How to break the worry/eat cycle

Some people worry about gaining weight. Some people gain weight because they can’t stop worrying. One thing for sure, worrying is a useless emotion that causes more trouble than it prevents. Truth be told, there is nothing good that can come from worry.



If worrying is such a negative action, why do we spend so much time doing it? I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist but I think I know why we worry. Well, at least I know why I worry!  I’m human; humans worry! Some of us spend more time worrying than others.

Seriously, I don’t like bad surprises. Who does? I don’t like the feeling of not having control over circumstances. Worrying gives me the illusion that I know what’s going to happen and therefore I can avoid unpleasant surprises. Worrying gives me a false confidence of being in control and having the ability to change the course of things.

Of course, the more I worry about something, the more I dwell on scary things outside my control, the more I realize I have no influence over changing the outcome. That makes me worry even more!

Worrying is a common cause of weight gain. I become anxious because I worry. The anxiety makes me restless and uncomfortable and I need a way to ease those feelings, so I eat. The more I worry, the more I eat.

I’m not the kind of person who loses her appetite when worried. It’s not that worrying causes homeostatic hunger (the need for fuel), it’s that I feel the need to “do something” to take my mind off of my worries. I do something that only provides temporary relief so I need to keep doing it more to get more relief.

The foods I choose to ease anxiety tend to be foods processed with added salt, fat, and sugar. They typically come in crinkly bags, all of which are portable, easy to open, and easy to empty into my awaiting mouth! Oh! and the bigger, the better! In my experience of helping people to lose weight, I’ve discovered that my reaction to worrying is quite common.

Some people find that they worry more when they’re working to weigh less. If weighing less is something that makes people happy, then why does it cause anxiety that leads to uncontrollable worrying? Worry, for many, allows for overindulging without guilt or shame. This is especially true for people who want to lose weight and have a fear of failure.

The fear isn’t really so much of personal failure, but rather how their failure will be judged by those people whose negative judgments matter to them. (could be total strangers even!) If you can worry about something, and better, if you can justify your worries by getting other people engaged in them, it takes the onus of you when you “stray from your diet.”


“You can’t blame me for eating too much. I’m so worried about (fill in the blank) that I can’t add to my problems by trying to lose weight right now!”

Worry is clearly a problem when it comes to weight control. Is there a solution? Absolutely! There are many solutions including understanding why you worry and how to stop or, at least, minimize it. In addition to learning how to reduce worry, there are also ways to separate worry from eating.

3 steps to break the worry/eat cycle

1. Find alternate behaviors to replace eating. Do this when you are calm.

  • Try the usual methods (reading, taking a bath, engaging in a physical activity that require strength and concentration, calling a friend)
  • Be creative and find your own unique methods

2. When you start to worry, identify the behavior. 

3. If you can’t stop worrying, remind yourself that you can’t control circumstances, but you can control your reaction.

  • Tell yourself, “eating won’t help.”
  • Do something soothing
  • Pick something from your list. If worrying persists do something else until you’re focused on the activity, not what’s worrying you.


Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. She is a Weight Watchers success story. She's a weight loss expert with 25 years of experience guiding women and men to their weight-related goals. Her articles on weight management have been published in health, family and women's magazines. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news, FOX network morning program Good Day Maine and 207 on WCSH.