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Nutrition

Stop Stress Eating

Plan of Action for Excessive Snacking

Many people are experiencing an increase in stress during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

“This increase in stress, combined with being confined to your home and within a few feet of your kitchen for prolonged periods of time, puts you at greater risk for turning to food to manage your emotions or cope with boredom,” says Northwestern Medicine Psychologist Anjali U. Pandit, PhD, MPH at the Northwestern Medicine Center for Lifestyle Medicine.

Here are some tips to help you combat these unhealthy eating habits.

Create a meal schedule.

Choose set times of the day that you will have meals and snacks, and stick to the schedule.

Before you eat, take a moment to check in. Ask yourself if you’re actually hungry, or if there’s something else at play, such as boredom, sadness, anxiety or frustration. Try the carrot or apple test: Would you eat an apple or a carrot right now if that was the only option in front of you? If not, you’re probably not eating out of physical hunger.

Plan out your meals in advance — not only when you’ll eat, but what you’ll have. The evening before, commit to your food plan for the next day by either writing it down with pen and paper or entering it into a food tracking app.

Work in an “eating free” or “food free” space as much as possible. If you can, get out of the kitchen when you’re not preparing food or intentionally having a meal or snack.

Increase stress-relieving activities.

Tap into your recharge and recreation toolbox by doing activities like yoga, meditation, or exercise. Do more of those things, and you’ll be less likely to reach for food to keep you busy or to help you de-stress.

Focus on the food environment.

Keep the foods you tend to eat when you’re stressed out of the house or out of sight!

Don’t be too restrictive.

Allow yourself to have a planned snack or treat, just be sure it’s planned and not driven by your emotions.

If the urge to eat is overwhelming, distract yourself with activities that are incompatible with eating. Great options are deep-breathing exercises, drinking water, physical activity, a bath or shower, video chat with a friend (out of the kitchen), knitting, reading, coloring… the list goes on. Be creative!

Anjali U. Pandit, PhD
Anjali U. Pandit, PhD
Nearest Location:
Assistant Professor, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Primary Specialty Psychology
  • Secondary Specialty Gastrointestinal Behavioral Health Psychology
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