Emotional Eating, For the Pro, Wellness Advice from Experts

How Can I Help My Clients Stop Binge Eating When They’re Stressed?


Ask Keri: How can I help my clients stop binge eating when they’re stressed?

Keri Says: Life is different right now, to say the least. Whether it’s juggling work-from-home and childcare, living in close quarters with roommates, or being isolated from friends and family, everyone is experiencing major upheavals in their daily lives and schedules. Add an endless barrage of pandemic news and uncertainty, and you have a recipe for an uptick in stress, anxiety and the emotional eating fallout that comes with.

Many people have been experiencing binge eating to a level that is far from their norm. Your clients are probably stressed, lacking normal routines, and stuck at home with a stocked kitchen. Stress increases appetite and cravings for sugary, high-fat foods that provide a quick rush of stress-relieving serotonin and dopamine. What does this do? It makes us want more and more of these types of food. Food addiction is a real thing.

Here’s how you can help your clients stop this cycle right in its tracks.

Identify Triggers

First, you need to help your client identify triggers leading to emotional eating. Some people don’t realize that emotions are influencing certain eating patterns. Ask your clients (or yourself) if she is having cravings after watching the news? Does she down a bag of chips after every power struggle with her child about doing homeschool work? Is she scrolling through a full email inbox as she eats her lunch? Identifying the situations/emotions that trigger eating is the first step to controlling it.

RELATED: The Nutritious Life Emotional Eating Course

Control Triggers

Once you’ve identified triggers, then it’s time to develop controls for these triggers. In other words, a plan of action to combat them. This is going to look different for every person. I like to think of controls in two ways: food controls and non-food controls. Food controls are for those times that a person is truly hungry and/or it’s meal time. Non-food controls are for when there is no true hunger. Having a control (aka plan) on its own often helps a person to feel more calm and thus, less likely to emotionally eat.

A food control is something that will satisfy a craving without causing a person to “eat around” a craving. For example, if someone is craving something sweet, a sliced apple paired with a tablespoon of pb and a drizzle of honey may do the trick. It’s substantial enough and sweet enough to do the trick. In the mood to crunch? Celery sticks won’t cut it if there is true hunger involved, but a tortilla, cut into quarters and baked with a sprinkle of sea salt and served with a tablespoon of guacamole may. Having a go-to control food for when your client is feeling triggered (but also truly hungry) is key.

A few examples of non-food controls are calling a friend (I know, I know, you’ve heard it before – but it works!), doing a face mask, dropping and doing ten push ups (it just resets your mindset) or even cleaning a drawer.

Find an activity that will actually relieve stress, delay and distract eating and change that frame of mind.

Whether it’s a global pandemic or just the daily hustle, stress and other triggers of emotional eating are unavoidable. But, having controls can dramatically reduce unwanted outcomes from acting on those triggers. Helping clients find food and non-food related ways to cope will not only support their efforts to maintain healthy eating habits, but will also improve their overall health and wellness. It’s a win-win, if you ask me.


(Featured photo: Shutterstock)

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