San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tips to avoid stress-induced eating

Q: I recently read an article about dieting and mindful eating. Can you tell me how I can incorporate this into my everyday life? Sometimes I eat due to stress, and I know I am doing it, but how do I approach this from a different point of view?

A: Eating to combat stress is a pitfall for a lot of us. However, mindfulness practices are ideal for avoiding this obstacle. 

Natalie Garvey D.

Natalie Garvey D.

Our bodies are hardwired for survival. When you spend prolonged periods in an alert or stressful state, the body is flooded with toxic stress hormones. Physiologically, when you eat, your body activates the branch of the central nervous system associated with relaxation. When you eat to combat stress, your body is seeking this “calming response” through eating as a way to alleviate the toxic hormones. However, the danger is that you are not eating because you are hungry and you are most likely not aware or mindful of what you are eating. Therefore, it is important to look for alternative solutions to turn up the volume on your inner tranquility amid the stress. Instead of turning to food, you could try the following:

–Become aware of your breathing. Pay attention to how you are breathing and begin to slow your breath, counting to four as you inhale and exhale. Physiologically, this will activate your body’s calming response.

–Stand up and stretch. Lift your hands above your head and then bend over to touch your toes; forward bends also provoke a relaxation response in the body.

–Take a 15-minute break and go for a walk outside. Notice the sounds, smells and sights around you. This will orient and activate your mindfulness senses and potentially distract you from the desire to reach for the “munchie” foods.

When exploring how to apply mindful practices to eating, remember that it simply refers to cultivating present-moment awareness. If you are hungry, notice how it feels in your body and decide what you need to eat. Eat without distractions so that you can be aware of the whole experience. Be aware of when you feel full.n

Natalie Garvey D., M.Psych., is an eight-year resident of Costa Rica. Recognized by the Costa Rican Professional Psychologists Association (4496), she dedicates her professional time to accompanying others on their paths to self-discovery and healing. Send your questions to

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