The 3 Types of Stress Eating: The Key to Unlocking Your Personal Solution | TMOHP Episode 073

Sometimes labels like stress eating are helpful because they lead to better understanding. And sometimes labels don’t add clarity. Sometimes labels like “stress eating” lead to what feels like a dead-end to our problem-solving abilities. And this can be extremely frustrating.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to someone who tells me that they are OVER their own stress-eating habits. They know they stress eat. They don’t want to stress eat. They are beyond frustrated with stress eating, but they feel trapped because there’s nothing they know to do or change the stress.

The motivation for our eating is more nuanced than all the weight loss advice-givers have given you credit for. You may eat in response to stress, and sure, it would be ideal to be able to eradicate the stress so you didn’t have to respond to it. But let’s be clear. Every human life will always include stress and if stress leads you to ongoing patterns of overeating, there’s more to taking your power back from food than stress management.

Here’s another important thing. The way we react in a stressful situation - or even after a stressful situation - is somewhat individual. It’s fueled and shaped by our history, our circumstances, and our thoughts and feelings. Hidden Hungers - the common, interwoven reasons that we overeat - come into play here too.

Figuring out how to take your power back from stress eating in the moment requires understanding what type of stress eating is happening. The most effective strategy depends on this.

In this episode:

  • Is the term “stress eating” useful for you?
  • Hidden Hungers and stress eating and why it’s so important to understand that they interact
  • Why you want to know what type of stress eater you are
  • Three key types of stress eating

Featured on the show:

  • Join me for the free 5-day Freedom from Overeating Workshop for Smart, Busy Women. In less than an hour a day I'll show you how to create freedom from overeating in your own life.
  • Not sure why you’re overeating, or what your Hidden Hungers are? Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz and get a free set of resources matched to your results.
  • Your Missing Peace  is the program for women ready to stop overeating and emotional eating for good. Enrollment is open and NOW is the perfect time to join us! Go here to learn more
  • Private Coaching. One-on-one coaching is for you if you’re looking for something completely individualized and specific to your situation. Openings are limited. Learn more here.

Episode Transcript

Hello everybody. Welcome back to the Too Much on Her Plate podcast or welcome if this is your first episode. Today, I want to talk with you about stress eating. Actually different types of stress eating. Did you know that there are three types of stress eating? Actually, there are at least three types of stress eating, and those are the ones that I'm going to address with you today.

Before we dive into stress eating and what you need to know to break your cycle with it, it's important to spend some time talking about labels. Labels, and how you might be thinking about your own eating habits. See these terms like emotional eating or mindless eating, or mindful eating or stress eating and comfort eating, they get thrown around all the time.

I'm a huge advocate for understanding and for respecting the reason you over. In fact, understanding why the food, why eating has the power that it does in your life? That's a fundamental key to taking your power back and breaking patterns that you don't like with overeating. But, and there is a but, and actually it is the whole reason I created the Hidden Hungers quiz, which is a free quiz that you can take and that you should take at because sometimes labels like stress eating are really helpful. They're very helpful because they lead us to clarity and to better understanding. 

And sometimes labels don't add clarity. Instead, sometimes they lead to what feels like a dead end to our problem solving abilities. And that can be extremely frustrating. . Okay. What do I mean by this? Well, I can't tell you how many times I have talked to someone who tells me that they are over their own stress eating habits. They know they stress eat. They don't want to stress eat. They are beyond frustrated with stress eating. But they feel trapped because there's nothing they know that they can do. There's no way to change the stress, and so they feel trapped in this identity of being a stress eater. 

The thing is our eating is more nuanced than all those weight loss advice givers have given you credit for. You may eat in response to stress. And sure, it would be ideal to be able to eradicate your stress so that you don't have it to respond to. So you don't have stress that you are trying to cope with. But let's be clear, every human life will always include stress. And if stress leads you to ongoing patterns of overeating, there’s more to taking your power back from food than stress management. 

Here's another important thing. The way we react in a stressful situation or even after a stressful situation, it's somewhat individual. It's very individual. The way we respond to stress is fueled and shaped by our history, our circumstances, and our thoughts and feelings. 

Hidden hungers, the common interwoven reasons that we overeat those come into play here, too. If I have a big stressful day and I'm also ? My stress eating might look very different and feel very different than if I had a big stressful day and I'm feeling overly busy and amped up on adrenaline and full of nervous energy.

