Emotional eating, but make it better.
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I’ve forged a deep emotional connection with food, mostly because eating brings me tremendous joy. I also suffer from anxiety (as well as about 18.1 percent of the U.S. population), and when I get nervous, my stomach’s the first organ to react. Recently, I was in the middle of stress-stuffing my mouth (at 2:00 a.m., of course) with graham crackers and realized why I turn to them in times of emotional crisis: Biting into them feels good and doesn’t take much effort.

When people stress eat (myself included), they rely on two qualities: texture and accessibility. And since junk food is easy to consume in large amounts, it’s a go-to for stress eaters. Outsmart your cravings for stress food staples with alternatives that capture junk food’s best textures and curb hunger.

What you’re craving: ice cream

What to have instead: yogurt and fruit

Did you know that a diet rich in yogurt can lower anxiety? The probiotics in yogurt are a huge help to your digestive system, which is second only to your nervous system in susceptibility to anxiety. So when you’re stressed, you can calm down your gut microbes with a bowl of yogurt (plain has the least added sugar, or you can even make a batch ahead of time). Throw some berries or cut fruit and a few nuts on top and it’s almost like a Sundae.

What you’re craving: potato chips

What to have instead: beet chips

With their rich flavor and crisp mouthfeel, potato chips are the ultimate draw for a stress eater. They are also extremely unhealthy and aren’t filling, which makes them evil. Beautiful, but evil. Beet chips, however, are a simple fix (they take about 15 minutes in the oven and 3 in the microwave) and, when sliced thinly enough, can even rival a potato chip’s crunch. Plus, they cover the salt craving. Pair them with a creamy dip, like this Turmeric Yogurt Dip, to cover yet another comforting texural basis.

Air-Fried Beet Chips
Credit: Anna Theoktisto

Anna Theoktisto

What you’re craving: cobbler

What to have instead: baked apple with cinnamon

There’s a reason comfort food is squishy: Out of all the textures, soft stuff feels best in your mouth. Plus, minimal effort! Fifteen minutes in the oven will make an apple nice and malleable, and a little brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon will add some down-home flavor.

What you’re craving: Key lime pie

What to have instead: dressed up key lime pie yogurt

The protein in flavored yogurt (don't make it a habit, though!) will satiate you faster, and a good yogurt (like Fage) is creamy enough to feel indulgent. Plus, their Key lime yogurt is very good. Make it fancy with some graham cracker crumbles and a spoonful of Cool Whip.

What you’re craving: flavored crackers

What to have instead: popcorn

First of all I have to say that I'm aware there's nothing that'll compare to a Ritz cracker. But remember, this article is about tricking yourself and making compromises. And if you're one of those people who can chow down on popcorn without immediately becoming bloated, it's a great food to just toss in there, provided it's not drowning in butter and salt. Plus, popcorn is highly customizeable, just like your favorite crackers.

What you’re craving: Oreos

What to have instead: Blue Diamond Cocoa Roast Almonds

Oreos may be a stress eater’s favorite cookie, but wow those things are loaded with calories! And not even any good nutrients! If you're gonna stuff your mouth with something, make sure it at least has a good amount protein or unsaturated fat so you'll actually get full. The cocoa blast coating on these almonds is also pretty addictive.

What you're craving: 7-layer dip

What to have instead: hummus

Okay, so 7-layer dip might not always be in your kitchen, but it is football season and tailgates can be stressful. Since hummus is beans, it's chock-full of protein and fiber, unlike those layers of sour cream and shredded iceberg lettuce. Plus, it's a popular party snack, so chances are, it's part of the spread.