Coping with Stress and the Impacts on Eating

Coping with Stress and the Impacts on EatingWe all have our go-to strategies for coping with stress, and some strategies are healthier than others. Seeking comfort, using avoidance, finding ways to control, distracting yourself, going on autopilot, and seeking hope are all examples. I’d like to explore each area in more detail, and share how these specifically impact our eating and provide resources for hope.


Seeking Comfort

Comfort can be found in many places: in a safe space, a furry friend, in relationships, in a favorite hobby, and yes…, in food.

Emotional eating for comfort can occur during times of increased stress when one is more vulnerable to attending to their emotional well-being. Eating is comforting, as it helps soothe the negative emotions experienced. A common example is seeking comfort with food after a breakup, impacted by feelings such as anger, sadness, loneliness, and boredom. Those who seek comfort through food may struggle with binge eating and ongoing struggles with finding a balance between a healthy lifestyle and weight-loss goals.



Avoidance looks like withdrawing and escaping from behaviors. This may include avoidance of responsibility, social interactions, and habits of daily living.

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) involves avoidance of foods due to a lack of interest in eating, sensory sensitivities, and/ or fearing consequences of food such as choking or vomiting. Consequences such as nutritional deficiencies and weight loss are associated with limited diet and food intake. This differs from other eating disorders, as avoidance is not related to fears of gaining weight or distress associated with the body’s shape, size, or weight.


Trying to Control

When things feel out of control, attempts to control them can help reduce stress and increase feelings of mastery. It is good to have a routine, and consistency in important areas such as sleeping, eating, and physical activity. Food restriction as seen in anorexia nervosaleads to weight loss and low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, and disturbance in body image. Control is achieved by methods such as dieting, fasting, excessive exercise, laxative or diuretic misuse, and self-induced vomiting. Other categories of disordered eating often also include these themes of feeling out of control.


Seeking to Distract

Activities are often used to distract and deal with stress. Sometimes these activities are intentional and feel good. Other times, activities may be more mindless and lead to feelings such as guilt afterward such as endless scrolling on your phone, binge-watching content, or mindless eating. During times of stress, eating may be used to distract rather than face the reality of a difficult situation and cope with uncomfortable emotions.


Going on Autopilot

Going on autopilot can feel like enduring a stressful situation. You may feel like you have no choice but to go on with life. This may look like taking care of others but neglecting to care for yourself. Eating can suffer during these times.


Seeking Hope

When experiencing stressful situations, it brings hope to feel connected to a community and to know that help is available. It is important to address the root problem of the stressors, especially when it comes to our relationship with food and eating habits. While good self-care is important and can help cope with stress, it does not address what is at the root of the problem.

If you are concerned about your eating or would like to seek support to help a loved one, there are resources and support available.


National Eating Disorders Association

Eating Disorder Hope

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

Melrose Center

The Emily Program

CARE Counseling

Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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