How do I stop eating unhealthy food when I’m stressed/anxious?

When you’re stressed or anxious, your body produces higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which can increase your appetite. You may find yourself craving unhealth food that is very high in fat, sugar, or both. Sound familiar?

This is your body’s way of seeking a quick energy fix. But don’t worry, you’re not alone! Stress eating is something many of us struggle with, and here are five practical strategies to overcome it:

1. Identify your triggers

One of the best ways to tackle stress eating is by identifying your triggers. Is it work pressure, parenting stress, or the anxiety of work or managing your own business that pushes you towards unhealthy food choices? Does it happen at particular times of the day? Once you know what triggers these feelings and when, you can start putting strategies in place so you know exactly what to do when you start to feel stress or anxiety creeping in.

2. Mindful eating

So, now you’ve started to feel the stress/anxiety creeping in, take a deep breath and think about being present in the moment. Are you actually hungry or are you looking for something to overcome the stress/anxiety or keep you busy while you work?  If you are genuinely hungry, take an intentional break for your meal so you can savour every bite, and listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. It’s about being present in the moment while eating and truly enjoying your food.

3. Keep healthy snacks on hand and stay hydrated

If you do feel like a snack, having your pantry and fridge stocked full of nutritious snacks can be a game-changer. Options like nuts, fruits, yoghurt or homemade smoothies are usually high in protein and packed with healthy fats that will keep you fuller for longer, lessening those mid-afternoon cravings. Don’t forget your water intake too! Maintaining proper hydration is crucial in managing hunger and cravings. Sometimes, our bodies confuse thirst with hunger, leading us to reach for a snack when what we really need is a glass of water. Aim for at least 8 glasses of water a day.

4. Move your body

Physical activity is proven to decrease stress hormones and increase endorphins – your body’s natural mood lifters. Regular exercise can help manage stress levels and mean your less likely to reach for comfort foods. Don’t know where to start? We recommend moving your body in a way that feels good to you and that you’ll enjoy. This could be a brisk walk, yoga, Pilates, a dance class or strength training!

5. Try for more sleep

Sleep deprivation can play havoc with your hormones, particularly those linked with hunger and satiety, namely ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin, the ‘hunger hormone,’ increases when we’re short on sleep, while leptin, the hormone that tells us we’re full, also decreases. Trouble getting to sleep? Techniques like meditations or relaxation exercises can be helpful, which you can try on the Calm app.


There’s no quick fix to overcoming stress eating, and it’s perfectly fine to indulge when you feel like it! But taking time to think through your triggers and make small changes so you feel better can lead to big improvements in your overall well-being.


If you found this article helpful, why not follow us on Instagram for more tips on how to eat well as a busy mum?

Dr Courtney Stewart (RNutr, FHEA)

BNutrSc, BBiomedSc(Hons), PhD
Director, NPR Consulting

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