10 Strategies to Stop Stress Eating | TMOHP Episode 094

Everyone’s heard the meaningless advice “not to stress eat” if you’re trying to stop overeating. As if we couldn’t come up with that on our own. 😉 Some of the most frequent questions I’m asked are about what to do instead of stress eating or how to actually interrupt stress eating habits when you’re overwhelmed and overloaded.

Stress tends to trigger automatic responses and old patterns of thinking and behaving. It can be confusing to know how to begin rewiring these habits. Although there’s no one strategy that fits everyone, in this episode I’m sharing ten strategies you can use (and modify) to break stress eating patterns.

In this episode:

  • Why not knowing what to do (or your mind going blank) can be a positive step in creating a new relationship with food
  • Why the practical strategies to use instead of stress eating often don’t work
  • Ten simple things to do instead of stress eating

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • Not sure why you’re overeating, or what your Hidden Hungers are? Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz and get a free set of resources matched to your results. 
  • Your Missing Peace  is the program for women ready to stop overeating and emotional eating for good. Enrollment is open and NOW is the perfect time to join us! Go here to learn more
  • Private Coaching. One-on-one coaching is for you if you’re looking for something completely individualized and specific to your situation. Openings are limited. Learn more here.

Episode Transcript

Hey everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today let's get practical, really practical and concrete. Because as much as a one size fits all solution to overeating just doesn't exist, and I really wish it did. I really wish there was a magic. Just do this and you'll have this relationship with food that fits you perfectly. But it doesn't. 

But as much as there is no one size answer, there are a few practical questions that I get asked over and over and over again. And one of these is, how do I stop stress eating? What exactly can I do? What can I try when all I want to do is eat all the things? Because I'm so stressed out, I'm so overwhelmed. What am I supposed to do? 

I have some ideas for you. And, there are a few important reasons that I'm going to share these with you. Even though they may not be your answers. These may not be your right answers. But I think this might be helpful and here's why. Stress eating is one of the most challenging types of emotional eating and stress is a major cause of overeating and of weight gain, and of weight regain and of getting pulled back into vicious cycles with food and into the relationship with food that you just don't want to have. That doesn't serve you.

And of course, stress is a huge trigger and the desire for stress relief is a big hidden hunger for busy women. Knowing that you want to eat less or knowing that you really are determined to stick with healthy eating? That's one thing. Figuring out how to not overeat when you're overloaded or overwhelmed and just plain stressed out. That's another thing entirely. 

Stress limits your ability in so many ways. Right? So stress limits our ability to think creatively. When we're stressed, we are compromised in our ability to focus or to problem solve, and we are not as good when we're stressed or overwhelmed at adopting new ways of doing something less familiar strategies.

So when you're stressed or overwhelmed, it is so much more likely that you're going to be in reaction mode. And when you're in reaction mode and when your brain is going through the, the processes that your brain goes through when it's stressed, you are so much more likely to fall into the old tried and true patterns. Like going for the chocolate or opening up your Uber Eats app on your phone. Without even really thinking about them or without knowing what your alternatives are. That's just how we are when we're stressed. 

When we're stressed, and actually other times as well, that idea of white knuckling it. Right? Just don't do it. It only goes so far. And this is especially true if you're stressed or overwhelmed. Because if you're stressed or overwhelmed or overloaded, you've probably used up a great deal of your reserve of willpower or determination or your ability to white knuckle it.

So the times when you are facing stress or overwhelm are also times when it can be super useful to have done some pre-work, to have done some work in advance. These are times when having a cheat sheet or a checklist or a list of what to try, what can I try instead of stress eating? These things can come in very handy.

Because these are the times when your thinking is not necessarily the best skill to rely on. You are not thinking at your best. There's another reason I'm going to share this list of ideas with you today as well. And that's that sometimes it's hard to get started doing or thinking in a new way. It's hard to know how to, how to kind of switch on that different area of your brain.

