How to Stay On Your Diet During Stressful Times

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Sometimes I look at Facebook or Instagram and think that everyone’s life just seems to be sailing along without any problems. Then I remember that people put things on Facebook that they want others to see and often times leave off the negative things.

I do that too. I think a lot of us do.

Our Facebook persona and real life can be quite different. Real life is sometimes smooth, sometimes rough, and a lot of times it is a bit of both.

That’s true for me lately. We’ve had some really busy times with school finishing up, kids going on trips, musical performances, and changes in our health insurance that required us to make some tough choices. Financial difficulties can be stressful, busy times can be stressful, and health problems can definitely add stress to your life.

What impact does stress have on your weight loss efforts? If you are like most people, stress can definitely affect your weight, and not in a good way. Here’s a quote from an article the Mayo Clinic website.

“While the immediate . . . response to acute stress can be a temporary loss of appetite, more and more we are coming to recognize that for some people, chronic stress can be tied to an increase in appetite — and stress-induced weight gain,” says Elissa Epel, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco.

I know that stress eating is very common. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ve had a hard week and I deserve this treat,” as they stuff themselves at a restaurant. I used to do that. I also used to break out the secret stash of candy and eat as much as I could before anyone saw me when I was feeling stressed.

Stressful times do not have to mean weight gain. In fact, when you gain weight during stressful times you are likely adding to your stress.

I often tell people that one good thing about having to lose a LOT of weight was that it took me a long time. During the time I lost 158 pounds I experienced all the holidays, all the birthdays, all the social events, and a lot of stress. Learning to handle those situations and still lose weight was very valuable because it taught me that even though stress eating was one of my habits, it was a habit that I could control and even remove.

You may be asking how I managed those stressful times without gaining weight or falling off the wagon. Well, it wasn’t easy. But I did it and you can too.

Although I didn’t have a “list” to go by at the time, I have put together a list of tips to help you stay focused on your weight loss effort during stressful times.

1. Do Not Shove the Stress Deep Down – Acknowledge that you are stressed. This always helps me because trying to shove the stress deep down and pretend it isn’t there often causes more stress.

2. Stay Active – Exercise is a proven stress reducer and a surefire way to keep yourself out of the kitchen or away from restaurants. After all, it’s pretty hard to eat if you are lifting weights, walking, or swimming.

3. Get Enough Sleep  – Not getting enough sleep negatively affects your weight in the best of circumstances and likely has an even more detrimental effect when you are stressed. Make yourself go to bed at a reasonable hour and avoid burning the candle at both ends.

4. Get Help – Ask for support from friends and family to manage your stress and avoid overeating. Depending on your relationships, you can ask friends to hold you accountable, keep your kids for a few hours, or brainstorm on ideas for solving the problem that is stressing you out.

5. Eat in Moderation – If you just cannot avoid the cookies or ice cream when stressed out, remind yourself  of the importance of portion control. One cookie won’t hurt your diet for the long term but box after box of cookies surely will.

6. Feed Yourself Health Foods – Eating a well balanced diet helps you control your calories as well as giving your body the nutrients it needs. High calorie junk food may taste good going down but it can cause your blood sugar to crash, your appetite to increase and increase your stress level from the guilt you feel after eating it.

7. Recognize the Warning Signs – Know yourself well enough to recognize the signs of stress in your body. You may feel anxious, find sleep difficult, or find yourself snapping at people.

There are a lot of ways to deal with stress and you need to find what works for you. I am still a stress eater but I am a stress eater who usually controls the urge using some of these techniques.

What techniques have you found to help you avoid stress eating? Diane


  1. Patricia says

    I agree, of course, that comfort eating/overeating is not an acceptable way to deal with stress. However, you cannot speak about binge eating as if it’s a choice; i.e., “have one cookie but not box after box.” People who binge eat don’t have the option of portion control or moderation when it comes to their trigger foods. It’s no different than telling an alcoholic to “just have one beer.” If a person has a history of losing control with food, advising them to have just a little of it is undoubtedly going to lead to her eating much, much more. As the saying goes with food addiction, one bite is too much and the entire cake is not enough. A stress-eating/binge-eating/compulsively over-eating person needs to learn to identify why she is eating and use that knowledge to stop doing it. Before my WLS in 2006, my pre-op counselor had me keep a food journal in which I had to write not only what I ate but what I was feeling…and being honest with myself and discovering that 75% of the time (not exaggerating) I was NOT eating out of hunger or scheduled mealtime, but because I was lonely, bored, anxious,tired — and yes, even happy (we reward ourselves for good days with ice cream or an alcoholic beverage as well, don’t we?) was key in helping me learn to control my eating and follow the very strict post-op diet for eight years now.

