It’s the middle of the afternoon. You’ve got 42 unread messages, a demanding to-do list, an important networking happy hour after work, and a deadline that just got bumped up…. to tomorrow. What do you do? Maybe something in the kitchen will take the edge off…. there goes your healthy diet.
In today’s non-stop working world, stress and emotional eating has become a habit for many. Food can sound like a way to cope with life’s constant demands but its only a quick fix, and hurts your mental, physical, and emotional well-being long-term. It can spiral into a vicious cycle of stress, eating, and feeling so guilty about it that you stress eat again. But without better solutions on hand, its you, the break room donuts, and feeling guilty (and more stressed) about it.
How Can You Tell if you are Stress Eating? Here are a few signs:
- You eat when you are not physically hungry. Are you really hungry or are you eating because food is a distraction from the stress? Think about how long ago it was since you ate. Was it 3 hours ago or a half hour? Is your body sending you any clear signals that you are hungry? Is your stomach grumbling? Are you low in energy? If you are not physically hungry but are eating anyway, you are emotional eating.
- It is hard to find food that satisfies you. For this reason, you don’t stop eating when you are full. You may find yourself scavenging for food or eating things you don’t even like.
- Cravings are triggered by an emotion such as anger, anxiety, or boredom etc or an event like a high pressure meeting or traveling for b.
- Comfort eating has a mindless component to it. You may not enjoy or taste the food because you are eating it mechanically, as if in a trance. Imagine sitting in front of the computer mindlessly popping chips into your mouth.
Why is Food so Comforting when Im stressed? There are many reasons food can be so seductive in moments of stress.
- Biology. When you are stressed out, your body is flooded with cortisol, a stress hormone, which makes you crave carbohydrates, sugar and fatty foods. Food is soothing due to the chemical changes it creates in your body. Chocolate is an excellent example. Chocolate boosts the “feel good” neurotransmitters and chemicals in your body that make you more alert and excited.
- Tune Out. Eating can be distracting. It can take your attention away from whatever is bothering you emotionally.
- Beliefs. You may also be conditioned to believe eating can ease pain. Many media ads push the therapeutic value of food. For example, a commercial may urge you to buy a particular candy because it will bring you “bliss” or “happiness.” Your mother may have told you that if you just have a few warm cookies after school it will help with homework.
- Convenience. We enjoy things that are easy and convenient. Vending machines and fast food restaurants are always close at hand when you are fretting.
- Entertainment. It is difficult for many of us to deal with boredom and anxiety. Preparing food and eating it can be entertaining and fills gaps in time.
- Good Vibes. Emotional eating may be linked to your childhood. Perhaps home baked cookies or macaroni and cheese automatically trigger positive or comforting memories from the past.
Stress eating takes its toll on your weight, energy, health, and happiness long-term. Eating your feelings isn’t a solution, but thankfully, you can break the habit. It just takes practice and finding creative, new ways to calm and successfully soothe yourself. You must work to rewire your brain to identify non-eating behaviors as comforting and build new stress relieving habits that are healthier (and actually helpful) for you. Often times stress eating can be the one thing between you and a healthier, happier, more present life. Here are my top tips for building awareness and a few suggestions on healthier habits that can replace eating for comfort. Next time you feel venerable to stress eating, work through these 3 simple steps and sample a few of the alternative stress relieving solutions. Let me know if it helps calm your body and mind more than the break room snack finds.
Three Simple Steps to Beat Stress Eating.
Step One: Be Aware.
Much of emotional eating is so unconscious that it happens automatically or below your awareness. Before you jump into changing this behavior, bring awareness to when you are venerable to stress eating. Write down (or take a photo with your smart phone) where and when you stress eat or stress drink. The office? Late at night? When you are alone? Are there any patterns that you notice? Every time BEFORE you eat, ask yourself how physically hungry you are on a scale from 1-10. If you are a 6-10, it’s likely that you are physically hungry. But if you are a 3, it might signify that you are stress eating and may be better off with two minutes of deep breathing.
Step Two: Replace.
If you take out stress eating, you have to put something in its place. Write down a concrete list of all the healthy, non-calorie related activities that give you a quick pick-me-up on a tough day. Here a few simple examples.