One of the most challenging things for members in my Your Missing Peace program is that we're retraining your brain and retraining your habits so that you're approaching food and eating differently. And thinking about food and eating differently. Right? Then you have done it in the past. So your default with stress and overwhelm might have been to crave, barbecue ruffles. Right? To go for the potato chips.

One of the things you'll be learning in the program is how to create a new default craving. A new response. A new thought. A new behavior. One that isn't overeating or one that isn't tied to overeating is my solution to stress. That kind of thinking. The first half dozen times you try it, your brain is going to go haywire because your brain has this pathway that it goes down- I feel stressed and I feel overwhelmed. It's time to go get the ruffles. Right?

It is one thing to say, don't stress eat. I am not going to stress eat this week. It is one thing to say, all right, when I feel the urge to stress eat, I'm going to do something else instead. I'm going to do something different. It is an entirely different and entirely more challenging thing to know what to do instead. And to be able to activate that.

Members of Your Missing Peace have heard me say over and over again that when you don't know the answer, which is, by the way, something that is so difficult for high achievers. We are used to knowing the answer. But when you don't know the answer, if you're being asked a question that you don't even know how to answer, or if your brain goes blank when you're asked this question, this can be a sign, especially in a program like Your Missing Peace, this is a sign that you are in territory where you can rewire your old behaviors and thoughts.

One of the things that happens in the program on the coaching calls, and in the training is that, Oftentimes members get asked a question that it's like they've never even thought in that direction about. Right? So you, we have these pathways, when I'm stressed, this is what I do with my feelings. When I have this certain set of circumstances line up, that's when I head to the head to the vending machine. Right? This is what I tell myself about, what it needs to, what, what I need to do to change. This is the thinking that's often tied into deprivation mentality and diet mentality. 

And so if you get asked a question that is completely about problem solving outside of those areas, often you don't know the answer right away. You don't even know how to think about that question. Or your mind just goes blank. Maybe you don't even understand the question. This is so important. Not knowing the answer is a good first step. Because it means you're being asked different questions. It means you're being asked to think about something in a different way. It means you aren't answering or going down that old autopilot path, which has led to the same old results and the same way of feeling. Right? The same old relationship with food. 

So it is important to know that it is very common to go blank or to not know the answer. When you start to think about what am I supposed to do instead of stress eating? A lot of people when faced with the challenge of, okay, what can I do instead of stress eating? Go blank. Or if they don't go blank, it is pretty common to come up with a bunch of strategies or one or two strategies that sound really good. But honestly, they're not practical or they don't really help. They just sound, they sound good. Right? Like instead of stress eating, I'll do something productive. Like, I'll go for a run or I'll clean out my closet. 

When you're stressed or you're overwhelmed, you don't need, and you don't want a longer to-do list. But your adorable brain, if it's like everybody else's human brain is so willing to give you a long list of things that you could do instead of stress eating that just feel like a long list of things to do. Which you already have. Which is why you're stressed or overwhelmed. Right?

So I've got a different kind of list for you. Eventually, the idea is to craft your own list. A list that's going to help you beat your stress eating triggers. But in the meantime, I think it's helpful because I keep getting the questions to give you some ideas to help get your brain started. So every now and then I'm going to chime in and try to answer this question. Right? So that you can get your own brain started and you can start, getting some ideas that hopefully will get your own gears turning.

All right, so here's what I have for you today. Today I have for you 10 things to do instead of stress eating. Number one, give yourself a place and permission to blow off steam. Think about it. If stress is pressure, you do not need to be the pressure cooker with the tension building up and building up inside you.

Allow yourself a place to blow off some steam. Acknowledge that you have stress, and then find some ways to let it out that feels safe. So get in your car, roll up the windows, yell or play loud music. Do something physical that feels like release. If that's running, or cardio, or dancing to loud music or going for a walk.

Need some bread dough or get some play-dough and throw it down on the table. Or shred some papers or scribble on paper or vent. Give yourself permission to blow off steam. This can be so effective. So often we try to pretend we don't have any steam building up, or we blame ourselves for feeling the pressure. Start to release it.

