Stressed Spelled Backwards is DESSERTS. 5 Strategies for Dealing with Emotional Eating.

Debbie Hatch | Family & F.I.T.


We all have “those” days. Things don’t go as planned. You’re running from the very moment you wake up until late that night when you finally fall into bed, exhausted and stressed. The day has been a blur. You accomplished nothing you planned. Thank goodness for those quad Starbucks triple mocha cappuccinos or you probably wouldn’t have made it through!

These are the days you seek comfort wherever you can find it. Many times that comes in the form of chocolate, cookies, or four helpings of pasta with a loaf of bread for a side, washed down with one or two bottles of wine. We try to drown out our emotions with food and beverage.

I know it’s not just me who seeks to fix my problems by sticking my head inside a half-gallon of butter pecan ice cream. What’s your comfort food?

Nobody craves a piece of tilapia and asparagus at the end of one of these days – I can promise you that! Well, unless it’s asparagus hidden under a pound of melted cheddar cheese and sprinkled with bacon, anyway.

I am an emotional eater. To be honest, I was raised that way. My mother thought food was the answer to everything. Sad? Here’s a sugary treat to make you feel better. Happy? Let’s get something yummy to help us celebrate. Made the honor roll? We get to go to McDonald’s for breakfast tomorrow. Angry? Let’s get something to eat and take some time to calm down. We can talk over a plate-sized cinnamon bun. I remember her cooking an entire loaf of bread as French toast and having a competition to see how many slices I could eat. She helped me gain 63 pounds when I was pregnant with an 8 pound baby because, “this is the one time when you can eat anything you want and you don’t have to worry about whether you’re gaining weight”.  It actually goes back even further than that though. When I miss my grandmother, I automatically crave the coconut macaroons, Dunkin Donuts, and Baskin Robbins ice cream she used to bring me.

Actually it can go one of two ways. I surveyed some of my friends and clients the other day. It seems like about 90% DO eat when they’re stressed. The other 10% do not eat – anything – when they’re stressed. Clearly, neither of these extremes is ideal.

What can we do about it?

The stress isn’t going to go away. Our lives are not magically going to be rainbows and sparkling tiaras from this point forward as long as we will it. People we love pass away. Relationships we want to work out, end. Things we wanted to do, we can’t. Things don’t always go our way. We don’t get that promotion. We have too much to do. We get in arguments and have disagreements. It’s the human condition.

We need to prepare ourselves to be ready to deal with these difficulties in a better way. We need to plan how we’re going to handle the next crisis when it comes. We need to think about it now before we are IN the situation.

5 Strategies to help with Emotional Eating
  1. Start by trying to take your mind off food.

 Rather than walking into your house, grabbing the first sugary, fatty, salty thing you can find; crumbling onto the couch and stuffing it into your face, take just a few minutes.

 Have a glass or two of water. DO something. I know you don’t feel like going to the gym. That’s okay. Just go for a short walk. Call a friend while you’re walking, or listen to music (an audiobook or short podcast). Look at your to-do list and resolve to get one or two quick things checked off. Crank your music and dance around for 5 or 10 minutes. Don’t sit down. Don’t get on the computer. Move for a few minutes and get your blood circulating. I know it’s hard at first – especially if something has happened and you’re depressed, sad, or angry. You owe this few minutes to yourself though. AND this will make you feel better than food will.


  1. Face the emotion.

 We’re taught by our parents, teachers, and even in the workplace, that there are “good” (joy, happiness, pleasure) and “bad” (anger, fear, jealousy) emotions. We’re continually told (and/or we tell ourselves) that we need to suppress “negative” emotions. Don’t be angry. Don’t be sad. Don’t be depressed. Be happy. Be calm.

 In fact, every emotion serves a purpose! Emotions themselves are not “bad”. It is how we choose to act upon or respond – or even worse, NOT respond – to our emotions that may cause problems.

