Feeling Restless? The Bible And Stress Eating

Why is it that letters from insurance companies come on Friday afternoon late telling you that a procedure was not covered, and now you can’t talk to anyone about it until Monday?

And am I the only one who wants to eat a whole carton of ice cream when I feel restless over things that I don’t have control over?

What about you? What do you want to eat when you feel restless or stressed?

More importantly, does the Bible say anything about stress eating? Does it address how and what we eat? Should we even be concerned?

What are the signs of stress eating?

The University of Michigan Health lists typical signs of stress eating.

  1. Changing your eating habits when you have more stress in your life.
  2. Eating when you are not hungry or when you are full.
  3. Eating to avoid dealing with a stressful situation.
  4. Eating to soothe your feelings.
  5. Using food as a reward. (For example, “That was really a tough job/assignment/argument. I need some ice cream/candy/popcorn!”) (1)

I see myself in numbers 2, 4, and 5. What about you?

Why do people stress eat?

According to the Cleaveland Clinic:

“When you’re feeling stressed, your body sends out cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Cortisol can make you crave sugary, salty, and fatty foods because your brain thinks it needs fuel to fight whatever threat is causing the stress.” (2)

While this explains the chemistry going on in the body, there is a deeper problem that must be addressed. We need to know why we are feeling stressed. It is more than just circumstances.

Healthline confirms underlying problems with this explanation:

“Also known as emotional eating, stress-eating involves using food as a coping mechanism to help you feel better. Typically, it has nothing to do with physical hunger and everything to do with soothing or suppressing uncomfortable feelings and situations.” (3)

The trouble with using food as a coping mechanism is that it only soothes or comforts for a short time. Much like drug addiction, it can become a vicious cycle.

What does the Bible say about stress eating?

The very first sin committed by humans was related to food. Not that the food was a bad thing, but there was a deeper problem that we all struggle with.

Bible verses about our appetites

“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” Philippians 3:19 ESV (In many translations the word “belly” is translated “appetite” or “stomach

Yes, food can become our god, something that becomes paramount in our thoughts, something that we value above everything else.

Furthermore, craving food can trip us up. Look at what happened to the Israelites when they were on their way from Egypt to the promised land.

” They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.” Psalm 78:18

Many became sick because of their cravings.

Foods become something we crave when we picture it in our minds, think about how yummy it will taste, imagine the aroma, etc. Our thoughts can hold us captive at that point.

A warning about our appetites

The apostle Paul wrote these words:

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful … but I will not be enslaved by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:12

We can become slaves to our cravings.

In the Old Testament we also read:

“When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies (rich foods), for they are deceptive food.” Proverbs 23:1-3 (explanation added)

The writer here uses figurative language. His words about a knife are a warning, not a literal action that we should take. The point is that “delicacies” are addictive. The more you eat the more you want.

Does that sound like any of our “rich” foods today such as ice cream, candy, cheesecake, fried meats and vegetables, and so on?

Bible verses about stress eating

Many articles on stress eating tell us to not buy things that are a temptation. So if cookies call our name when we are stressed, don’t buy them. Avoid them like the plague.

But this is not a new idea. Long before we had therapists and diet coaches these words were penned.

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:14

When I buy those cookies, I am making provision for the flesh to gratify its desires. Ouch. The truth hurts.

When I bring home foods from the grocery store that I crave, I am sabotaging myself. I can’t resist them when they are sitting on my kitchen counter. I look at them, think about them, and before I know it I am eating them.

When handled incorrectly, stress leads to anxiety, restlessness, and often stress eating.

Bible verses about overeating

What exactly is overeating? Is it that miserable feeling when you eat too much at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? Or could it mean something else?

The Bible is full of examples of celebrations where people ate a lot of food.

“Happy are you … feast at the proper time, for strength, and not for drunkenness!” Ecclesiastes 10:17

Eating excessive portions

We need to eat, so food itself is not the problem. And it is appropriate to celebrate from time to time with feasting.

But The Bible talks about regularly consuming excessive portions of food. It is called gluttony, which is compared to drunkenness. Rather than having control over our eating, we let our eating control us.

“Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags” Proverbs 23:20-21

There are several other Scriptures about eating too much if you want to look them up. (Deuteronomy 21:20, Proverbs 28:7)

Eating more than our share

Overeating can be more than feeling gorged after a meal. It can be taking more than our share.

” If you have found honey, eat only enough for you … ” Proverbs 25:16

I will never forget the day I made cinnamon rolls for the family. The can of dough held enough for 5 rolls.

Not everyone showed up right away and since an extra roll seemed to be sitting there, one of the children ate it.

My son-in-law showed up 20 minutes later looking for his cinnamon roll and there were none left. The child who ate it earlier was eating more than their share.

Do you see a connection? When we stress eat, we generally are eating more than our share. Furthermore, we usually are not hungry. We are just thinking of ourselves and what we want.

The real problem with stress eating

“Attempts to control behavior can often become a heavy burden, filled with repeated failure, and self-condemnation over continued bondage.” (4)

Stress eating is a behavior that many want to control. But we can not permanently change our eating habits without first addressing the real problem.

