My Top 7 Tips on Mastering the Art of Self-Soothing Without Turning to Food

self-soothe without food

Written By:


Ryann Nicole

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, stress and emotional turbulence can often lead us down the path of unhealthy habits, with emotional eating being a common coping mechanism. The journey to mastering the art of self-soothing without turning to food requires mindfulness, self-awareness, and the cultivation of alternative strategies. 

Why do I self-soothe with food?

Self-soothing with food is a complex behavior that can be influenced by various factors, both psychological and physiological. People may turn to food for comfort and emotional support for several reasons:

Emotional Regulation

Food can trigger the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are associated with pleasure and mood regulation. Consuming certain foods, especially those high in sugar or fat, may provide a temporary sense of comfort or relief from negative emotions.

Habitual Response

Over time, individuals may develop a habit of associating food with comfort, especially if they learned this behavior as a coping mechanism during childhood. Repeating this pattern can lead to a conditioned response where food becomes a go-to solution for emotional distress.

Cultural and Social Influences

Cultural and societal norms often associate food with celebration, socializing, and comfort. This cultural conditioning can contribute to the tendency to seek solace in food during times of emotional upheaval.

Stress Response

Stress can trigger the release of cortisol, a hormone associated with the body’s fight-or-flight response. Some individuals may turn to food as a way to cope with heightened stress levels, as eating can temporarily dampen the stress response.

Lack of Alternative Coping Mechanisms

If individuals haven’t developed or identified alternative coping mechanisms for dealing with emotions, they may default to the familiar and accessible option of using food. This can be particularly true if healthier coping strategies haven’t been cultivated.

Unconscious Associations

Certain foods may be associated with positive memories or experiences, leading individuals to unconsciously turn to those foods during times of stress or sadness.

Why is it so hard to stop using food to soothe?

Resorting to food as a means of self-soothing can be challenging to overcome for various reasons, reflecting a combination of psychological, physiological, and societal factors:

Emotional Associations

Over time, individuals develop strong emotional associations with food, often as a result of early experiences. This emotional connection can make it challenging to separate the act of eating from emotional comfort, as food becomes intertwined with positive feelings or memories.

Habitual Behavior

Behaviors, including emotional eating, can become ingrained habits. Breaking these habits requires conscious effort, time, and the development of alternative coping mechanisms. Habits often operate on autopilot, making it challenging to interrupt the pattern without intentional intervention.

Immediate Gratification

Food provides a quick and easily accessible source of comfort. Unlike some alternative self-soothing strategies that may take time to show results, the immediate gratification from eating can make it a go-to option for individuals seeking rapid relief from emotional distress.

Lack of Alternative Coping Mechanisms

If individuals haven’t developed or identified alternative coping mechanisms, they may default to the familiar option of using food. The absence of effective alternatives can perpetuate the reliance on food as a primary means of self-soothing.

How do I stop using food to self-soothe? 

It is important to understand that the problem isn’t that you are emotional eating; the problem is not knowing how to manage emotions without food. Below are my top 7 tips for finding other ways to soothe without food. This is not to make emotional eating “wrong” but to simply acknowledge there might be more productive ways to manage emotions than always using food.

01) Practice Mindfulness Meditation:

Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool to cultivate self-awareness and break the automatic connection between emotions and eating. Set aside a few minutes each day to engage in mindfulness meditation, focusing on your breath and observing your thoughts without judgment. This practice can help you become more attuned to your emotions, allowing you to respond thoughtfully rather than react impulsively. Here are some specific examples to help you practice mindfulness meditation:

Breath Awareness:

  • Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath.
  • Focus on the sensation of your breath as you inhale and exhale.
  • If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to the breath without judgment.

Body Scan Meditation:

  • Sit or lie down comfortably.
  • Direct your attention to different parts of your body, starting from your toes and moving up to the top of your head.
  • Notice any sensations, tension, or feelings without trying to change them.
  • Breathe into any areas of tension and allow them to relax.