Number two, phone a friend. You know, the psychologist term for this is social support. I. Using social support, it's, it's valuable. It is so good for our health, and it can work wonders. So whether you want somebody to advise you or distract you, or make you laugh, or just listen, connecting with somebody who knows you and whom you can trust, whom you feel safe with, can make a huge difference.

You don't have to necessarily talk to them about the stress, or you can talk to them about the stress. And if you don't have time to talk now, make a date to talk in the future. Give yourself permission to get that support and seek it out. 

Here's idea number three. This can sound so simple, but it can work wonders. Change your scenery. This is a little thing. Remove yourself from the situation, even if it's just temporary. Leave the room. Get up from your desk. Walk out of the office. Sit in a different chair. Go to the restroom. Take a break. Change your scenery. Get a new perspective physically, mentally. If you have stress eating rituals, like certain times of day that you just end up standing in front of the vending machine, shake things up a little bit. 

Take a different route. Avoid the familiar. Right? Leave your wallet in a different place in your office. Try to shake up the routine that is autopilot and that is habit filled if you can. And also the whole changing your scenery place. Give yourself a new physical and mental perspective. That's really important and it doesn't have to be for very long.

Fourth idea, something to do instead of stress eating, relax and stretch. And again, I'm not talking about for the whole afternoon. Right? Stress builds up in your body and then it creates more stress and more discomfort. If you can't change your life, if you can't even change the next hour, you can still be kind to yourself and stretch out your neck. Or stretch out your back or release your shoulders. Right? Try to create some kind of increased comfort in your body in ways that don't involve eating. Pay attention to your body. Notice that your body could use more comfort. 

I hope you're noticing that these interventions can be really small and they can still be effective. 

Okay, so number five, really small. Escape even for 30 seconds. Escape. Sometimes stress and overload leads to this belief that you can't stop. You can't afford to stop. You just need to keep working harder and harder. You need to keep going. You'll stop when you're finished. Right? Do not buy into this. It is a recipe for stress eating. So give yourself permission to take a break.

Give yourself permission to escape even if, if it is just a minute or two. And like I said in that earlier idea, if you can't go for a walk, go to the bathroom. Go refill your water glass. Google images of tropical beaches, beautiful places. Put one up where you can see it. Go. Make yourself a cup of tea. Take a minute. Escape, give yourself permission to escape. 

Idea number six, to avoid stress, eating is one of my favorites. Not everybody's favorite, but I want you to try it. And that's journaling. This is an excellent way to untangle your feelings. It is an excellent way to check in with yourself and decompress.

And by the way, you do not need to write pages and pages and pages to journal. Try writing for five minutes before you sit down to eat. Try writing for five minutes when you get home from work. You're less likely to overeat when you've taken the time to understand what is going on for you. When you've taken time to understand what's driving your hunger, and to think about what you might do instead.

And again, we don't need a to-do list. Right? I could do this and I could do this, and I could do this, but journaling can help you get clearer on what it is you're feeling. And that can help get you clearer on what it is you're really needing. What is the food taking the place of? Quite often journaling will help you realize, you know what, I'm tired. Or I just need a break. Or I just need five minutes to myself. So journaling can be an excellent way to slow down the process and get off autopilot so you can do something different and start breaking the stress eating habit.

I am aware that an idea of journaling can sound very composed. Right? Very, and maybe even formal. Very thoughtful and deliberate. And you might not feel that way when you're having an urge to stress seat. When you're in the moment. You might not feel so mature and composed and ready to do something grounded. You might want to do something like strategy number seven. 

The seventh idea I have for you. Which is to rant in a safe place, in a safe way, where you're not going to hurt anybody else. Give yourself permission to not be reasonable, to not be logical, to throw your good manners out the window. Go to a place where you can express yourself privately. I have already mentioned using a car, you know, to, to just let it out. Cars are great for this. Go to a place where you can express yourself privately and let loose, get mad, be frustrated, stop being reasonable. 

