Tactics To Avoid Stress Eating When You’re Busy or Overwhelmed | TMOHP Episode 106

Stress. Overwhelm. Being too busy. It can be a perfect recipe for overeating. I get a lot of questions asking for guidance on how not to stress eat when you’re busy or overwhelmed. Unfortunately, the most common advice (including the advice we give ourselves) is often too hard or unrealistic to implement in the most challenging situations. When you’re at capacity, when you’re already stressed, and when your bandwidth is all used up is NOT the time to try to implement a brand new ten-step plan. Simple is best, and so is trying one or two tactics to implement - imperfectly. In this episode of the Too Much on Her Plate podcast I have a variety of doable tactics to help set you up to avoid stress eating when you’re busy or overwhelmed.

In this episode:

  • Tactics to help you avoid mindless eating, eating to numb or stress eating when you’ve got a lot going on
  • The importance of keeping it simple
  • Why pre planning or forethought is especially valuable in these situations
  • How perfectionism can trip you up (and a tactic for that!)

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Full episode transcript:

Hey everybody! Today's podcast episode is about two of the topics that I get so many questions, you would be surprised, well you probably wouldn't be surprised how many questions I get about stress eating and overwhelm and what to do with overeating when you are stressed and overwhelmed. Or how to stop stress eating, or where do you even start? It's an overwhelming situation and it feels, it feels like a lot.

First of all, stress eating is so common. And by definition, it is happening when you are stressed. Right? So you're already stretched to capacity. You're already the, the, your capacity is already stressed. Right? Stretched out, you don't have a lot if any extra bandwidth to solve extra problems or to think creatively or to stop and think about new coping strategies or new ideas. Your willpower and your discipline are either used up or they are in very short supply and your resilience might be, too.

So it becomes this perfect storm for overeating. It becomes a situation where it is so easy to just go on autopilot or to just grab something to eat to numb yourself. Or to grab something to eat, to give yourself that little bit of extra energy to just get through.

Stressful times and overwhelming times are situations where it, at least a part of our brain makes so much sense. It just seems so simple to be reactive. Do the easy thing, do the automatic thing instead of stopping and thinking or trying to figure out how to do something different. If your brain is even capable of doing that in the middle of the bath of all the stress chemicals and stuff that is going on inside of you.

So stress eating is a tough one. And it is something I get, no surprise, a lot of questions about. So I thought it might be helpful to talk about some tactics for avoiding stress eating when you are busy or overwhelmed. And I have a number of them that I'm going to share with you today.

Here's the thing. We know this when we're stressed, but when we're not stressed and we're sitting here absorbing information, it can be really tempting to come up with this big long to do list. Right? Next time I'm stressed, here are the 10 things I'm going to do. When you're stressed, you don't have extra bandwidth. You don't have extra time. You don't have extra energy, or at least that your brain is telling you that that's the situation, whether that is the reality or it's not. So you want to keep this really simple.

I'm going to share a bunch of tactics with you because I want you to listen to them, absorb them into your brain, think about which ones might be useful for you. And maybe do some advanced planning or creative problem solving about what that will look like for you the next time you are feeling triggered to stress eat, or the next time you are heading into a stressful situation, or one where you know you're going to be busy and overwhelmed.

This is not a podcast episode, I'm going to say this a couple of times, this is not a podcast episode about tactics that all need to be employed and that all need to be employed perfectly if you are serious about avoiding stress eating. That will cause you to stress eat.

The best way to benefit or to get the most benefit from this episode, I think, is to listen to it. See which of these tactics or strategies resonate for you, which sound like, Oh, yeah, that would have been really helpful the last time that that stress eating happened. Pick one or two of them to pay a little bit more attention to. Or to map out a plan for what that would look like to implement in your life.

One or two. And then experiment. Do not fall for that perfectionistic thinking that is in 99.9 percent of our brains that might tell you that, Oh, you know what? If one or two are useful, probably five or six of these would do me, it would serve me even more. Right? Because that will just lead to more stress and more overwhelm and, vicious cycle probably, or a cycle of trying a bunch of things. Not being able to get traction and then feeling like you failed. And that isn't useful for anybody.

So let's talk about some tactics that even busy, and I think especially busy women can use to avoid stress eating when you are busy and stressed and overwhelmed.

And I think it's important to share another thought with you. Because probably every single one of these strategies that I'm going to share with you, every single one of these tactics could feel very useful, or it could generate an eye roll and feel like, well, yeah, if I could think to do that. And I understand that. This is not a lecture on what you should be doing to avoid stress eating.

Again, what I want to do is cover some areas that you might not think about when you're in the midst of a reaction mode and stressful, overwhelming times. So that you can target them ahead of time. And so that you can think about, huh okay, yeah this has been something that I haven't done. Maybe it has felt impossible to do in the past. I am seeing that it has some potential usefulness. So what are some ways that I could keep this more front of mind? Or what are some ways that I could create a practice where I am doing a little bit more of this than I'm currently doing in my life? All right.

This is not a, here's a list of really hard things that you should find easy. Some of these may feel like really hard things or even impossible things to incorporate in your life. Be creative, have an open mind, and I want you to be curious about, okay, how could I create a little bit of these? And would it be helpful for me in situations where stress eating tends to come up? Even when I'm busy and even when I'm overwhelmed. Okay?

The first tactic or policy that can be useful to set when you are heading into a busy, overwhelming time is to think about how you can minimize mindless eating. And generally what that means is to not be multitasking while you eat. To be giving any eating that you are doing your full attention. There are a couple of benefits of this. Right? We know that when you are eating mindfully, when you are present, you are actually experiencing the eating.