Guided Meditation:

  • Use guided meditation apps or recordings to lead you through a mindfulness session.
  • Follow the guidance on focusing your attention, observing your thoughts, and cultivating a sense of calm.

Mindful Walking:

  • Take a slow walk, paying attention to each step.
  • Notice the sensation of your feet touching the ground.
  • Be aware of your surroundings, the sounds, and the smells as you walk.

Breath Counting:

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Inhale deeply, counting “one” silently in your mind.
  • Exhale completely, counting “two.”
  • Continue counting each breath cycle up to ten, then start again.

Remember that mindfulness meditation is a skill that develops with practice. Start with short sessions and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable with the practice.

02) Create a Relaxing Ritual

Develop a soothing ritual that doesn’t involve food. This could be as simple as taking a warm bath, sipping a cup of herbal tea, or listening to calming music. Engaging in a non-food-related ritual can provide a sense of comfort and relaxation, helping you cope with stress without resorting to emotional eating. Such as:

Warm Bath Ritual:

  • Fill your bathtub with warm water and add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
  • Light some candles and dim the lights for a soothing atmosphere.
  • Take your time to soak in the bath, focusing on the warmth and the calming scents.

Herbal Tea Time:

  • Brew a cup of your favorite herbal tea, such as chamomile or lavender.
  • Find a cozy spot to sit and enjoy your tea slowly.
  • Take deep breaths and savor the flavors, allowing the warmth to comfort you.

Calming Music Session:

  • Create a playlist of calming and instrumental music.
  • Find a comfortable space to sit or lie down.
  • Close your eyes and let the music guide you into a state of relaxation.

Guided Imagery Exercise:

  • Find a quiet space and sit comfortably.
  • Close your eyes and imagine a peaceful place, like a beach or a forest.
  • Visualize the details and let your mind wander in this serene setting.

Evening Stroll:

  • Take a leisurely walk in a nearby park or around your neighborhood.
  • Pay attention to the sights, sounds, and sensations of the outdoors.
  • Let the natural surroundings help you unwind.

Aromatherapy Moment:

  • Use essential oils or a diffuser with calming scents like lavender or eucalyptus.
  • Inhale deeply and let the soothing aroma fill your space.
  • Combine aromatherapy with deep breathing for added relaxation.

Reading Nook Ritual:

  • Create a cozy reading corner with soft pillows and blankets.
  • Pick up a book or magazine you’ve been meaning to read.
  • Immerse yourself in the words and let your mind escape.

Mindful Stretching:

  • Practice gentle stretching or yoga.
  • Focus on each movement and the sensations in your body.
  • Stretching can help release tension and promote relaxation.

Choose a ritual that resonates with you and fits into your routine. Consistently incorporating these non-food-related practices can contribute to a healthier approach to managing stress and emotions.

03) Connect With Others

Reach out to friends, family, or a support group when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Sharing your emotions, connecting with others, and seeking support can provide comfort and perspective. Sometimes, the simple act of talking about what’s bothering you can be incredibly therapeutic, reducing the urge to turn to food for solace. Here are some ideas for connecting with others:

Friendship Coffee Chat:

  • Call or meet up with a friend for a coffee chat.
  • Share your feelings and listen to their perspective.
  • Enjoy the company and the support of a trusted friend.

Family Movie Night:

  • Plan a movie night with family members.
  • Choose a comforting film and spend quality time together.
  • Use the opportunity to open up and discuss your emotions.

Supportive Text Exchange:

  • Reach out to a friend through text or messaging apps.
  • Share what’s on your mind and ask for their thoughts.
  • Exchange supportive messages to lift each other’s spirits.

Online Support Group:

  • Join an online support group related to your interests or concerns.
  • Participate in discussions, share experiences, and offer support to others.
  • Benefit from the collective wisdom of a like-minded community.

Therapeutic Session:

  • Schedule a session with a therapist or counselor.
  • Discuss your emotions and challenges in a confidential setting.
  • Gain professional insights and coping strategies.