    • Barbara says

      I understand what you are saying and agree. But not everyone who eats from stress is a binge eater. I could eat several boxes of cookies at various times but I was not a binge eater. It really was stress for me and at other times I would not indulge like that. It sounds like you had a really great counselor and have had much success since your WLS – congratulations to you!

  2. Marsha says

    This is so spot on. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve found myself eating when I was stressed or upset. Your tips are really good and practical. So many times I just see people writing about this that have no idea what it is like to feel pulled into eating.

  3. Candice says

    Stress eating has been a huge problem for me and my husband our whole marriage. I appreciate your honesty in talking about this because it is true.

    Some things that I do are finding ways to reduce the effects of the stress. If I feel anxious, I do deep breathing exercises which help calm me down. Practicing some yoga poses also helps me when I feel stressed. Once my stress over the event/situation is lowered I often am able to say no to overeating.

  4. Don says

    It can be really hard to stop eating from stress – believe me I know. There was a time when I was in college when I gained 50 pounds in 2 years and a lot of it was eating under stress from exam time and other times. After I graduated that type of behavior continued and I found that counseling to deal with the stress and joining WW were two of the best things I ever did. I also learned to tell myself “no” which was huge.

  5. Felicity says

    Stress eating can be really frustrating because you feel out of control and then feel guilty if you ate a bunch of junk you knew you didn’t need. I like doing yoga, taking walks, or just taking a bubble bath when I feel stressed. That helps my mind focus on other things instead of that cheeseburger I really want.

  6. Zoe says

    One thing I really like about your blog is the honesty. I can relate to this because although I don’t eat from stress, I do tend to eat when I get bored. Your tips can apply to both circumstances.

  7. Barbara says

    Great tips! I think regular exercise has helped me manage my stress which in turn helps me manage my eating.

  8. Patricia says

    This really spoke to me today because we had a tough weekend with family members visiting. (Sorry Mom!) Anyway, I found myself heading toward the kitchen way more than I usually do and I could feel my stress level rising. Understanding where those urges are coming from is really important.

  9. Mandy Cat says

    I may have posted this before but I think a really good tip that has helped me bears repeating. Have an emergency kit ready for stressful times. Gather together non-food items that you find healing: bubble bath, aromatherapy items, music, herbal teas or gourmet coffee, funny or inspiring books and DVD’s and so on. Throw in some flannel PJ’s , bunny slippers and a stuffed animal if that helps. Set these aside in a special place and bring them out in as needed. Don’t wait till your blood pressure is in the red zone but be prepared in advance. It’s like creating a first aid kit for your soul.

  10. says

    I gained a lot of weight during a particular stressful period of my life, and I still have to be very mindful when life gets particularly stressful. For me it all comes down to planning and even more meal prep than usual. Eating healthy foods is even more important during times of stress, and when there is plenty of healthy food cooked and prepped, I’ll eat it. I also make sure I stick to my workout schedule as I always feel better after a workout and am actually more productive.
    Andrea@WellnessNotes recently posted…Fig Banana Soft Serve, Meal Prep, and Two HikesMy Profile

  11. says

    Have had some stress recently and resort to not eating, that also doesn’t help this process:(

    Have just started a blog now to help keep myself accountable.
    I have been reading your blog for a long time….well done on all you have achieved. You won’t know how some of your posts speak to me and assisted me during the last year on this journey. My inbox is so full with the folder of your posts, I just can’t delete any of

  12. says

    I am so glad that you wrote about this. Last week was a really tough week for me, but I am excited that I am learning my patterns. What I am realizing is that when I am stressed, it is even more important that I focus in on healthy foods. During those times, I just don’t behave rational when it comes to food. Those are the times when I need to pass on the sugar. I learned a lot from last week, so that is good

    Leslie recently posted…Wednesday Check-InMy Profile

  13. says

    This has been a stressful couple of weeks for me due to recent knee problems (on non-weight bearing status for 4 weeks) and I have noticed that my first thought was to eat more to kind of cheer myself up. It is just so easy to just kind of feel sorry for yourself and then get off track. I was able to stop before I did much damage to the diet, so it worked how OK. But, once I recognized the signs of stress eating I realized that I needed to be really vigilant about what I was doing. It’s hard though when it is a stressful time and things aren’t going well.
    Kitty recently posted…It’s a StruggleMy Profile


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