How to Break the Cycle of Stress Eating

US News

The cycle is always the same.

Something stressful happens at work, home, school, on the road, during your commute or wherever. It feels out of your control, you feel powerless to fight it and you have no idea how to solve or fix it. The stress weighs you down -- metaphorically and literally -- to the point where you feel and think more slowly and react as if you're under pressure.

And then you eat. It could be something sweet, something salty, something fatty or something you're emotionally attached to -- it doesn't matter. You eat it, and you feel better.

This is the cycle of stress eating, and it will get you every single time.

Stress eating, otherwise known as emotional eating, can potentially contribute to weight gain, but that's not the only challenge it presents. Using food to cope with emotional pain is what facilitates addiction, and it is in fact abuse of a substance. Time and time again, researchers have learned that food addicts, while abusing food, experience the same neurological impulses and reactions as addicts of substances such as heroin and cocaine. An addiction to food is doubly insidious, because you cannot live without it -- you simply must learn how to consume it mindfully.

[Read: Stop Emotional Eating With These 5 Tips.]

What does that mean to "consume mindfully," without abuse? For starters, it means you're not running to food after a traumatic event or experience. It means before consuming something, you've checked that you're not mindlessly munching out of the bag -- instead, you've pulled your portion out and set it aside, and you've put the rest away for another time. It looks like actually solving your problems, as opposed to letting them consume you -- until you consume something else to make you feel better.

Recovering from emotional eating requires coping mechanisms, or methods to help you address whatever's causing you to feel that natural fight-or-flight response. Powerful coping mechanisms could include scribbling down what you're feeling on a notepad and then tearing it up, taking a bubble bath, nose diving into a good book, calling a good friend and spilling your guts -- or whatever works for you. These methods help you address the feelings head on, as opposed to letting them fester beneath the surface and explode into a cascade of bingeing.

[Read: Binge Eating Disorder: A Diagnosis for Healing.]

This is all common knowledge for me. I've experienced a triple-digit weight loss, thanks to learning how to manage my own emotional eating problem. My recovery is never-ending -- I will always experience a new level of emotion that will challenge my ability to cope, and I'm not always victorious. Another part of recovery is learning from every experience. It's essential to recognize that we are sometimes ill-prepared for a challenge and need a new plan of attack. Our experiences change as we age, and so must our methods of managing our emotions. That adaptability is what makes recovery possible.

Stress eating is a difficult behavior to change, but the journey is unbelievably rewarding. Learning about yourself, your emotions and the best coping mechanisms for you are all invaluable pieces of knowledge, and they're the most important steps to recovery. As I always say, your body will thank you for it!

[Read: Best Diets for Healthy Eating.]

Hungry for more? Write to with your questions, concerns and feedback.

Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award-winning blog, A Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss, where she chronicles her journey of going from 330-pound couch potato to a certified personal trainer, nutritionist, and all-around fitness dynamo. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on Twitter at @bgg2wl.

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