kaitlinOvereating and Stress: When I’m very tired, stressed, or emotional, I tend to eat. What are some strategies to manage food and emotions?

Answer: This is a great question! Overeating and stress, fatigue, or emotions just tends to go together for so many people.

Overeating when tired

Overeating when tired can be a big problem for people! Think about it, you come home after a long day of work and you’re starving…you don’t have dinner planned so you either stop by a fast food restaurant to grab something quick, or you get home and just start munching on whatever is in the cabinets. Your body needs fuel NOW! No matter when this hunger and lack of energy strikes, it can be a struggle to make the right decision for your body.

Overeating when stressed

Stress. We’ve all felt it. Whether it’s from family life, work, or school, stress can affect everyone differently. It can cause lack of sleep, or push us away from health promoting activities (for example, we may be less likely to exercise when we are stressed, or some people may drink alcohol more frequently due to stress). It can also lead us to overeating. Stress increases cravings. With stress, comes an increase in cortisol and an increase in hunger hormones. Here are some more tips of how to handle stress and emotional eating.

Overeating when emotional

There are so many emotions. Many people associate certain emotions with food. For some, happiness can lead to “treating oneself.” For some, sadness can lead to comfort eating. Managing emotions with food can often lead to overeating. Food can certainly be a tool to manage emotions, and that is perfectly ok. However, it shouldn’t be the ONLY tool we use when dealing with these emotions. If you are struggling to manage your emotions, a therapist can also be a great addition to your health care team.

5 Strategies for Overeating and Stress/Emotions:

1. Plan self-care throughout the day

We are huge proponents for taking care of yourself! If work is busy and stressful, close your door and take a 10-minute break. Read an article you had saved or a chapter of that book you’ve been working on. Go for a short walk. Make a cup of coffee or tea. Whatever will relieve stress in your day, make sure to do it when possible!

Practicing better sleep hygiene can make for a better night's rest.

Practicing better sleep hygiene can make for a better night’s rest.

2. Eat consistently to prevent overeating from stress

Try to incorporate 3 balanced meals and 2-3 snacks into your daily schedule. Eating balanced meals and snacks that incorporate both protein and carbohydrate will help give you the energy that your body needs to power through the day. Eating consistently also helps avoid those moments of feeling starved and needing to eat immediately! Check out these blogs on easy meal ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

3. Meal plan/prep to prevent overeating

Like I mentioned before, when you get home after a long day and you’re starving, it’s easy to grab whatever is fast or available. With meals already planned, prepped, or even cooked, it takes much less time to get a home cooked, nutritious dinner on the table! Check out our Mayhem to Mealtime  program for delicious and nutritious recipes as well as tips for making mealtime easier!

overeating when tired

Meal prep is a life saver! Seriously


4. Practice good sleeping habits

We really want to aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Have trouble falling asleep? Try to practice better sleep hygiene! What does that mean? Plan out a bedtime routine and let your body know that it’s time to sleep each night. Drink a hot cup of chamomile tea, take a hot shower, read a chapter in a book, or do things that help you unwind and relax. Make sure your room is dark! If you need noise to fall asleep, invest in a white noise machine rather than leaving the TV on. TVs and devices (tablets, cell phones, etc.) have a type of light that suppresses the release of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps you go to sleep! Turn off devices at least 30 minutes before you go to bed. It may also help to create a consistent sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day (and yes, that includes the weekends!). If you’re really dragging one day and are in need of a nap, try not to nap for more than 20-30 minutes. Being well rested can reduce overeating because adequate sleep helps with managing stress and emotions.


Practicing good sleep hygiene is important to make sure you get a restful night’s sleep


5. Plan self-care after work to reduce stress

That self-care thing that I mentioned before, it’s not just for during the workday! The evening hours can be a difficult time for people when it comes to eating habits. Oftentimes we want to reward ourselves for a long day of work, whether it be with a plate of cookies or a pint of ice cream. Instead, try to reward yourself with things other than food! Make a list of projects that you really want to accomplish, and start working on it! Now, if that list consists of things that may not be a reward (laundry, anyone?), make a separate list of FUN things that you can do! Take a bath, watch a movie, brew a cup of tea, read a book or magazine, call a friend, work on your birthday or holiday wish list…it’s up to you!


stress eating self care

One of my favorite self-care activities is reading a magazine!

Meditation and relaxation exercises are a great way to relieve stress. Listen to this relaxation exercise by Klara Knezevic RD LD CLT!


YouTube video

It can be difficult to manage your eating habits when exhaustion hits. Use these 5 tips to either avoid those moments or be better prepared when they do happen!

If you are interested in meeting with a dietitian for even more support, please call 301-474-2499 or fill out form below to make an appointment! 

Blog updated April 2020

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An award winning recipe developer, Dietitian Kaitlin’s mission is to empower others to reach their health goals by encouraging them to get back into the kitchen. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating and Cooking with Diabetes.