I coined the term hidden hungers in reference to the underlying things that we are really hungry for or needing. Hidden hungers are the non-food hungers that we react to by eating or overeating, using food as a temporary band aid instead of addressing that hunger. Again, this is a hunger or a need that has nothing to do with food, but it is a need that is fueling our cravings or our appetite or urge to binge.

You might be stress eating and you might be very stressed. And this might not be the primary hidden hunger that needs to be addressed. If this is confusing, I hope this will be clearer in a moment when I tell you the three types of stress eating and what works in each situation. Because what works is very different.

But right now I am going to unapologetically challenge you to go to or if you want to get super specific, go to And take the free hidden hungers quiz there. Because it will absolutely help you identify the best place to start, the most efficient place to start if you want to be more effective with emotional eating or overeating or binge eating. And it can save you some major frustration. It's free there's no catch. I just want to help you stop going in circles if that's what's happening, or stop feeling like you're at a dead end because you know, hey, I'm a stress eater, or I'm an emotional eater, but there's nothing I can do about it. I'll also put that link in the show notes so you can just click on it and take the quiz. Honestly, it can make things easier. And I think that why it can make things easier, will make even more sense in a minute. 

Let's talk about why it is important to know about the different types of stress eating and how you can use that to pick a solution that is going to work the best for you. Given the right combination or the wrong combination of stress, chaos, overload, exhaustion most of us will stress eat. While extreme or acute stress can sometimes shut down your appetite, ongoing stress causes physical physiological changes that lead to increased hunger and increased cravings for high fat foods and sugary foods.

And women seem to be more prone to stress eating than men. Fun I know. Right? In the long run, of course, the biggest part of the solution to stress eating is managing and reducing stress. But you already know that. In the short term, when the stress feels unavoidable, when you are in the thick of it, talking about stress management isn't always the most helpful place to start. It's really helpful to be able to avoid the vicious cycles that stress eating can lead to in that moment, in those moments. 

And I think, you know, the vicious cycle I'm referring to, even if that chocolate chip cookie binge brings on a few moments or minutes of calm. When you overeat in response to stress, you're more likely to feel defeated and frustrated and in air quotes behind. Right? Or like you failed. And yes, more stressed or overwhelmed, it becomes or can become a vicious cycle. 

So why you need to know what kind of a stress eater you are? Relying on willpower doesn't work when it comes to stress. It doesn't work in lots of situations. It's not a long-term solution, but particularly when we're talking about stress eating. When you're already stressed or exhausted or stressed and exhausted or overwhelmed? You are maxed out on your bandwidth. By definition, your bandwidth is all used up. In these situations you don't have extra reserves to be strong or to be extra disciplined or to be more in control. Your bandwidth is all used up. 

In these moments what you need when you are stressed and wanting to stress eat is a solution, perhaps a short-term solution that is going to work. That is actually going to work, that you can lean into instead of using eating stress eating as a way to cope. There are three very different types of stress eating, and while you might engage in more than one, you probably do. Each of these types in those moments respond best to a very different approach. 

So because what works can be so different in various situations, I find it really useful to think of three different types or styles of stress eating. The first one I call escape stress eating. Escape stress eating. And you've done it if you've eaten to shove down a feeling or to avoid thinking about something or to numb out or to escape. To make things stop. To not have to think about something. Sometimes this type of stress eating shows up as a way to procrastinate or to put something off. It might be binging, it might be constant grazing, and it feels like eating on autopilot. If you're going to manage escape eating in the short term, you're going to need a non-food related strategy to zone out from your current situation.

Now a note here, I am not saying that avoidance is a viable long-term coping strategy. You do not want to create a life where you are constantly in avoidance or numbed out mode. Right? But in the moment, sometimes it's what you've got. So manage your eating in the short term. If you are escape stress eating by focusing on strategies that help you escape. Fantasy, a light novel trash TV video games. 

The key to being successful in this situation is to make sure that you are addressing your need to escape with compassion. Be honest and kind to yourself about the fact that in the face of your stress, you're feeling like you just need to escape for a bit. Give yourself permission to lose yourself in something. Be kind to yourself. I can't say that often enough. Compassion is the key when you are escape stress eating. Acknowledge that you feel the way you feel, and allow yourself some kind of temporary escape or distraction. Allow yourself, give yourself full permission to distract yourself with some strategies that involve kindness. And that don't revolve around food or autopilot eating. Escape stress eating requires full permission to escape temporarily in other ways. Give in to the need to escape or create some distance in ways that don't involve food. 

