How Do Emotions & Stress Affect Our Eating?

We all have something that we turn to in times of stress or heightened emotions. For some of us is it exercise, being with loved ones or simply been given a hug. However, for the majority of clients that I coach, stress can trigger food cravings, snacking, increasing alcohol consumption or reaching for a cigarette packet.

One Body Blog

When you were growing up was food offered to you as a sign of affection or love?

Did it bring comfort, pleasure, or good memories?

Do you turn to food due to boredom, anxiety, sadness or grief?


But does it take away the stresses?  Or do you just feel worse and more guilty afterwards?  The act of eating has always been a reason of celebration, nourishment and fuel for our BODIES.  From the moment we see it, smell it or it enters our mouths, it sends a cascade of hormonal responses to trigger the brain and the digestion tract to do their job.  It gives us ‘happy’ emotions, particularly when the food tastes good or reminds you of a ‘happy’ time.  The smell of home baking or freshly baked bread may trigger great memories for you, making you want to go back for more.

If you are physically hungry then this is a positive response to that message, so long as you eat to fuel this hunger with the best nutrition you have available.  However, when eating occurs because of emotions or stress and not hunger, then this is where weight can quickly be gained and bad habits can hinder your health and fitness goals from being achieved.


When I coach my clients through over eating, habit forming snacking or eating due to boredom we first look for the triggers.  What makes you go to the fridge or cupboard door every time you are passing, even though you are not hungry?  

Try using this  Behavior Awareness Worksheet from Precision Nutrition to track your behaviours and to uncover your reasons for using emotional eating.

Now for the best part, how can I help you to overcome these behaviours and ultimately to help you to become your ‘happy’ weight again.  Let’s find alternatives to your current actions, these are the ones I see and coach every day!

NIBBLING/DRINKING WHILST COOKING – whether it is ‘wine o’clock’ or you just enjoy consuming whilst you are chopping this is a sure way to add unwanted calories.  

ACTION – schedule in your last walk of the day or workout to coincide with the time you would normally pour that high calorie drink or have water with fresh fruit sliced in the fridge ready to pour in the glass.  Nibble on the vegetables rather than the crisps, dips or cheese!

STRESSFUL WORK DAY OR CONFERENCE CALL – how often do you get home from work exhausted (mentally) or come off a conference call looking for something to make you feel good and turn to the fridge?

ACTION – have your meals prepped and ready to eat so you don’t need to snack.  If you have a job that causes stress and is sedentary the best way to feel good is to move the body.  Get your exercise clothes on and clear your head straight after work by being in the fresh air or doing your workout.  This will also make you genuinely hungry for dinner afterwards.

BORED OR ANXIOUS, ESPECIALLY WHILST WE ARE AT HOME A LOT MORE – if you are home alone, not working or have much to do, often clients turn to food for something to do.

ACTION – make this a productive action by using the time with food to make and create new dishes, batch cook and freeze for a time when you may have less time to cook a nutritious meal.  Phone a friend or loved one and use the time to connect, read an article on something you are interested in or again use movement or exercise as an alternative to emotional eating.

There are hundreds of examples of when and why clients turn to food emotionally.  

Now you have completed your worksheet from above, make a ‘HAPPY LIST’ of all the alternatives I have given you, and others that you can think of, to help you to turn to emotional eating less, and to form new and positive habits going forward.

You have had years of practice to set your current eating habits in stone.  Don’t expect a quick fix, simply work with what you have just learnt and remember “if you always do what you have always done, you will always stay the same!”


“if you always do, what you have always done, you will always stay the same!”

If you would like to learn more about how to improve your quality of sleep to make your body a ‘happier’ place to live, please contact me on 07501 553 192 or email me at [email protected] and together we can ensure you become your ‘happy’ weight!