Do you struggle with stress eating? It’s sneaky – in fact, it’s the kind of emotional eating that can sneak up on you and happen almost on autopilot when you are overwhelmed or have too much on your plate. Instead of feeling frustrated with yourself after the fact, try this three-pronged approach to stop stress eating before it ever starts.
One of the most powerful things you can do to take control of stress eating is to make efforts to anticipate situations when stress and overeating might be an issue. Instead of hoping that this time, you won’t stress eat when life gets crazy, start by anticipating the potentially difficult times and stress eating triggers so that you have an opportunity to plan and prepare. Take a look at your calendar and identify anything over the next several weeks that has the potential to lead to stress eating. This might include difficult work projects, periods when your sleep may be disrupted, or busy times. Don’t forget to anticipate the out-of-the-ordinary stress too. Holidays, out-of-town visitors, and even vacations can include a loss of structure, transitions, and stress-related to expectations, projects, and overload. Looking ahead allows you to ask simple questions like: What could help make this situation less stressful? What do I need to do (or want to try) to avoid turning to stress eating? What can I put in place now to simplify things then?
It sounds simple, but it’s easy to overlook the obvious. Don’t forget to consider where and how you might ask for help or whether there is a way to avoid all or some of the stress completely.
- Feed Yourself Instead of Eating
Stress eating is really using food to take care of yourself. Whether eating helps calm you, numb or distract you, or reward you for doing difficult stuff, when you are stuck in a pattern of emotional eating, you’re using food to feed hungers that aren’t really for food. In order to avoid stress eating, you’re going to want to pay attention to these hidden hungers and focus on feeding them in simple do-able ways. This means paying attention to what you are really craving and taking small steps to address these needs. When you anticipate upcoming stress, take a few minutes to outline easy or quick strategies that help you cope and keep your hidden hungers fed. The key is to take care of yourself without adding more stress and overwhelm, so keep it simple. Feeding yourself to avoid stress eating might boil down to just a few daily or weekly non-negotiables that keep you on top of your game – even when life gets busy. A few examples that often top my clients’ lists are:
- Making sure to get to bed by a certain time
- Planning simple, “no-brainer,” easy-to-grab meals and snack options ahead of time
- Taking a five-minute break every 90 minutes
- Going for a walk around the block before lunch
- Booking a massage
- Allowing fifteen minutes for a phone call to a friend before diving back into a project
The more you strive to take care of yourself without using food, the less power food will have – even when you are stressed or overwhelmed.
- Choose Compassion
Stress eating happens when you are stressed and overwhelmed. Yet, the standard approach seems to be trying to stare down stress eating with mental fortitude and an extra dose of willpower – something that’s already in very short supply when you’re feeling overloaded. As you anticipate difficult situations and create plans to feed and take care of yourself, instead of peppering your self-talk with the need to “be strong” and “not stress eat,” try applying a dose of compassion. This means owning the reality that you are anticipating a tough time – a bumpy, challenging ride that may be difficult. Choosing compassion means taking a look at how you can be kind and gentle with yourself. It may mean doing the same things for you that you would do for others if they were having a difficult time. Choosing compassion means finding small ways to add a bit of comfort so you don’t feel resentful and deprived and so you don’t have to resort to sneaking in kindness with chocolate or an extra helping of dessert. Choosing compassion is not always intuitive or comfortable for high-achieving, smart, busy women. But the more you practice it, the more you will find it a game-changer.
The three prongs to this approach work in concert and your results with this strategy will build and improve over time. The more you focus on anticipating potential stress eating triggers and situations, the better you’ll be able to create workable strategies for feeding your hidden hungers and taking care of yourself without turning to food or eating on autopilot. The more you practice compassion, the easier it comes. Really. Step by step, you can break the cycle.
Take good care,