The second type of stress eating is reaction stress eating. You can also think about this as screw you stress eating. Screw you stress eating. This is almost the opposite of escape stress eating. Have you ever felt that you were so agitated or frustrated or wound up that you just needed to crunch on something? You needed to eat at it. Or that you need to eat to prove something or to take your power back. Even if that doesn't quite make sense. This is stress eating in reaction. Eating as a way to discharge your feelings, to push back, to prove something, or to take action.

You might have the thought, you can't make me, or I'll show you, or I'll eat it if I want to. These are phrases that might not make complete sense to your brain, but they also do make sense to your brain. They're phrases that sometimes fit with this kind of reaction. Screw you stress eating. 

When you're in this moment. Escaping or numbing out isn't what you're craving. This is the kind of trigger that demands an active solution. No bubble bath in the world, no hot shower is going to soothe a reaction kind of craving. With reaction stress eating, you don't need escape. You don't need numbness, you don't need soothing. You need some other way to release the pressure, to let that feeling move through you.

The key here is expression or some active way to complete the stress cycle. You need to do something to yell, to dance, to scribble frantically. Paint, throw something, call a friend, vent, get outside. Listen to loud music. Go for a run or a walk, not because it's healthy, but to release what's going on inside your body and to react on your own terms. You want to take your power back from reaction. Reaction stress eating, and do something intentional to take care of yourself. So that's reaction stress eating. 

The final type of stress eating that I want to talk about today. I've called compensatory stress eating. And maybe we need a catchier name for that, but we'll go with compensatory stress eating for now. Stress when it is combined with not enough self-care and nurturing can leave you feeling unsupported, unacknowledged, overworked, unrewarded. And when you have that combination of stuff going on? Food becomes or can become a quick and easy solution in air quotes. Right? Food can become a compensatory treat, a pity party, a small reward in the midst of a very long day, and I'm not making fun here.

When you are in that situation, food can be an easy and it can seem like a very viable coping strategy. Compensatory stress eating is going to require different solutions than escape eating or reaction eating. If the stress eating that you are doing in the moment is aimed at you feeling better. Or if it is aimed at acknowledging how hard you're working, giving you some comfort or a reward, it's going to keep happening If you don't replace it with another strategy that also provides comfort or acknowledgement or reward.

And hopefully provides it in a more fulfilling and lasting way. So compensatory stress eating may be the situation where a bubble bath or a pedicure does work. Or if you're in a situation where you can't do that thing immediately, it may be the situation where booking the massage is a promise or a commitment that you make to yourself. It might be a small act that you take in the moment while acknowledging that you are feeling in need of compensation. 

With compensatory stress eating. You need a gift. You need a reward, or, and you need an acknowledgement that this is what's happening, that this is how you feel. Think about giving yourself something special to look forward to or maybe simply some space and some time just for you. And put that thing or that promise or that commitment to yourself in place now.

So let's go back to Hidden Hungers, and the reason that I brought up the Hidden Hungers quiz. Hidden Hungers, the reasons that you overeat the things that you are really hungry for. They work together. They become entangled and they reinforce one another. Multiple triggers lead to stress eating. It is not a simple, I have stress, I stress eat, here's the solution. Multiple triggers combined and they get tangled up and they lead to a stressful situation that leads to stress eating. And as I just showed you, there can be three very distinct types. 

The solution is not one size fits all. Most importantly, in so many cases, the best fit solution to your particular stress eating is going to begin by addressing an entirely different hidden hunger. 

That escape stress eating? You can throw all the stress management strategies in the world at it. But without compassion and without some permission to give yourself a break? You'll likely just find that the overeating returns. The same is true with the reaction stress eating and compensatory stress eating. Each different type of stress eating requires something different. And I want to remind you, when you're stressed, your bandwidth is used up. You do not have a lot of extra capacity lying around for creative problem solving. 

The shortcut here is to take the quiz, the free quiz, and yes, it's in the show notes at There's really no catch here and it will take about 60 seconds of your time. But you do you.

One more thing before we wrap things up here, because I know what you're thinking. I do more than one type of stress eating. Can I do more than one type of stress eating? Of course you can. And you probably do. Different situations elicit different reactions, and we all need to respond to our cravings and urges in different ways at different times. And once you start to see the patterns and the different reasons for your stress eating, once you start to be curious about what's going on inside of you? I think it'll get easier. I hope this was helpful. 

I'll talk to you soon.

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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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