- Move. Getting your blood flowing and moving your body is an excellent way to instantly relieve stress. Exercise and the endorphins it provides have been shown time and time again to ease stress, calm cravings, and increase the likelihood of you making healthier choices throughout the day. And it doesn’t need to be an hour in the gym to make a difference – ANY burst movement will help calm your stress. Try a few minutes of movement (stretching, walking, or even a few squats) at regular intervals throughout your day as a way to beat stress and keep cravings at bay.
- Sip tea. A study in the journal of Psychopharmacology found that subjects who drank tea experienced a 47% drop in their cortisol levels, the stress hormone that makes you crave food, compared to 27% among the subjects who drank a placebo. Plus tea is flavorful, no-calorie, and will keep your hands busy when a craving hits.
- Rub It Out. If a foot rub would hit the spot better than a snack, try self-massage. It can be as simple as sitting down, taking off your shoe and placing your foot over a tennis ball. Rub your feet, one at a time, over the top of the ball until they feel relaxed and soothed. According to the study in the International Journal of Neuroscience , self-massage slows your heart rate and lowers your level of cortisol. Start with this quick, effective foot massage video (close your office door if you have to!) and let me know if it helps calm your nerves.
- Just Breathe. Mindless eating soothes raw nerves by numbing out emotions. Munching gives you a moment to zone out from daily commotion and stress. Instead, actively choose a healthy way to clear your mind. You can start with a quick breathing exercise. Slowing down your breathing can trick your body into thinking you are going to sleep, which in turn relaxes your body. Close your eyes. Stare at the blackness of your eyelids. Slowly breathe in and out. Count each time you inhale and exhale. Continue until you get to 10. Deep breathing REALLY works in high-pressure moments. Give it a shot and let it work its magic.
- Get a Breath of Fresh Air. Simply stepping outside for a brief splash of sunlight can help bring your mind back to a calm state. If you have a few minutes walk around the office block or take yourself to a nearby park. Stepping away from the stress can help you re-group yourself without resorting to snickers.
- Wait 10 minutes. When you feel the urge to eat out of stress, stop and wait 10 minutes before you eat. Simply pausing before you eat can bring awareness to the action. If you still feel like eating after 10 minutes then allow yourself a small portion of what you crave. Most of the time you’ll find the 10 minute pause allowed you to calm yourself down without food.
- Brush your teeth or try a breath mint! Having fresh breath and a pearly set of whites may offset the craving for stress eating.
- Talk to a friend. Friends are the best therapists. Talking it out is a much healthier way to cope with emotions and stress long term. Call, email, or text a friend when feeling overwhelmed. They can help you work through your emotions much better than any snack can.
- Eat healthy snacks and meals when hungry. Eating smaller, more frequent meals or snacks when you are hungry will keep your blood sugar stable and lessen cravings for junk food. A more stable blood sugar helps reduce stress. Make time for healthy, balanced meals even when you are busy with work. Taking time to eat well will go a long way in helping keep your energy up for all that you do and prevent eating out of stress when you go too long without food.
Step Three: Practice!
The list above is just the beginning, there are countless ways to calm yourself without calories, guilt, or weight gain. Next time you feel stressed practice replacing the stress eating habit with a healthier one like journaling, meditation techniques, connecting with others, self-message, or aromatherapy to pamper your senses. Even better, try out these techniques when you aren’t stressed so you get them down pat before you really need them! You wouldn’t want to learn how to swim in rough water. Nor do you want to learn the art of soothing yourself without food on a very stressful day. With practice, you can put an end emotional eating and work through stress in healthy ways that help you long-term.
Above all, the key is mindfulness and empowering yourself to choose healthy habits. Be aware when and if you’re falling into the trap of soothing and comforting yourself with food. Know that you are in control. You have a choice always. If you want to put an end to stress eating you can do it with by building awareness and working to create healthier stress-relieving habits. True happiness can be found within your own Self, not in breakfast, lunch or dinner. “Happiness comes from within, do not seek it without”. Heres to you living a happy, healthy life from the inside out 🙂
Do you have a favorite healthy way to work through stress? Leave a comment below with your favorite stress busting strategy, Id love to hear from you! Did you like this post? Share it with your friends on Facebook, twitter, or email. More great content is headed your way every week to help you live a happy, healthy life!
Yours in health and happiness,
Other things to Check Out This Week:
- Sleeping Booty. Wake Your Butt Up for a More Powerful Life
- How to Stretch After A Run
- How to get fit without obsessing about it. Getting in shape for summer the healthy way.