Doctor-Approved Ways to Stop Stress Eating

Under pressure? Take control of your diet with these simple tips.

junk food


Going through a breakup? Studying for an exam? Having nightmares about a looming work deadline?

These common anxieties tend to push us to one place: the fridge. Emotional or stress-related binge eating is totally normal—and identifiable—whether or not you have a clinical disorder, says Dr. Kari Anderson, chief clinical director at the new Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating at Vermont’s Green Mountain retreat.

If junk food calls your name every time the going gets tough, read on. We asked Anderson how to keep your stress or emotional eating under control.

1. Get some sleep. Research has shown that adequate shut-eye helps you make smart dietary choices. “People are looking for some miracle cure for their food problems, instead of the basic things necessary for health,” Anderson says. “Not sleeping enough will, without a doubt, throw the body into a place of deep stress.”

2. Eat your omega-3s. Anderson says nourishing the brain may help you avoid bad habits. “It all goes back to brain health, and eating foods that will keep us full without making us feel overtaxed or overtired,” she says. Turn to foods such as salmon, chia and flax seeds, and walnuts.

3. Accept your cravings. The staff at Green Mountain avoids making any foods forbidden. “Nothing is totally off limits,” Anderson says. “As soon as you tell yourself you can’t have something, the brain feels a sense of deprivation, whether it’s real or contrived.” So, yes, you can succumb to your sweet tooth, within reason—it may even help you avoid a bigger breakdown later.

4. Tidy up. The sight of unfinished work, Anderson says, can wreak havoc on your self-esteem, distract you, and impair your ability to make positive choices. “Don’t have things lying around that [make you think] you’re not doing enough,” Anderson says. “This will hurt your confidence and push you toward comfort food.” She suggests front-loading, or making sure you have enough time in your schedule to keep up with tasks, take frequent breaks, and avoid clutter.

5. Tone down the tech. “If you have email dinging or your phone is buzzing all day long, that can be extremely taxing to your brain,” Anderson says. “It will mess up your executive functioning and, by the time you make dinner, you’ll be too fatigued to cook up a healthy meal or think about portion control.” To combat this effect, try compartmentalizing your time so you’re answering emails and exploring social media all in one chunk, instead of being on call 24/7.

6. Stimulate your other senses. By shocking your senses, you revitalize your mind and distract yourself from food, Anderson explains. You can do this by listening to music, taking a cold shower, or lighting a candle with a strong scent, such as peppermint or lavender. “It jolts you out of this place of stress,” she says.

7. Take a walk. Sometimes, getting out of the house and into nature is enough to shift your focus. “It can be as simple as moving away from the source of stress or pain and getting exercise, especially if the workout is meditative,” Anderson says. “It’s okay to give yourself a break.”