Stress eating can hit at any time. Faced with a challenge, or boredom, or discomfort, we find ourselves pawing in the pantry or digging in the fridge. And then we eat whatever might give us temporary pleasure, not because we’re physically hungry.
Most often, we reach for the high carbohydrate, high fat, high sugar foods.
That’s because when we’re stressed, high levels from the hormone cortisol triggers cravings. We want salty, sweet, and fried foods because they give us a boost of energy and pleasure.
But that stress eating, or emotional eating, leaves us feeling out of control, guilty, and angry at ourselves for getting off track.
Further, the original issue remains; we’re still angry, bored, exhausted, lonely, stressed, or upset. And now we’ve added guilt and a sense of helplessness to the mix.
How to Walk Away from Stress Eating
We’re far from helpless, though. Some mental shifts – beginning with awareness of others and ourselves – and some strategies can take us in a new direction.
First, know that food companies market their foods by connecting them with our emotions. They promise an added emotional benefit – comfort, belonging, adventure, energy – from eating or drinking their product.
Usually they’re ads for processed or fast food, and they cause us to over-eat or impulsively eat. They also affect our children.
Notice the ads you’re confronted with on television, billboards, and online. What’s the underlying message?
Awareness about ourselves also is key to reduce stress eating.
When icky, uncomfortable emotions arise, check in with yourself. What’s the feeling? What is the impulsive reaction to the frustration, anger, boredom, unease? In what other ways could you soothe and reward yourself besides food? What other techniques could help minimize the impact of stress and disrupt the cycle of stress eating?
What could you do in that moment to offer yourself some compassion and kindness?
Eat Mindfully to Avoid Stress Eating
Once you’ve discovered your triggers, it’s time to create some strategies.
Try to eat only when hungry. Fill up on nutrient-dense, healthy food at mealtimes, focusing on getting enough protein (30-40 grams per meal), healthy fats and smart carbohydrates.
When you do eat, slow down. Eat mindfully. Notice your food. Taste and slowly chew each bite. Eliminate other distractions such as the television or social media. Multitasking at meals can cause us to overeat.
Keep a food diary. Track what you eat and when, to see if you can identify some patterns. Also, knowing you’ll be writing down what you eat may give you enough pause for that impulse to eat something unhealthy pass.
Try not to get too hungry or too tired. Those extremes can cause some people to get off track. Carry healthy foods with you in case you get delayed – so you have something healthy on hand and don’t need to stop at a vending machine or fast food.
What other techniques do you use to avoid stress eating? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below.
Welcome! I’m Amy, an integrative health coach, offering grace and space for a healthier you. This article is Step 26 in the “31 Steps to a Healthier You” series. You can access all posts in the series here. And I hope you’ll want to stick around for a while. If so, please subscribe at this link so you’ll get updates.