Stress Eating: What it is, What Causes it, and Tactics to Stop it

Find yourself eating when you are not hungry? Or maybe in front of the TV, surprised at how much you just ate? If so, you are familiar with stress eating. If you've noticed yourself eating or snacking more than usual, this episode with Coach Cat Ramirez is for you.

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In this episode, I am joined by MetPro Coach Cat Ramirez. We will be discussing stress eating. Thank you so much for joining me, Cat.

Thank you very much for having me. I love this subject. It’s something I talk about quite often with my clients, so I’m happy we are covering it.

I am happy we are covering it. What do you feel like falls under the umbrella of stress eating? What does it?

A lot of times, I think of stress eating in two different ways. One is going to be that mindless eating where we don’t know what to do with ourselves, so we eat. The other one is more related to using food as a comfort for anxiety, depression, or stress that we are physically dealing with. We resort to things where some people go to alcohol, over-exercising or overeating. Stress eating can be a huge culprit in why people are either not able to manipulate their metabolism or don’t understand that they are stress eating. They just don’t know.

It speaks very much to me when you say mindless eating because you don’t know what else to do. It took me years to realize that part of my emotional eating is when I feel the anxiety starting to build, I will reach for something because that’s soothing. I’m so anxious. I don’t even think of it as an emotional aspect or reaction. It’s I need to do something with all of that energy. It’s fascinating that we can come up with these coping mechanisms without even realizing it. To that note, do you personally know what causes stress eating from a physiological perspective?

When we experience stress or anxiety in our lives, the first reaction is that initial fight or flight reaction. That can stifle hunger because it throws you into that fight or flight. You are releasing epinephrine. If you think of it like this, it’s a bear attack, and you need to run away. You would be like, I’m so stressed out now. I need to snack on these peanuts before I start running. You would be like, Everything is shutting down. I need to get away from the bear. Initially, there’s that but when the stress is persistent, what happens is your body releases another hormone, cortisol. Cortisol can motivate you to eat and create that hunger and the need for coping.

When we eat certain things like sugary items, then we have the dopamine effect, which is that we feel good, much in the same way as doing drugs or something. Maybe it’s not as drastic to some people but it still releases that dopamine that gives us that feeling-good effect. Physiologically, that’s what’s going on. There’s another thing that can happen, too. There are two other things. First of all, there are some people that don’t understand the difference between thirst and hunger. They will feel like, I’m hungry, but they are not. They are thirsty. I have a hard time with that. I never get thirsty. In my whole life, I never have. When I was pregnant, they would be like, Drink 200 ounces of water a day. I don’t even have thirst as a thing.

Maybe if it’s 100 degrees and you did a workout, it might be like, I’m thirsty.” I feel like I need to eat fruit instead of drink water. It’s a thing that I’ve always had. What I have to do first is say,This is probably thirst,” so drink something. That can happen. Another thing that can happen is when people have an oral fixation, like smokers.

I used to watch my dad this whole time. My dad smoked forever. He one day stopped smoking cold turkey, which is great. He replaced that with pistachios, gum, and salty snacks. He always had in his hand the pistachios or something like that because he needed that oral fixation happening that he wasn’t getting from the smoking.

There are a couple of different things that we can look at in terms of like, Why is it happening? Do you have something from your past where you were a smoker or something like that, and now you feel like you must always be chewing on something? If you are in a particular season of your life or do something that would deplete your salt like a lot of people would be, I have been craving chocolate or I crave chocolate. Sometimes that could be a magnesium deficiency. You are deficient in magnesium, and we can take some magnesium, and then you won’t crave that chocolate. It’s sometimes.

Other times, it’s like, Years and years, I’ve always had bedtime snacks. I always snack when I watch TV at night or whatever. That’s a habit you formed that your body feels like, I need it. I wake up in the morning and have breakfast. This is what I do before bed. I need that snack. It can be a number of different things but when we are talking purely from a physiological perspective, it’s that release of cortisol, a prolonged state of cortisol, the dreaded cortisol that everybody is always talking about, that creates that midsection weight gain.

Realistically, we will live in the United States in 2022. We are all hustling, coming out of a pandemic, transitioning from normal life to pandemic, being locked in at home to readjusting to being locked in with all the kids, homeschooling or whatever it is, adjusting to your new role, and then now like, Everything is open. Go back, readjust, and figure out what it is. There’s more COVID. Shut it down.

