blog post title graphic with purple modern flowers on a beige background that says, 3 Steps to stop struggling with stress eating right now

Struggling with stress eating may go something like this…

If I could…

…find the right way to eat, I won’t have cravings.

…gain some more willpower, I would be stronger and I could resist my urges.

…detox from addictive/sugary foods, I would be free.

…stick with something long enough for it to take.

get to the bottom of why I struggle with stress eating; I wouldn’t have a food problem.

What’s so wrong with this way of thinking?

These all seem reasonable if you buy into a diet mentality that focuses on food being the problem.

But when we’re working on healing stress eating from the viewpoint of Conscious Eating, it’s a whole other world out there!

Fortunately, it’s a world of helpful information, growth-oriented and focused on healing your relationship with yourself, food and your body.

Struggling with stress, eating isn’t about food.

The struggle with eating stress begins with a shift from focusing on food. Instead, developing a richer awareness of your emotions, what to do with them, and how to calm your mind and body is the pathway to long-term change, so you no longer need stress eating.

You probably have a pretty good idea about what “healthy” eating is. Since you’re reading this online, you can access great nutritional information from various sources here and here.

The old way of thinking is that you’ll have more control if you get the nutrition right, but it doesn’t work like that. It’s an illusion that information instills motivation. The illusion leads to a belief that you’ll stop struggling with stress eating by changing what you eat.

Relationships are complicated

If it were this easy, you would have accomplished this already. Relationships are complicated and your relationship with food and stress are both multi-layered. And when you combine the two, the layering is doubled!

The problem is that making sense of emotional experiences and translating them into language or feelings is sometimes complicated. But, when it’s challenging to make sense of the feeling quickly, this is when struggling with stress eating happens. Stress eating is calming and when you can think of it as one way to calm yourself, it can help to relieve some of the shame, guilt, or regret about it so that you can explore other ways to calm and feel better without mindlessly stress eating.

A lot of the time, getting specific about how you feel helps. On the surface – ‘I’m mad or angry’ states your thoughts. But, to prevent stress eating, you’ll need to put a finer point on it like, ‘I’m feeling frustrated and disappointed that my thoughts and feelings aren’t being acknowledged and taken into account when a decision is made.

That level of emotional awareness requires a different type of response than one that is ‘anger.’ It requires you to take some time for you to focus on your needs. When you assess what you need, consider the best choice so your stress level decreases and you probably won’t be thinking about food too much.

If your attention does shift to food, it could be for comfort, distraction, habit, etc. That’s okay since now you know what you need and can choose to eat.

You can assess your hunger or fullness.

You can consciously assess if you want to eat, consider how you might feel, and if it will help you. You can choose whether it’s what you want or if something else feels better.

The good news is that these are all decisions you consciously make, one feeling at a time.

This increased knowledge or awareness is at the heart of struggling with stress eating.

When you develop the skills to calm your stress reactions, you also interrupt the cycle of stress eating. As you learn more about your internal reactions and how to calm them, you’ll be well on your way, no longer struggling with stress eating.

Emotional awareness is the antidote to struggling with emotional eating.

Emotions can feel overwhelming, but let’s break it down into more manageable parts.

How do you create the emotional space between yourself and food so you can figure out what you need?

The key to emotional mastery is learning the skills for greater emotional awareness to reduce your stress and prevent any struggle with stress eating before it starts.

Three ways to change your relationship with stress and stop struggling with stress eating.

1. Reconnect with your sense of calm.

There’s a part of you, no matter how small or how long it’s been since you’ve experienced it, that can feel a sense of calm. At least once a day, create some space to be quiet and notice how you feel when there isn’t anything pressing happening. The idea is to create a restful, calm sense of self.

Creating a restful place inside yourself is a process. No one is perfect and sometimes tapping into your calm place is more manageable than at other times.

Calming yourself is a skill that you can learn at any time in life and it gets easier with practice.

The goal is to give your mind and heart a little space so you can increase your emotional awareness.

2. Identify the feeling that most frequently leads to stress eating.

The next step is to identify the feeling or feelings you experience before struggling with stress eating.

When you identify your feelings, you’ll most likely think of general feelings like, mad, sad and angry, which is a good starting point.

Now that you’ve identified the general feeling, you can spend a little time breaking it down into smaller parts and maybe thinking about the feeling from different aspects of the feeling as you fine-tune how you feel.

One tool many of my coaching clients use is looking up alternative words in a thesaurus.

Use the thesaurus to increase your emotional vocabulary and try on, so to speak, some of the feelings. Look up the dictionary definition and see if it fits how you feel. You might even find different words as you do a little investigation into your feelings.

The more specific the feeling, the closer you get to taking care of your emotions and struggling with stress eating less.

This part of the process can also be a relief and fun. Knowing how to describe your feelings is very accessible since it helps you understand what to do to feel better. It gives you direction for improving your relationship with yourself.

3. Develop your emotional mastery plan

Changing how you take care of yourself, struggling with stress and identifying and managing your emotions is life-changing. When you have options about how you respond to your emotions, true freedom dissolves stress.

You are in control, not vague and confusing feelings that lead to stress eating. The result is that you’re back in control and struggling with stress eating isn’t an issue.

A plan for identifying your feelings can look like this:

  1. Acknowledge the discomfort you feel.
  2. Take a deep breath and give yourself some space. If it’s not an emergency, you don’t need to treat it like one; you have time.
  3. Identify whether you are hungry, tired, or thirsty. If it’s not physical, then…
  4. Identify what you feel uncomfortable about – work, home, or your relationship with yourself.
  5. What is the “big” overall feeling? This feeling could be the overall summary of how you’re feeling.
  6. You can then break it down into more minor, nuanced feelings and see if something more specific fits.
  7. Think about what you need and what type of self-care will help you move forward and take action for your well-being.
  8. Ask yourself if you need to open up to more possibilities.
  9. Is a conversation with someone needed?
  10. Do you need to use a different set of skills when the feeling comes around again?

As you read this in the protocol, it’s a linear, step-by-step list. But as we know emotions aren’t that structured at all! They are messy and confusing and may feel very strong one instant and then morph into something else a few minutes later.


Identifying your feelings is often one of mulling things over time. You can come back to it when you realize another aspect later.

As you work on your emotional mastery, your ability to name and calm your emotions will get easier, faster and much less stressful.