 Think about the emotion without the food. Ask yourself questions like these:

  •  How do I feel right now? Be specific. Name the emotion. “I feel angry, sad, frustrated, belittled, depressed, over-worked, under-appreciated, unloved, stressed……”
  •  What led to this feeling? Was it a specific situation? Is that an on-going situation or something that just happened this once? Was it a specific person? Was it that you responded poorly because you said something you didn’t really mean or you didn’t listen? Did you take on too much?
  •  Can you / what can you do to fix the problem? Not the emotion but the cause of your sadness, anger, frustration, etc. Can you do anything about THAT? What? Could you talk to the person, could you explain your feelings, could you decide to take a few things off your too full to do list? Could you ask someone for help? Do you just have to deal with it?
  • If you can’t do anything about it, because things do sometimes happen TO us that are outside of our control, how can you deal with it? Can you think of some way to positively handle the situation if you can’t change it? Would it help to talk to someone? Would it help to write your thoughts down? Would it help to clear your head by finding something to do for a few minutes? Could you allow yourself 5 or 10, or 15 minutes to cry, to scream, to melt-down? AND then take a few minutes to just breath.

 You might think I’m weird but I’m going to be completely honest. Don’t knock it until you try it once or twice. I take 5 minutes to just sit or lay down. I close my eyes and I take a deep breathe in. As I slowly exhale, I imagine that the breathe (instead of “just” being exhaled) is being pushed throughout my body. I can feel it going to my lungs, then to my stomach, my arms, my legs. It takes up all of the space inside my body so as it is expanding, it pushes all of the negative energy out – through my shoulders, my finger tips, my toes.   This does not take my problems away but it does typically calm me enough so that I can re-center again. I can think more clearly, and I can have a fresh approach.


  1. Eat intentionally.

IF you’ve tried to get it off your mind but you find that you really, really want the chips (or whatever “it” is for you), have them. If you’re an emotional eater, you should NOT keep these things in your house. That makes it much too easy for you. Instead, make the foods you want to limit as inconvenient as possible. At the very least, put these things on the very top shelf of your pantry so you have to expend the effort of dragging out a chair to get to them. I bury stuff in the bottom of my freezer. Unless it’s been a really, really bad day, I’m not going to take the time of digging all the frozen food out just to get to the Thin Mint cookies.

 Better yet, if this stuff is not in your house, you’ll have to drive to the store. On these days, once you’re in, you’re not likely going to feel like going back out. When you DO go to the store, buy one individual serving size of what you’re craving. Don’t give yourself that BS story about how the larger bag is the better deal, it’s more economical and you’ll save a lot of money by buying the King-sized. That is true but here’s what you need to remember – it’s not a better deal unless you eat the entire thing. You can either waste your money buying the smaller bag OR you can put the extra chips on your waist. One or the other. Waste or waist.  You choose.


  1. Be mindful of how much you’re eating.

 If you come into the house, grab that large bag of chips, plop onto the couch, pull out your 

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 2.58.19 AMiPad or turn on the television, that bag is going to be gone and you won’t even remember putting your hand to your mouth. That doesn’t even count the can of dip you cleaned out with these chips, either. If you’re eating – because of stress, emotion, or just because you’re eating – be mindful of how much you’re eating. Don’t carry the bag to the couch. If you don’t have an individual serving, get out one serving in a bowl. When it’s gone, it’s gone and you’ll notice it. Even if you go back for a second helping, there’s no denying it – you’ll KNOW what you’re doing and you’ll have to decide whether you really want to have more or not.


  1. Please remind yourself that YOU ARE IN CONTROL.

 I know it might not feel like it at that very moment. Life seems so difficult and you feel like crap. Who to hell cares? YOU will! Even if you don’t right this moment, you will later. You have been through difficult times before. You have been stressed. You have survived. Can you tell me of one time when food or alcohol fixed any of your problems? Personally, I can tell you how many times they’ve helped me. Zero! Not even once. A loaf of fresh sourdough bread slathered in butter, and a six pack of Guinness is not going to make anything better this time either.

 If you over-consume, you end up feeling guilty and sluggish. You’ll feel like you let yourself down. You’ll be disappointed, sad, angry, AND you still have the original issue/stress. If you don’t eat, you will feel exhausted and “disconnected”. It’s hard to concentrate on anything and you become even more emotional when you don’t have food in your body. AND you still have the original issue/stress.

 We think comfort food is going to comfort us. For me personally, once that last bite is on its way to my stomach….I feel no comfort. I need to either keep eating or realize that my problems are not going to dissolve into a piece of Hershey’s death by chocolate cake.

You are in control

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