Virtual Game Night:

  • Organize a virtual game night with friends.
  • Play games together and use the casual setting to talk about your day.
  • Having fun can make it easier to open up about your feelings.

Family Dinner Conversation:

  • During a family meal, encourage open and honest conversations.
  • Share your experiences, and listen to others share theirs.
  • Create a supportive atmosphere within the family.

Walking Buddy:

  • Invite a friend or family member for a walk.
  • Physical activity combined with conversation can be therapeutic.
  • Use the time to discuss what’s on your mind.

Book Club Connection:

  • Join a book club and engage in discussions with fellow members.
  • Explore shared interests and connect on a personal level.
  • Share thoughts on books and life experiences.

Workplace Support:

  • Talk to a trusted colleague or supervisor at work.
  • Many workplaces offer employee assistance programs or support networks.
  • Discussing your feelings with someone at work can provide a different perspective.

Building a support system involves reaching out to others in various ways, depending on your comfort and preferences. The key is to surround yourself with individuals who offer understanding, empathy, and encouragement during challenging times.

04) Explore Creative Outlets

Channel your emotions into creative activities that bring you joy. Whether it’s painting, writing, dancing, or playing a musical instrument, expressing your emotions through creative outlets can be a powerful way to self-soothe. Engaging in these activities not only distracts you from emotional eating but also allows you to explore and understand your feelings more deeply. Need ideas? Try this:


  • Set up an easel and canvas with your favorite paints.
  • Express your emotions through strokes and colors.
  • Allow your creativity to flow freely onto the canvas.


  • Keep a journal where you can write freely about your emotions.
  • Use poetry, prose, or simple reflections to capture your feelings.
  • Journaling provides a safe space for self-expression.


  • Put on your favorite music and dance freely in your living room.
  • Let your body move in response to the rhythm.
  • Dancing is a joyful way to release pent-up emotions.


  • Grab a camera or use your smartphone to capture moments.
  • Experiment with different angles and subjects.
  • Photography allows you to see the world through a creative lens.


  • Engage in crafting activities such as knitting, crocheting, or origami.
  • The repetitive motions can be meditative and soothing.
  • Create something tangible with your hands.


  • Learn to play a musical instrument or pick up one you already know.
  • Play your favorite tunes or create your own melodies.
  • Music has the power to express and evoke emotions.

Digital Art:

  • Explore digital art using graphic design software or drawing apps.
  • Create digital illustrations or designs that reflect your emotions.
  • Digital art allows for a modern and versatile form of expression.


  • Collect images, words, and textures from magazines or online sources.
  • Create collages that represent your emotions and thoughts.
  • Collaging is a visually expressive and reflective activity.

Engaging in creative outlets provides a constructive way to process and express emotions while cultivating a sense of joy and accomplishment. Choose activities that resonate with you, and let the creative process become a valuable tool for self-soothing and emotional well-being.

05) Establish a Regular Movement Routine

Physical activity is a natural stress reliever and mood booster. Establishing a regular movement routine not only contributes to your overall well-being but also provides a healthy outlet for emotional energy. Choose activities that you enjoy, whether it’s going for a walk, practicing yoga, or hitting the gym. Consistent movement can help regulate your mood and reduce the desire for emotional eating, like:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Group Fitness
  • Yoga
  • Boxing
  • Pilates
  • Strength Training
  • Cross-Fit
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • Gardening
  • Cleaning

Remember, the key is to find activities that you enjoy, making it more likely that you’ll stick to your exercise routine. Regular physical activity not only benefits your physical health but also plays a crucial role in managing stress and improving your overall mood.

06) Practice Positive Self-Talk

Become aware of your inner dialogue and work on cultivating positive self-talk. Challenge negative thoughts and replace them with affirmations that promote self-compassion and resilience. By changing the way you talk to yourself, you can build a more supportive and nurturing mindset, reducing the need for external comforts like food. Here are examples of practicing positive self-talk:

Affirmations for Confidence:

  • Replace self-doubt with affirmations like “I am confident and capable.”
  • Remind yourself of past achievements to boost your self-esteem.

