Food is NOT a Coping Strategy

Photo by Cochran

Photo by Cochran


Want to know a dirty little secret? I once, and still on rare occasions, use food as a coping mechanism.  It isn’t something I’m proud of, and then again, it isn’t really something anyone should be ashamed of either. Think about it. When you had a bad day at school, were you offered ice cream to ‘feel better’? Maybe it was a rough week so Mom cooked your favorite dinner on Saturday night, or you went out for pizza? To some degree, a large percentage of the population uses food as a coping device. But it’s a very short term solution because, while it is comforting to have that wonderful bowl of ice cream or mac and cheese, it doesn’t solve the problem or offer any real stress relief.

For a long time I didn’t realize that I used food as a coping ‘skill’ because I wasn’t severely overweight. Then I began journaling what I ate as well as keeping a regular journal. One day as I reviewed my food journal for the past three weeks (I had gained a few pounds) I realized I had eaten a good deal of junk food. When I compared the food journal with my life journal I saw the parallel. It had been a rough patch for me and my eating reflected my emotions. Unsure if you’re an emotional eater? Journal  your food for a month AND write how you are feeling at the time. Be honest, no one is judging.

Here are a few questions to guide your journal entries:

  • What is the source of your stress?
  • What was your response to the stress?
  • How did you feel emotionally as well as physically?
  • What did you do to relieve your stress?

What to do if you’re an emotional eater 

Examine your coping devicesYour stress journal will help you determine these skills. How productive or helpful are your coping mechanisms? Many people have unhealthy coping skills as these are taught to us unconsciously by others. And for many of us, overeating is an all too common coping device.

When dealing with stressful situations these four strategies work well:

  • Avoid stress that is unnecessary
  • Change the situation
  • Change yourself to compensate for the stress
  • Accept the stress

Avoidance This coping technique works well with those situations or people that we cannot otherwise deal with in another way. We have all experienced a time, or person, that no matter what we tried, when we were placed in the presence of the stressor, we could not cope. In these cases avoidance is best.

You can also reduce your stress through avoidance by learning to say no. Boundaries are a helpful guide  to others in way we want to be treated. Limiting what you are obligated to do helps you to control your life and reduce your stress level.

Learn to say no to your self as well. Many of us have long ‘to do lists’. While these are helpful in many situations, if your list is so long that you never have the satisfaction of finishing the it, it simply adds to your stress. Keep your lists short.

Sometimes even just a short break from the stressor can provide the relief to make it through.

Sometimes even just a short break from the stressor can provide the relief to make it through.

Change your situation  If your job is your stress factor avoidance will not work, and if you do use avoidance, neither will you! So to compensate you may have to find a new job or a way of modifying your current employment to avoid the stress. Perhaps your job can be done from home.

Some stress is just unavoidable and keeping everything to yourself isn’t good for you. Learn to express how your feel in a way that is respectful of the other person while addressing the problem so that a solution can be reached. Holding on to stress, and the negative feeling associated with it, will build up and you’ll end up being resentful. Additionally, if the source of your stress doesn’t know the situation there is no chance of change.

Adaptation has helped man and beast alike survive since the beginning of time. Life is never perfect, so instead of stressing over the imperfections look for the good. Ask yourself how important what you’re stressing over really is? To help bring it into perspective ask yourself if it will matter a month, or a year,  from now. 

Acceptance is sometimes the best alternative. There are some people and things that will never change or that have so few good points it’s hard to find even one, and the only way to deal with it is to accept them, or it. If this is your situation, limit the time you spend in the situation or with the person. And view it as an opportunity to improve yourself.

In part two we’ll discuss  healthy alternative for dealing with stress and how to make them part of your life.


Bon appetit,










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3 Responses to Food is NOT a Coping Strategy

  1. ASwirlGirl says:

    Elle, this is such an excellent article! I appreciate you reminding me that I should not use food in this way (even though I do – and sadly, my occasions are not “rare.”)

    One of the changes I’m planning to make is WHAT I eat when I engage in a lot of snacking and eating unnecessarily. I’m thinking if I purchase HEALTHY snacks – such as carrot & celery sticks, fruit, etc., at least if I do use food for coping I’ll do so with something that won’t add pounds. Getting back into a regular exercise routine will also go a long way toward alleviating stress.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article – looking forward to Part 2!

    • Elle says:

      Swirl Girl,
      Having healthy snacks on hand is a great way to help you control your eating. I would recommend you have them all portioned out so that you know exactly how much you are eating–ever eat chips from the bag to suddenly realize you’ve eaten the entire bag?? Yes, me too! Part Two will post next week.
      Thanks so much and remember, if you’re trying you’re doing better than 80% of the people!

  2. Pingback: Food is NOT a Coping Strategy, Part II - ElleVeg

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