Avoiding Emotional Eating During Stressful Times

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UT Extension Provides Advice

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – As cities and states begin to reopen, many are wondering what the future holds. COVID-19 infections are still increasing, and many people find themselves in a strange pattern of staying home, venturing out for supplies while wearing a mask, and avoiding group settings. All of these extra precautions and stress can lead to some unhealthy habits.

“Sometimes, stressful situations can lead people to respond by overeating,” says University of Tennessee Extension specialist Kristen Johnson. “About one in three adults in the United States report that they overeat or eat unhealthy foods due to stress, half of those saying they do so at least once a week.”

For people who know they turn to unhealthy food because of stress or other emotions, Johnson has a few suggestions. First, keep a food diary to help understand where changes can be made. A food diary includes everything you eat, including how much, the time of day, how you were feeling when you ate, how hungry you were and how full you felt after eating. After maintaining a food diary for a few days, Johnson suggests looking for patterns of specific foods or specific actions tied to moments of emotional sensitivity or stress.

Instead of eating in response to emotions like stress, Johnson advises physical activity as a way to boost moods and temper stress. Relaxation activities like meditation or reducing temptation by keeping unhealthy snacks out of reach can also be helpful steps to take to avoid emotional eating.

Making consistent healthy choices is an important part of managing your health, but Johnson also cautions against feeling guilt or shame when poorer choices are made. “If you have a tough day and make food choices that are less than ideal, shake it off and start fresh with the next meal or the next day. Even making small, positive changes to your eating habits will result in a cumulative impact on your health,” says the expert.

Other suggestions for individuals who struggle with emotional eating can be found in the UT Extension publication Eating Well During Stressful Times (Publication D 83). More tips and resources for a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating habits can be found on the UT Extension website or contact your local county Extension office.

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu​.

Media Contact

Kristen Johnson

Department of Family and Consumer Sciences