re out with friends or when you reach a milestone in your weight loss or stress reduction plans.

And it doesn’t have to be a food related treat – think of how much you could be saving by not eating out or snacking constantly. Maybe you could treat yourself a sweater you’ve had your eye on or that book you’ve been dying to read.

6. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

Again, don’t be too hard on yourself. Many people begin diets or healthier lifestyles with every intention of gaining health or losing weight, and yet sometimes they fall off the wagon, so-to-speak.

If this happens, don’t beat yourself up and get all stressed out. Instead chalk it up to a temporary setback, get back on the proverbial wagon, and move right on ahead to resume your diet or healthier way of living. The truth is, we are all tempted from time to time and sometimes that double chocolate muffin just looks too good to pass up!

7. Choose Healthier Snack Options

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Perhaps you’re a snacker, there’s no crime in that. Many people like to graze throughout the day rather than have three larger meals, or grab a small bite between meals.

However, instead of going to the candy and chip aisles to choose your snacks, maybe you could check out the fresh or health food sections. You would be amazed at how many tasty and nutritious snacks there are out there today.

Alternatively, you could make your own snacks. Kale chips, fresh fruit, chopped veggies, popcorn, energy bites, trail mix, and dips such as hummus, spinach & artichoke, and guacamole are all easy-to-make and portable options.

8. Remember You’re Not Alone!

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Even though sometimes it may feel like it, the truth is you are never alone. In every city and town there are people who meet on a regular basis to encourage one another for a variety of different challenges they may be facing in life.

If you are a stress eater and you want support in this area of your life perhaps you could begin by asking around to see if there is a stress management group nearby that you could attend. You could ask your doctor, nutritional advisor, counselor, and your pastor if they know of anything like this happening in your area. You could even call your local leisure center or search online.

Make a Change

Of course, no list like this is ever fully complete or exhaustive, but above are 8 fairly simple ways to move away from stress and emotional eating toward a more balanced, nutritious diet.

If you are finding that you are stressed out more times than not and eating way too much quick fix, fast-food meals and snacks as a means of comfort, then maybe something needs to change.

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