God is a God of comfort. He wants us to come to Him when we feel stressed.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:4

Instead, we often:

  • would rather replace God with food (idolotry)
  • don’t want to admit that we need help (pride and self-sufficiency)
  • want to decide for ourselves what is best (arrogance, pride, selfishness)
  • place more value on personal comfort than anything else (selfishness, entitlement, idolotry)

These are all attitudes that will keep us in bondage. But when we know and accept the truth, then the truth sets us free.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). We need to go to Jesus when battling stress eating.

Only through acknowledgment of wrong attitudes can we be set free.

Alternatives to stress eating

There are endless alternatives to stress eating. The trouble is that stress eating has become a habit for many of us and habits take time to change.

Regardless of how much initiative we can muster up and how many alternatives we try, not dealing with the root of the problem will leave us frustrated.

Biblical alternatives

I remember saying to the Lord, “help me understand why I do this to myself. Why do I eat when I am stressed or bored? If I am sinning, help me see that also.”

Food specific Scriptures

The Lord gave me some Scripture verses that I didn’t understand immediately how they applied.

When I wanted the taste of a certain food, He said:

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8

I needed to turn around, get out of the kitchen and go read about the goodness of God. He is my refuge from the slavery of food.

When I wanted something sweet, He said:

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psalm 119:103

I had to question, “Are God’s words sweet to me?” The truth is until I spend a good amount of time in the Bible I won’t know that it is sweet and precious to my life.

Lifestyle Scriptures

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16

“But the fruit of the Spirit is … self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

If I have a relationship with Jesus, then God lives in me. One of the natural outcomes of having the Spirit of God in us is the gradual development of self-control.

Sometimes the right thing to do is not always the easiest.

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:17

Ouch. I had asked God to show me if my out-of-control eating was a sin, and He answered. When you add all the Scriptures together, yes it is a sin.

We as humans want quick fixes to stress. However, quick fixes do not solve the real problem.

What we desperately need to do is build our relationship with Jesus to overcome the food traps that Satan sets for us. The evil one will always tell us we can’t survive without our food fix.

The best escape is to cry out to God, “I can’t do this. Help me.” Then follow that with the Scriptures we have learned.

Other alternatives

The internet is full of alternatives to take our minds off food when we are stressed or bored.

While these are great ideas, unless we use them to bring us back to God, they will only be a temporary fix.

That being said, here are some God-centered alternatives to try.

  • Go outside for a walk and talk to God. Just 15 minutes helps most people
  • Exercise while listening to Christian Music that focuses your mind on God and what He wants for you
  • Call someone and ask them to pray for you.
  • Have activities that you save just for when you are feeling bored or stressed. An example might be Bible verse coloring pages, or a book that you would enjoy reading.
  • Collect Bible verses that remind you of the relationship God wants to have with you and the hope and comfort that He gives.
  • Memorize Bible verses that have to do with stress eating. When you are feeling stressed or bored, recite these verses outloud.
  • If food has become your god, confess that sin to God.

The point of alternatives is not to create distractions. Rather it is to focus on the God who loves us, wants to comfort us, and longs for us to be set free.

A prayer for stress eating

Dear Heavenly Father,

You know that I am struggling with stress eating. I am learning that my attitudes about food are often sinful. These sins are what nailed Jesus to a cruel cross and caused Him such suffering.

Lord, I am so sorry for hurting you in this way.

And Lord, I also confess that I have not been coming to you for my comfort. Instead, I have made food a god. I have worshipped food, thinking about it more often than I think about you. Forgive me, Lord.

I also confess to you that I have made my own comfort a god. Forgive me, Lord. I ask that you will help me see clearly when I am “making provision for my flesh”. When I am at the grocery store, make those words loud and clear in my mind.

Help me also to see when I am creeping into dangerous territory regarding rich, high caloric, delicacy foods that I should not consume on a regular basis. Father I realize they are addictive and a trap.

Help me instead to taste and see that you a good. Give me a hunger for you, Lord. Help me to find your words sweet to my soul. Lord, they are your words. I want to know what they say and know you better than anyone else.

Lord, I confess that I need you. I lack control without you in my life.

Thank you dear Jesus that you love me more than I could ever imagine. I am so grateful that you are always with me and more than willing to help me with my struggles. How I want to do what brings honor to your name.

I trust you Lord to help me every moment and to comfort me when I feel anxious. In your holy name, Amen.

You can download this prayer here.

Final thoughts

Because the first sin recorded in the Bible was related to food, it is important that we pay attention to our eating habits.

While food is necessary for physical life, Jesus said that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4

Let’s make a commitment to follow Biblical principles in all parts of our life. When stress eating is a temptation, let’s learn to go to God first, not last.

As a reminder, I want to give you this Scripture card to download for free. No email is required. There are 4 on a sheet so feel free to share with friends.

photo of a woman holding her hands towards heaven and the caption, "God to God first, not last."
Matthew 6:33

References:

  1. University of Michigan Health – Michigan Medicine
  2. Cleveland Clinic
  3. Healthline
  4. Why Biblical Counseling?, Dr. Ab Abercrombie, Ph.D.

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