When is stress eating okay? And when does is it a signal you need help?

Is Stress Eating Ever Okay?

Did you stress eat or emotionally eat last week? Congratulations—you’re normal! Instead of feeling disappointed in yourself though, you should thank yourself for wanting your values to be represented in the White House so much that it affected you emotionally. 

Let’s unpack what stress eating (or emotional eating) is, when it’s okay and when it’s a signal for help.

There are typically 2 stress responses that impact our eating. 

The first response is over-eating. When you eat to fill an emotional void by leaning into the comfort and warmth from food because comfort feels unobtainable from anything or anyone else. 

The second response is under-eating. When you’re so overwhelmed and anxious, the thought of deciding what to eat feels like too much to deal with so you don’t bother. 

When do you need help for emotional eating?

When emotional eating is a frequent occurrence and it’s unclear to you why you’re turning to (or away from) food to cope with stress, it’s time to seek help from a health professional who will help you discover and address the root of the issue. 

When is stress eating okay?

When it is a short-term response to an isolated event, it is a natural, human response to either over-eat or under-eat due to stress. For example, waiting for the results of a medical test/procedure, studying for a life-changing exam, or feeling stuck in limbo for a multitude of other yes/no outcomes in the near-future. 

What should you do after stress eating?

Fuel your body—you always deserve to eat. It doesn’t matter if you think you ate too much or too little, you do NOT need to “make up” for it by launching into a reset, restart, tightening of your nutrition, low carb day, cleanse, detox, harder workout or whatever else diet culture will try and shame you into. .

We can learn from these moments and certainly work to develop more coping tools for stress, but for many people, stress eating simply means you’re alive and human!

Meridith Oram
Meridith Oram is an ACE-Certified Health Coach at Love Yourself Towards Healthy where she helps chronic dieters heal their relationship with food, fitness and body image. She is also the creator of Gain Wellness, a 5-week behavioral change program to unlearn diet culture, stop negative self-talk and set wellness goals---not appearance goals. Follow Meridith at @loveyourself2healthy on all social channels.

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