7 suggestions for changing stressful eating habits

Do you find yourself reaching for chocolate when you're under stress?

Qualified Life Coach
Ask Marianna

02 March 2015

Stressful eating habits

Stressed, anxious, feeling low? Why is it that at the very point we need to eat well and maximise our nutritional input for the sake of our frazzled nerves, we reach instead for food and drink which increases our irritability with the world? 

It seems we are all familiar with habits that lurk and habits that work. The question is what can we do about those eating habits that are less than helpful to our well-being?

I am on a mission to tackle this one personally and inspired by nutritionists and fellow seekers on the well-being quest, here are some suggestions that may help:


We can't change anything unless we know when and why we are doing it in the first place. 

Which habits trouble you the most? Do you reach for treats when you feel lonely, sad, angry?  Do you leave long gaps between meals, get too hungry or too tired and then grab anything for a quick fix? Do you struggle with new ideas and stick to the same foods because you don't have the time or inclination to think of new ones?

I have a habit of getting home from London and needing yet another cup of tea and another sweet treat (even though I've  I’ve had one on the train already!) as a reward.

What are you needing/craving and what might help to meet that need instead?


Once you are aware of what you would like to stop doing, think about what you would like to do instead in terms of a food/drink goal that would be more supportive to your nervous system. For example, my goal is to cut down sugar and caffeine and create a healthy rewarding snack instead.

It is generally more motivating to focus on adding healthy foods that you love, rather than losing those foods which you crave.  If you know a food is too much of a temptation, avoid  keeping it in the house.

What motivates you? Is it improving energy, losing weight, taking better care of your body and who do you know who has already achieved this? What did they do that worked for them and how could you adapt that to suit your lifestyle?

Small steps, keep it simple

It takes at least a month of regular practice to change a habit and if we have been doing something for a long time it may take  longer. 

If we overwhelm ourselves with too big a challenge at the outset, we are more likely to give up and go back to our old comforting ways. The key is therefore to keep goals simple and start small.  

Setting mini goals every few weeks is more likely to create sustainable change. Be realistic about what you can do and then you will be able to enjoy your achievements.

I replaced my tea and sweet treat with a smoothie of  berries, bananas, lemon, cucumber, spinach, molkosan fruit, flax seed and non dairy milk. A fast and stress free nutritional fix that I loved and met my need for a reward when I got home.

What is realistic and motivating for you and therefore likely to make you commit to change?

Plan in advance

When we are looking to change a habit, we need to plan in advance how we propose to do this. For example, we’re more likely to eat poorly when we’re tired if we don’t have healthier food choices to hand.

It is therefore sensible to stock up in advance on the foods you need to support your goal or pre-prepare snacks, put them in the freezer etc. when you’ve got more energy.

I planned in advance by freezing berries and stocking up on mini non dairy milks.  With time and energy of the essence, my blender and usual stock of fruit and veg means I can prepare my fix within 5 minutes!

What plans can you put in place to help you stick to your new found goal?


Once you’ve found a new habit that works for you, keep at it, make it a regular routine until you are confident you can keep it up.

I am committed to making a smoothie for the 3 out of 7 days that I work in London.  So far so good (3 weeks in) and I am noticing the benefit of extra energy already as well as the satisfaction of achieving a small goal.

How many times a week are you willing to commit to your new habit so you can make it into a routine?  What benefits do you notice?

Old habits die hard

So what do you do when you miss a day or two and the old habits kick back in?  The most important thing is not to self punish and cause yourself more stress. There is no such thing as failure, just lessons to learned.

Look at why you slipped and what you could do differently next time. The key is progress, not perfection.

Perhaps join a friend or a group as you change your eating habits. This way you have a place to share triumphs and challenges and can keep yourself accountable for staying on track.

What caused your slip and what could you do differently to avoid it next time?

Which diet

Paleo or PH, vegan or veggie, macrobiotic or mediterranean, the list of preferred diets these days is overwhelming. 

How are we expected to know what works best for us? A tip from our wise nutritionist Alison Cullen works for me,– the closer the food to its original state (growing from a tree, out of the ground or even grazing in the field) the better it is to put on your plate!   If you can’t work out what’s in it, bin it!

Which foods do you already eat that really seem to suit your body?  Which would you like try more of/less of?

Extra tips

  • Before you reach for food, drink water first. We often mistake hunger for thirst.
  • Add lemon to your water for a whole host of health benefits
  • Seek balance: if you eat too much fat, sugar, salt etc with one meal, eat less with the next
  • Sit down and chew your food. When we eat too quickly we keep feeling hungry and hinder digestion.
  • Keep your meal portion size to food that you can fit into your two cupped hands.
  • Try stress management techniques instead of sweet treats

We can spend years trying to force change yet something within us is just not ready. 

Then suddenly a day comes when we are ready and the change comes easier than we expected. Wherever you are with your eating habits you are not alone and being open and willing to change will make change possible.

What eating habit are you most keen to change?

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