The concept of stress eating is, of course, very simple. Emotional eating is a response to stress, anger, and boredom. I can understand the basics of stress eating, but I really wanted to understand the science behind it and truly understand what draws us to the kitchen when we experience strong emotions.

I also realized that this science was (admittedly) way over my head. Luckily, I was able to sit down with Isagenix Scientific Content Manager Lindsay Gnant, M.S., RDN, for a chat about some ways to ease stress eating by better understanding your physical and mental state.

Managing stress on its own can be difficult. So, if you’re enjoying a bit of comfort food, there’s no reason to put too much pressure on yourself about it. If you’re craving a candy bar or a slice of pizza, go for it! But if you’re hoping to curb unnecessary eating habits, Lindsay provided some fantastic methods for dealing with cravings.

Determining Whether You’re Actually Hungry

Water glasses

This first thing Lindsay pointed out to me is that we rarely eat for hunger. Mostly, we eat because of time of day or as a social practice. This revelation blew me away. Of course, there are times when I think, “Man, I’m starving!” but how many times had I eaten simply out of habit? Probably almost every day.

The idea here is to double-check before dishing up and ask yourself, “Am I actually hungry?” Making this a habit is a good mental exercise to promote healthy eating.

Saving your favorite treats for special occasions can also help. Limiting pizza (my all-time favorite) for football games or movie nights really helps me enjoy it a bit more.

Another mental trick is to barter with yourself. For example, if I’m really craving a soda, I’ll say to myself, “I’ll have a glass of ice water, and if I’m still craving the soda, I’ll go for it.” I find that often, I’m able to skip the soda, or at the very least, stay a little more hydrated. I do the same thing with carrots. Any junk food cravings I’m having can usually be reduced by having a handful of baby carrots beforehand.

Understanding Fullness and Portion Size

Stacks of plates

I’m never shy at a buffet or barbecue, yet I never learn my lesson. I always overeat and feel terrible afterward, even into the next day. I have also had times where I had a big breakfast and was somehow hungrier later in the day than if I had eaten a smaller breakfast or none at all, and I never understood why.

Lindsay assured me that this is not supernatural and that there is a scientific explanation. There are certain hormones in your body associated with hunger. Let’s get to know them.

Ghrelin

The true hunger hormone. Ghrelin is a signaling hormone with the opposite effect of leptin. As time after eating increases, ghrelin levels rise to communicate with the brain and signal that the stomach is empty and needs to eat.

Peptide YY (PYY)

This hormone promotes a feeling of fullness and satisfaction after a meal, letting you know your body is no longer in need of food.

Leptin

Leptin is another signaling hormone produced by fat cells. Leptin communicates with the brain about satiation, basically telling your brain that your stomach is full.

Insulin

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or store glucose for future use.

“Overeating causes the body to be flooded with nutrients. This often leads to a spike in insulin and throws off the hormones associated with hunger and satiation — the feeling of fullness — causing an appetite roller coaster,” said Lindsay.

This means being mindful of portion control can regulate hormones that may be causing misleading cravings.

3 Ways To Control Food Portions

Tupperware with meal-prepped food

Portion control might be one of the most effective ways to lessen cravings. I learned that there are a couple of simple ways to achieve this.

Space Out Meals

Lindsay explained that providing your body with the right nourishment every few hours can help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep your hunger hormones in check. Try turning the three meals you would have in a day to six by cutting your three meals in half, keeping the same number of daily calories. This can help keep feelings of satiation throughout the day.

Another tip is to pre-portion your meals and snacks. This can be a simple but effective way to stick to healthy portions. It also makes healthy eating habits more convenient, which is helpful for me.

Stick to the Basics

Foundational health habits can curb stress eating, too. Getting plenty of sleep, staying hydrated, and participating in muscle conditioning and cardio exercise are all great ways to regulate hormones and promote healthy eating. I find that when I’m doing healthy things, it gives me a bit of mental momentum to stick to healthy eating.

Reset Your Appetite With Intermittent Fasting

The science behind intermittent fasting has helped folks with Isagenix Cleanse Days from the start. The idea here is to reset eating habits, which helps them better regulate portions after the fast is complete.

Foods To Help You Avoid Stress Eating

Hormone-Article Photo 5 Long Plates

Lindsay also shared that healthy foods can be an effective way to avoid stress eating and help deal with cravings during emotional times.

Include a Lot of Protein in Your Diet

It’s no secret that protein makes you feel fuller for a much longer period of time. Edamame, cottage cheese, chickpeas, white-meat poultry, lean beef, and fish are excellent foods for adding a little more protein into your diet.

Don’t Forget About Fiber

High-fiber diets aren’t as trendy as they used to be, but fiber still plays a huge role in a healthy diet. Like protein, fiber can help you feel full. If you’re looking to add some foods packed with fiber, chia seeds, split peas, lentils, black and baked beans, almonds, avocados, and popcorn are all great choices.

Make Calories Count Instead of Counting Calories

There are foods that are low in calories and full of nutrients and others that are high in calories and low in nutrients. Choosing a diet of nutrient-rich foods can be a great way to avoid stress eating. Skipping low-nutrient foods like doughnuts, chips, and soda can help regulate those hunger hormones and reduce cravings.

Lower Sugar Intake Using the Glycemic Index

The glycemic index, or GI, is a way to rank foods according to the effect they have on your blood sugar levels. Including more foods in your diet that have a lower GI can provide your body with more sustained energy and help promote higher levels of satiation hormones.

It is important to stick to a healthy amount of sugar. This starts with knowing how much sugar is in the foods that you eat and moderating sugar intake. Sugar affects your insulin levels, and in high doses, can cause a miscommunication between your stomach and your brain about fullness.

Again, it’s OK to still enjoy some comfort food if you’re feeling a bit stressed, but adopting healthy habits can be immensely helpful in reigning in emotional eating.