Kindness in Difficult Moments:

  • During challenging times, say to yourself, “I am strong, and I can handle this.”
  • Cultivate self-compassion by acknowledging that everyone faces difficulties.

Body Positivity Affirmations:

  • Embrace positive affirmations about your body, such as “I am grateful for my body and all it does for me.”
  • Focus on what your body can do rather than appearance-based judgments.

Overcoming Setbacks:

  • Instead of dwelling on mistakes, say, “I can learn and grow from this experience.”
  • View setbacks as opportunities for personal development.

Positive Morning Mantra:

  • Begin your day with a positive mantra, like “Today is a new opportunity, and I will approach it with a positive mindset.”
  • Set a positive tone for the day ahead.

Mindfulness and Present Affirmations:

  • In moments of stress, repeat affirmations like “I am present, and I can handle one thing at a time.”
  • Ground yourself in the current moment to alleviate anxiety.

Cultivating Gratitude:

  • Practice gratitude by acknowledging positive aspects of your life.
  • Remind yourself, “I am thankful for the good things in my life, big and small.”

Encouraging Inner Coach:

  • Develop an inner coach that encourages and motivates you.
  • Replace self-criticism with statements like “I believe in my abilities, and I can achieve my goals.”

Celebrating Small Wins:

  • Acknowledge and celebrate small achievements with affirmations like “I am making progress, one step at a time.”
  • Recognize your efforts rather than solely focusing on the end goal.

Compassionate Responses to Mistakes:

  • When you make a mistake, say, “I am human, and everyone makes mistakes. I can learn and move forward.”
  • Practice self-forgiveness and focus on growth.

Positive Future Outlook:

  • Affirm your belief in a positive future by saying, “I am creating a life filled with joy and success.”
  • Visualize a positive outcome for your endeavors.

Inner Strength Reminder:

  • During challenging times, remind yourself, “I have the inner strength to face difficulties with resilience and grace.”
  • Reinforce your belief in your own strength.

Consistently incorporating positive self-talk into your daily routine can gradually shape a more uplifting and resilient mindset, fostering emotional well-being and reducing the reliance on external comforts like food.

07) Prioritize Self-Care

Make self-care a priority in your daily routine. Ensure you are getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals, and taking breaks to recharge. When you consistently prioritize self-care, you create a foundation of well-being that reduces the likelihood of turning to food for emotional support. You can get started with adding in:

  • A Quality Sleep Routine
  • Nourishing Balanced Meals
  • More Water
  • Mindful Eating Practices
  • Regular Physical Activity
  • Social Media Breaks
  • Creative Hobbies
  • Spending Time With Others
  • Going Outside
  • Spa Day (at a spa or at home)
  • Spending Time Outdoors
  • Journaling
  • Setting Boundaries
  • Going To Therapy

Prioritizing self-care involves a holistic approach to nurturing your physical, emotional, and mental health. By consistently incorporating these practices into your routine, you create a strong foundation for overall well-being, reducing the likelihood of turning to food for emotional support.

Mastering the art of self-soothing without relying on food is a transformative journey that requires patience and dedication. By incorporating these tips into your daily life, you can develop healthier coping mechanisms, build resilience, and cultivate a positive relationship with your emotions. Remember, the goal is not to eliminate emotions but to respond to them in a way that nurtures your well-being.

Ryann Nicole

Licensed Therapist, Certified Nutritionist, and Virtual Wellness Coach

Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.

Are You Ready to Heal Your Relationship With Food? 

I understand—it can be overwhelming to figure out where to begin. Let's simplify things and have you start right here:

Why Am I Overeating?

First Steps To Stop Binge Eating 

The Food Freedom Lab Podcast




the food freedom lab podcast

Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.