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Self-compassion is an attitude of generosity, honesty, and kindness towards yourself. Lots of people who deal with stress eating have negative self-talk running through their heads before, during, and afterward.

Some of this might sound familiar:

  • “I guess I’m going to hit up my snack stash again now, like I always do. Why can’t I ever learn?”

  • “Ugh, I’m such an idiot for doing this. Again.”

  • “I just had to finish the ice cream, didn’t I? Nice work, me.”

As a result, the cycle of negative self-talk, stress eating, and feeling bad about it can become a never-ending loop.”

Self-compassion is a tool that can help interrupt that cycle by reducing the “screw it” feeling that happens right before a person starts emotional eating.

A key distinction here is that self-compassion isn’t an excuse to stress eat. Its purpose is to help remove some of the guilt you might feel about stress eating. That’s important, since that guilt can just lead to more overeating. So give it a try. Even if it feels a little squishy at first, it might just be the thing that works.

  • Self-compassion is giving yourself a break. It is NOT giving yourself a permanent get out of jail free card.

  • Self-compassion is being honest and seeing the big picture. It is NOT ignoring your problems.

  • Self-compassion is being kind to yourself. It is NOT letting yourself off the hook


Next time you get the urge to stress eat, treat it as an experiment. Use our BEHAVIOR AWARENESS WORKSHEET to document what happens and how you feel before, during, and after.

Get in the habit of checking in yourself in order to identify and name what is actually going on even if you aren't ready to change the behavior. Before moving ahead with stress eating, notice links between specific thoughts / feelings / situations and behaviors.

Ask yourself if you are hungry, angry, anxious, lonely, tired, stressed or sad. This will help you better understand and identify your triggers but it'll also start removing—or at least, lessening—any guilt or shame you feel around overeating.

Plus, if you’re “allowed” to overeat, it suddenly doesn’t feel as urgent. When it’s no longer forbidden, the intense craving for a whole box of cookies sometimes turns into a more manageable desire for just one or two.

So try to observe your experience as neutrally as possible. Simply notice, observe, and record what happens leading up to any food cravings, emotional eating, overeating, and/or any other times that feel “out of control” with food and eating.

Because here’s a secret:

Those feelings and behaviors didn’t come out of nowhere. They aren’t random. Something led to them.

After a few episodes and keeping data you might notice some patterns.

Maybe you notice you head for the snack cupboard right after getting off a stressful, two-hour-long conference call. And you realize you’ve been doing that almost every day for… weeks.

Once you’re aware of the trigger, decide what to do about it. If it’s something you can avoid, great. (If the smell of baking cookies is too much for you to handle, you could take a break from baking for a while.) If your trigger isn’t something you can change or avoid, sometimes just being aware that you’re experiencing a trigger can help.