Do you eat when you feel stressed out? Sad? Upset? You are not alone. In fact, most people will reach for some sort of comfort food anytime those unwanted feelings creep up. It is called Stress Eating or Emotional Eating. This occurs when there is an unconscious attraction towards foods to fulfill an emotional void or to manage stress. Emotional eating can be triggered by stress, anxiety, fear, and sadness and is a barrier to weight loss. Eating in response to stress creates a psychological and physiological reliance on food for emotional coping. But, the good news is that you can overcome stress eating.
There are steps you can take today to overcome emotional and stress eating. But, before you dive into these steps I want you to think about this the next time you are holding a bag of chips or reaching for a cookie; is that food a preference or a priority?
A preference is a food that you prefer to eat. It tastes good, it makes you feel good, it is your comfort food. You may reach for preference foods just because you want it and not necessarily because you are hungry.
A priority is a food you eat because you need to eat. There is a physiological need to eat. A need to nourish the body. A priority food is an item you choose because you have to eat…rather than you want to eat.
The next time you are reaching for that feel-good food….ask yourself…is it a preference or a priority? If it is a preference, you may be experiencing emotional or stress eating. The good news is I have 5 steps to overcome stress eating.
Step 1: Determine your trigger(s)
For this step, you need to identify what triggers you to reach for food. Why are you eating? What mood has created a stress response that triggers a reaction to eat? This reaction, such as grabbing for food, is a behavior that you have developed in response to stress. You likely don’t realize you do this…until you are doing it and regret that you consumed certain foods.
You will need to have a clear understanding of when this happens by identifying your mood. Keep a journal to help identify how often you eat when feeling stressed. Identify the time of day, day of the week, and your go-to foods (AKA: comfort foods).
This will provide a clear insight as to what mood triggers you to eat, as well as the foods you choose to eat. This is known as your dietary behaviors in reaction to stress. This is what you will begin to work on.
Step 2: Ride out the storm
Think of negative emotions and stress as ocean tides that that come in and retreat. Tides (emotions/stress) come in and create overwhelm. But, eventually tides retreat, restoring a sense of calm. Knowing a stressor will pass is essential, and, learning to manage emotions that rise during stressful situations is key to overcoming emotional eating.
And, during a storm we tend to eat mindlessly. You know what I mean. We get so caught up in the emotions that before we know it the entire bag of chips is gone! We become so consumed by the stressful event that we stop paying attention to our internal cues. Here are some tips to overcome mindless eating. Try my Mindful Eating tips so that you identify when you are truly hungry and when to stop eating because you feel satisfied.
Tips to ride out the storm: journal your emotions in place of grabbing food, go for a walk, deep breathing, sip on herbal tea.
Keep in mind: when you eat in times of stress you are distracting yourself, which does not allow the feeling to run its course. Experience the emotion. Ride the tides. Make note of what caused it and choose a healthy alternative.
Step 3: Don’t empower food
By eating when you feel stressed, you are giving food the power beyond meeting your nutritional needs. Food becomes a coping mechanism and your desire for food intensifies. You may think you need food to manage a stressful situation, you may not even be aware that you are doing this, but it is just a band-aid to get your through an event.
Certain foods provide a feeling of comfort. Studies show foods high in fat and/or sugar affect certain parts of the brain that manage stress. This further reinforces the need to eat in response to stress. In addition, when we feel stressed, cortisol levels increase, sleep patterns are disrupted, and the adrenal glands become fatigued further intensifying food cravings.
A study conducted by Mayo Clinic found that individuals increase their calories by ~667 calories per day when they are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation alters Leptin levels, which controls our appetite and promotes food cravings for salty, sweet, carbohydrate-rich foods.
If you cannot resist eating during a stressful period, consider raw fruits and vegetables as they do not have the same response in the brain as do high fat and sugar foods. Most importantly, keep your go-to stress foods out of the house. If they are not available you cannot grab for them in times of stress. You have the power to invite these foods into your home or keep them out. Don’t empower food…take control and make healthy choices. You can do this by having healthy alternatives available.
Step 4: Healthy Coping
Food is a common method to cope with stress. Unfortunately, using food to cope increases the risk of weight gain, elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. It becomes a domino effect that will negatively affect your health. I recently conducted a study in breast cancer survivors using yoga to improve quality of life. Often time breast cancer survivors turn to food as a means to cope with their illness, fear of cancer recurrence, and to manage unwanted side effects. By having an alternative to food, these women were able to use yoga to manage their emotions and stress. This improves quality of life because they started to feel good about themselves physically and mentally.
Feelings of guilt are commonly felt after one indulges on comfort foods. For example, a busy Mom snacks on chips every day at 4pm because she is stressed out from picking up the kids, dropping them off at soccer, figuring out dinner plans, and wishing she could find time to do something for herself. In order to cope, she grabs for chips…but feels awful afterwards.
As I mentioned earlier, food distracts us from dealing with a stressful event. Unfortunately food does not fix the issue. However, learning time management skills or being okay delegating responsibilities to others (AKA: asking for help) is a much healthier way for this busy Mom to cope with the situation rather than reaching for food.
You will need to find a new, healthy coping mechanism. Exercise and a support system are great methods to manage stress. Yoga, walking, swimming are all great methods to decrease levels of stress and promote weight loss.
Remember: There is no sense feeling better in the moment if it will cost you tomorrow.
Step 5: You’re in control!
Take control TODAY!! If you are waiting to take control of your health (such as weight loss) when things settle down and are less stressful …you will NEVER lose weight. Because stress is always present. Good and bad stress. The key is to identify your stressors and take control of them by finding a new coping mechanism. You got this!! It will take time but YOU GOT THIS!
If you need additional assistance, schedule a FREE Discovery Session with me. This is a free 10-15 minute phone consultation to discuss your healthy concerns and to determine which nutrition program is right for you. There is no obligation. Call today…you and your health are worth it! 888-848-2669.
You can also e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Allow me to take the guesswork out of eating healthy by sharing my proven strategies with you using real food so you get real results.
Okay, let’s summarize the 5 Steps so you can start working on overcoming stress eating today:
- Identify stressors and your reaction to stress (overeating)
- Ride out the storm by allowing the feelings to come forward
- Do not give in to temptation and the quick fix of unhealthy foods. Instead, choose foods that will heighten your good mood, such as raw fruits and vegetables
- Find a new, healthy coping mechanism- yoga, swimming, a dance class, meditation
- Take control today