Is stress eating or emotional ever okay? Know the signs for concern.

Is Stress Eating Ever Okay?

Have you been stress eating or emotionally eating this past week? That’s okay—you’re normal! Instead of feeling disappointed in yourself though, you should consider what may have triggered you to stress eat. Read more to learn what stress 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. 

Signs you need help for emotional eating.

Is food your only way to relieve stress? If you were to receive bad news right now, would your first response be food?

If emotional eating becomes a frequent occurrence. Becomes your main way for dealing with stress. You’re not even hungry but the act of eating feels numbing and distracting. Or you’re not even sure why you’re stressed out and seeking comfort in food. It’s time to seek help.

These are all signs that you may have underlying mental health and emotional health issues going on that need to be addressed. A health professional—like a therapist who specializes in disordered eating and is educated in Health At Every Size—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, studying for a life-changing exam, or feeling stuck in limbo for a multitude of other yes/no outcomes in the near-future. 

Stress eating can be one of many tools for coping. If you have other outlets that support your wellness like therapy (mental & emotional health), prayer and/or meditation (spiritual health), exercise (physical health), getting outside (environmental health), or interacting with other people (social health).

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!

Woman eating a gallon of pink and white swirled ice cream with a spoon. Text overlay says Is Stress Eating Ever Okay? Know the signs for concern.

Meridith Oram
Meridith Oram is an anti-diet nutritionist at Love Yourself Towards Healthy where she helps chronic dieters heal their relationship with food, fitness and body image by ditching diet culture and finding freedom in their God-given intuition. Focusing on behavioral change and Intuitive Eating, Meridith helps her clients 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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