Most of us resort to stress eating on occasion, whether it’s mindlessly emptying the bag of candy while writing a difficult email or finding yourself bingeing at night after a long, hard day.
For busy women, stress eating can become a chronic symptom of a life that is time-crunched and overfull. Even worse, it can be easy to feel trapped in cycles of stress eating because, when you feel like you have no time and little available energy, it’s challenging to figure out how to get in front of the problem and address it proactively.
Here are three simple steps that can help.
3 Steps to Stop Stress Eating
1. Predict it and plan for it.
When we’re busy and under stress, it’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of reactivity – simply moving from project to project, reacting to what’s in front of us, and plowing through our to-do lists. A problem with this is that when we are reacting we’re not in charge. We’re in response mode. You’ll gain a lot of traction when you start to identify upcoming situations, interactions, or periods of time that are likely to be stressful and/or that trigger stress eating. Don’t be the woman who puts her head in the sand and hopes that it will be different this time (I know it can be tempting). Hope for the best but predict that you have a challenging time coming up. This act alone creates some space for you to plan ahead. “I’m heading into a stressful time. What would help?” is a powerful question that pays big dividends.
2. Own it.
Stress creates a tendency toward a flight, fright, or freeze response. You might fly into reacting, doing, getting things done (or escaping and avoiding by procrastination, overeating, or busywork). Fright can play out as anxiety and feeling stressed, stress eating (again!), or frantically working harder and harder – trying to dig your way out. Freezing is when we shut down, feel paralyzed by what we are dealing with, or numb out and feel like we are just spinning our wheels (or emptying another pint of ice cream). A lot of stress eating happens when we go on autopilot instead of registering and responding to how we are being affected. To break the cycle, let yourself own and experience what you are feeling. It only takes a few minutes. Take a deep breath and let yourself feel. Notice where stress or overwhelm has taken up residence in your body. Say it out loud or write it down – “I’m stressed and I feel ___________ (tightness in my shoulders, panicky, overwhelmed, exhausted, alone…). I want to ____________________ (eat, scream, quit, cry). Give yourself ten or fifteen minutes to respond to how you are feeling. Write in a journal, go for a walk, punch a pillow, sing loud in your car, or do some stretches. It may not end the stress, but it helps put you in the driver’s seat again.
3. Step into a different outcome.
In an ideal world, we could wave a magic wand and make the stress and overwhelm disappear. We can’t do that, but we can decide who we will be when it strikes. If you want to stop stress eating, you need to have a vision of what you will do instead. You’re going to need a picture of the woman you want to be – WILL be – in the midst of stress. If you are facing an incredibly difficult week when you know that all your stress eating buttons are going to be pushed, decide who you want to be and the choices you want to make in advance. Decide how you will look it in the eye when stress shows up. And step into that vision with confidence. Say it out loud and don’t be wishy-washy. No tentative “I’m going to try to” or “I will do my best to.” Start with “I am the woman who ______________.” Step into a new alternative approach to stress and stress eating with confidence and with both feet.
Want an example of what that vision might look like? Here you go:
I am the woman who goes into this stressful day with a plan. I’m getting up ten minutes early so I can feel less rushed and get to work early. I’m taking my lunch so I have choices I like and I know I won’t get too hungry. I am the woman who recognizes when the stress is starting to build and takes a short break to go refill my water glass and stretch out my neck. I am the woman who will probably feel urges to go buy some candy but I will stop before I do and name that I am stressed. I’ll go talk to a friend for a few minutes instead. I am the woman who will be gentle with herself. I am the woman who is probably going to be extra tired this week so I give myself permission to go to bed early, leave some things undone, and avoid the ice cream that may call to me from the freezer.
What do you think? What will change when you take these three steps?
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