There are all of these things we are having. It’s very tumultuous times now. There’s a lot going on in the world. I will talk to clients about certain events that are going on in the world, weighing heavily on them. They take them personally and internalize them. Those are stressors. It’s not like, I’m stressed out at work. Everybody’s first solution is, You need to take time to relax. Relax a little bit. Is it realistic to tell somebody who has been stressed or anxious for the past many years of their life? “Just relax.”

You don’t even know what that means if you have been stressed for that long. You don’t even know what is relaxed. How does that even feel? You can get addicted to those feelings of anxiety and stress. It feels weird and off to be relaxed. I’ve had some things happen in my life that has been a little traumatic. There are times when things are calm, and I’m like, This isn’t right. Let me make a mess, so I got to fix it.

That’s with a lot of people. I always would get made fun of because when things are super chill, I feel anxious inside but when the world is blowing up, people are in crises, and a million things are happening all around me, I feel very calm, clear, focused, and be like, Peace.

I know how to handle this. I know how to navigate this.

It makes you well-equipped for certain things. I work with a lot of men and women that are in the military or doctors and stuff like that. They have a unique way of being very calm in that chaos. It’s great for what they do but when they come out of that, what does that look like? We need to even out a little bit and adjust.

How do you feel people can tell the difference in that moment of like, Am I eating from stress? Am I hungry? Is my cortisol level too high? Do I have a magnesium deficiency? How do you think they can parse that out?

There are a couple of different ways. First of all, always talk to your coach. If you are a MetPro concierge client, you are going to address these things with your coach. Your coach is going to help you troubleshoot through that and maybe narrow down a few things that are a priority to check off and go down the list. Aside from that, are you exhibiting any actual hunger cues? When was the last time you ate? Is it feasible? It’s like, I ate an hour ago. Are you hungry? Are you bored? Is it just the time you snack? Is your stomach growling? Are you low in energy? Do you have any other hunger cues presenting themselves?

If the answer’s no, maybe you are just thirsty, so let’s try drinking something first. If we are trying to break a habit, I recommend working with a coach to break a habit. Breaking habits is hard. You need support. You need someone in your corner. You need somebody to hold you accountable and give you ideas of how to get out of that. Otherwise, you would have done it by now. Get out of the habit of snacking at night. Talk to your coach and get some ideas.

I always tell my clients to like, What are you snacking on at night? Is it salty or sweet? From there, what are some other ideas that we potentially put in that are going to be better choices for you? Can we take it to an every other night thing? How about every three nights? Can we try and wean it out completely? It takes time to break those habits. That’s something that a concierge coach can help you with, even on basic. If you are on an app, you can always hide it, lie or whatever. You don’t have somebody being like, Crystal, how’s the snacking?

How has that been going? Have you been ignoring the chocolate or eating it? That’s so powerful to think about the fact that it’s not just about willpower. Society tells us it’s willpower like, You should be able to turn it off. You should be able to ignore it. There’s so much more going on here. It’s more complex. I like how you show that and how you are visually explaining all of these different things that are going into it. It helps to show that.

It’s very complex. It’s not just willpower. People like to dumb down or simplify things that are not simple. Otherwise, everybody would be doing everything right. Everybody would be in their peak physical state, nobody would be stressed, and the world would be great. There’s a lot that goes into it. There’s a part of it where you’ve got to be able to have a come to Jesus and talk with yourself, and your coach can help you come to that truth on what is going on here. Sometimes it’s just is, like, My body needs more. Are you an athlete? Are you working out hard? Is there something else going on where you are feeling under-fueled or undernourished? Great, let’s address that.

You can’t delve into those things on your own without getting caught in the mess of it like those little flow charts with the bubbles where you are like, It could be this. You need a coach to bring you back down into the center. That’s why it’s so helpful to get in and work with a coach for a little bit to try and identify those things or a therapist, life coach, or whatever works for you and your situation. There is usually, and when I usually say, I mean 99.9% of the time, something else behind it. We are not looking at, I like snacks. I love popcorn.

For people who don’t have a coach and are trying to figure this out, what type of strategies would you recommend for people trying to get their arms wrapped around this to avoid eating from stress?

I talked to a friend about this because he is a huge snacker. He snacks all night long and has crazy snacks all the time. He’s got kids, and they always have snacks.