You want to create a situation where there aren't any repercussions, where it feels completely safe, where you can have a tantrum if you want, or a good cleansing cry. Right? A great big cry where you can put words to your feelings. Where you can yell or you can let it out. Instead of trying to bury whatever it is with food. Instead of being numb, let yourself feel.

If all this feels louder or more vocal than is your style. You can combine ranting with journaling. You can do a ranting journal entry. You can write something that is so ranty and uncomfortable to you that you shred it when you're done if you want to. But just give yourself permission to express yourself. All right. That's, that's the seventh idea I have for you. 

The eighth idea I have for you maybe should have gone closer to the top of the list because it is so helpful to so many people and that is to sleep. Stress is exhausting and that, cycle that we get into with stress and overwhelm that we have to get the work done that we're not allowed to stop. Also leads to exhaustion. Sleep will work wonders if it's what you're needing. And it will work more wonders than working late into the night. If you have been sleep deprived, getting at least seven and a half hours of sleep a night will also do things like literally decrease your appetite. Literally decrease your cravings. And yet on top of that, you're going to be more productive. You're going to be better able to focus, you're going to be better able to manage the stressful situation moving forward. 

Successful women, they guard their sleep, they prioritize their sleep. If you are not getting sleep, bump the strategy up to the top of your list because I think it is the number one strategy for preventing stress eating, for breaking stress, eating cycles. And I also think it is probably the number one strategy that smart, busy women tend to ignore. So that is idea number eight, but it probably should have been idea number one. 

Idea number nine. The ninth idea. I have to get your brain going on, creating your own ideas of how to prevent stress eating is to make a list. Just make a list. We hold so much stuff in our brain and then our brains get overloaded. Our brains get over full. The ideas are swirling around. And we are trying to hold onto all of them. Start creating more effectiveness and more groundedness instead of stress eating. Get that stuff, some of that stuff anyway, out of your brain. Start to create some space in your brain and some calm in your brain.

So make a list. Identify your top three priorities. What are your action items for the day instead of all the things? And then add to that list one lovely thing or one kind thing that you are going to do for you. If you're making the list late in the day, start with that one lovely thing. What can I do before I go to bed? Or it may be going to bed. 

Actually, that one lovely thing is usually the hardest thing for people to list. Right? We can make a list of all the things we have to do. We can make a list of our priorities. If you are stuck on what is this one nice thing I can do for myself? It might just be one of these things on this list that I'm sharing with you in this podcast episode.

Okay. I have one more idea for you that you can use to stop stress eating and to break the stress eating cycle. To break the pattern. And that is simply to breathe. Take a deep breath. I know it sounds so simple. Right? But here is the thing. We are physical beings. We are physical beings who can actually, literally not physically grow more stressed and more relaxed at the same time. They're two different processes. You cannot, your body cannot be doing both of those. 

And so when you start relaxing, even if it is just a teeny tiny bit, you are interrupting any kind of cycle that's going on in your body of stress building up. When you start relaxing, even if it's a teeny tiny bit, you reverse the cycle of growing more and more stressed or anxious. Okay? 

Taking a deep breath. Starts a relaxing response in your body, even if it doesn't feel that way. So here is a powerful strategy you can use. Set a timer on your computer or on your phone to go off, I don't know, once an hour. And when that timer goes off, stop what you're doing for just 60 seconds and just breathe.

Focus on your breath for just 60 seconds. If you want bonus points, put your hand over your heart and breathe and focus on your heartbeat. Both of these strategies help our bodies and our minds relax. And it's important to remember that you can do something like this super short. Super short breaks like this can help you break vicious cycles and to be more mindful and to be more relaxed.

So those are the 10 ideas I have for you. Remember the key to ending emotional eating, the key to creating peace with food is going to be getting clear on the tools that work for you, the tools that fit you. So use these ideas to start your own thoughts. Get your own ideas moving. Play with these strategies. Experiment, change them up a little bit, and then start collecting your own.

You can break cycles with stress eating, and you don't have to add in a whole bunch of hard work and a big long to-do list. In fact, that is actually not the key at all. These are simple things. Play around with them and see what works for you. 

I'll talk to you soon.

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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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