Kids have good snacks.

There are salty, sweet, and everything in tiny boxes. I was telling him, First of all, put the kids’ stuff in a kid’s bin and label it ‘Kids.’ That is not for you. Don’t do that. Secondly, prepare things ahead of time that you are going to reach for. We know you are going to snack. It’s something that happens every night. We can’t be like, ‘Don’t do it.’ There’s no one there to hold you accountable. You are going to do it, so let’s preemptively address it.

I told them to cut up fruit and cucumber with some salt and lemon on it and some little veggie snacks and put it in little open containers in the fridge so that when he opens his fridge or looks in his pantry or whatever it is, we’ve got the healthy things right there. They are ready, accessible, and quick. It’s easier than opening something up and getting into something bad. It’s already pre-measured. He can grab it, eat it, and not feel like, I did something horrible again.

Replacing things with little, accessible, healthy items would be the first step. From there, maybe you can go every other night you do something. Another thing I love for people to do is prefilled water bottles with water and fruit inside of them to make them a little bit more flavorful. Prefill it and put it across the top shelf in your fridge. Open it. It’s right there. Grab a bottle and drink it if you are hungry. Another thing, leave. Go outside. Remove yourself from the situation. A lot of people are living in states where the sun doesn’t even go down until 10:00 at night.

Go outside. Go on a walk. I put my kids down at 6:30 because mama needs time. They go to bed. I sit on my back porch and do the rest of my work, walk around outside, and do calls or whatever. You are moving and walking. If you’ve got a treadmill, get on your treadmill instead. Get some movement in because that’s going to release those feel-good hormones as well. Getting your heart rate up for over ten minutes is going to release that. Do a quick workout. See if you still want something afterward. Maybe it will be satisfied by the hormone release you would get from moving.

There are many wonderful ideas. Is there anything else you want to make sure people know about stress eating?

It’s not your fault.

It’s not. We are hard-wired.

We are here for you. Stress eating is tough. Out of everything, my mom and my brother are horrible with this. They are big emotional stress eaters. It is so prevalent, especially since we have been locked in our homes for so long. We are there, I’m bored. What should I do? and they grab something from the pantry. Now in the era of Instacart, DoorDash, and Grubhub, you can have those snacks delivered.

The best thing to do is enroll someone else in the process of trying to cut it out, whether that be coming on for coaching or doing something with your spouse like a 30-day challenge to cut out the snacking, make the snacks better, or alternating healthy snack and exercise each night. It’s something like that. You are doing it together. You have somebody else, a partner in crime, that’s not going to let you slip. You got to hold each other accountable.

You got to have somebody that is going to be tough.

If your spouse is going to give in, don’t do it with your spouse. Find a friend or maybe somebody who’s not your friend. Do it with them. Find somebody that’s not a fan of you, so they will be like, Don’t eat this snack. It’s something like a neighbor or somebody else in your family that snacks a bunch, and then you can hold each other accountable. Be prepared.

That makes me think of the fact that we have that MetPro Facebook group. There are probably people in there that would be willing to be your accountability partner. You may not know them but I’m sure they have been through the same thing. They would love to help you.

There are so many clients that are in the same areas. My own personal goal is to, one day, get everybody together so we can do something cool to have a together event. We are still in pandemic times. We will see, fingers crossed. The Facebook group is a great virtual way to have an accountability buddy. I used to do something like that with workouts during the pandemic when I was pregnant. It was a pregnancy workout group. We would all hop on Zoom in the morning, do a workout together, and hold each other accountable. You are in your first trimester. You are so tired that you fall asleep everywhere. You don’t want to work out, so it was like, Everybody, get off.

It’s things like accountability buddies that are going to be like, I noticed you are not on. Where are you? It’s stuff like that. Do check-ins with somebody but have support and recognize that there’s more that goes into it than like, I’m not a strong person. It’s nothing about that. There are a lot of chemicals at work there, hormones, and life circumstances. Give yourself some grace but also better as better to move in a better direction. I always tell my clients, “I want to progress over perfection. Keep getting better.”

Thank you so much for your time, Cat. Readers, that is all for this episode. You can find all the MetPro method episodes anywhere you get the show or you can go to Please be sure to follow the show, rate, and review. That lets other people know what they can expect from the show. You can also learn more about MetPro at I will be back next episode. Until then, remember consistency is key.

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