So people who eat without multitasking are more satisfied after they have eaten. They feel full sooner. And again, because they are more satisfied, they tend to eat less and feel more satisfied. So it has a lot of benefits.

Now, when you are stressed, when you are busy, when you feel overwhelmed, it is easy to tell yourself you're time crunched, and you're going to be more productive if you do everything at once. However, minimizing mindless eating, it can be a game changer. It can also be difficult.

So again, ask yourself how you could incorporate a little bit more of this into stressful times and also ask yourself, when are the times of day or when are the situations with food where it might be most useful, most beneficial to me to minimize mindless eating? Where should I be setting a no multitasking rule? And that means not scrolling through your phone or watching TV. Or reading a book while you eat.

The next thing that can be really helpful, well, it is really helpful to pay attention to, especially during stressful times or times when you're overwhelmed, when you have a busy pack schedule or a lot going on, whether inside your head or in your calendar, it is going to be critical to pay extra attention to transition times.

That's the time in between activities. And by the way, when you're stressed and overwhelmed that time in between, it tends to disappear or even overlap. Right? Because you're trying to cram in all the things. The thing is that we often stress eat at a transition. Or we use food or eating as a way to have a transition when we aren't giving ourselves one.

We use food as a way to numb out or to revive ourselves. Or to procrastinate because what we really need is a transition before we dive into the next thing. Right? So pay extra attention to transition times. The times between activities. I'm talking about the time when you close off your Zoom call and you go to check your email. The time after lunch. The time between your work day and your home day. Right? The time between getting in the door from work and starting to think about dinner.

Instead of overlapping everything. Instead of skipping the transition, and the temptation is to do that. When you're stressed and when you're overwhelmed and also then the temptation is to grab something to eat to take care of yourself because you didn't get a transition... instead of that, try giving yourself five minutes to pause, to breathe, to make a cup of tea, to close your eyes, to clear your mind, to wash your face or change your clothes. Whatever it is, give yourself a little bit of space before diving into the next activity.

The next tactic that you might want to consider to avoid stress eating is to start looking at your to-do list a little differently. If you are a to-do list maker, your to-do list can be helpful. It can also stress you out. Asking for help and considering who can help you is a game changer.

A few years ago, I had a client who took this on with a ferocity and she actually made it her policy so that every time she created a to-do list, she now creates a second column in her to do list labeled, who can help me with this? Who can help me with this? So consider making a second column in your to do list and label it that. Who can help me?

Do not fall into the stressed, busy, overwhelmed trap of feeling like you're too busy to take the time to ask for help. You will end up more overwhelmed. You will end up perpetuating the feeling of being overwhelmed, the experience of it, because that task is going to stay on your plate. And you will quite likely increase the odds of you stress eating and overeating. Right? Okay. So make a second column on your to do list.

Another tactic that is really, really helpful and critical to pay attention to when you're stressed. And it may feel funny to talk about when we're talking about overeating when you're stressed and overwhelmed and busy do not let yourself get too hungry. This can happen for a couple of reasons. Right? You get so busy that you skip lunch or you don't think about lunch. You work through lunch because you tell yourself you don't have time. And then at the end of the day, you are ferociously hungry and you're not in a place to make the kind of choices that you want to.

It can also come about because of a cycle with stress eating that's already happening. So, maybe you had a situation where you ate way more than you wanted to at the end of the day. You wake up, you're not hungry. You're feeling like you have to make up for what you did yesterday. So then you do some drastic non-eating earlier in the day. And again, you let yourself get too hungry.

When you're hungry, you’re more apt to lose control. You are more wired to make choices that you will regret in the long run. Because you're hungry. So set a reminder if you need to eat at regular intervals. Invest the time to make a plan for what you will eat ahead of time. We spend so much time focusing on what we won't eat. Nourish yourself. It will be worth it. End of the day, stress eating is a huge problem. And one of those re one of the reasons for that is that we tend to let ourselves get too hungry. Okay.

Here's another big tactic that again, don't get overwhelmed by it But I really want you to consider how you could embrace this and use it more in your life If you can find ways to connect with yourself I'll tell you what I mean by that. Find ways to stay aware of your feelings stay aware of your hunger. Stay aware of your needs you will be ahead of the game when it comes to overeating and emotional eating and stress eating.

Think about it. When is the last time you asked yourself, Hmm, how am I feeling? What do, what do I know about what I need right now? What am I needing right now? What do I want right now? Especially when we are feeling slammed, when we are running from one task to another it can be days where we don't check in with ourselves.

And if you don't check in with yourself, you cannot be connected to what it is that you need. What it is that you're feeling. Which means you cannot respond to those things. Which means that you are setting yourself up to take care of needs and feelings that maybe you are less than optimally aware of by maybe numbing out or pushing them away or compensating with some chocolate. Or going through the drive through because you're too busy to think about it.

This can be simple. This doesn't have to be a weeklong meditation retreat that you go on. Finding ways to connect with yourself can be setting a reminder on your phone that goes off, and when it does, you take a deep breath, and you ask yourself, Okay, how am I feeling? How hungry am I? What do I know about what I need right now?

And that can help you pivot. That can help you avoid the binge or avoid the mindless drive thru trip because instead you take five minutes to get away from the computer. Or step outside or, you know, call a friend, check in with somebody who cares about you.

What I'm talking about in terms of finding a way to connect overlaps with another way that you, it could be another way that you think about this, or it could be a completely different tactic if it, if it matters. But that is, I really want you when you are stressed and overwhelmed to give yourself permission to leverage the value of small pieces of time. And I don't mean how can I cram in one more task.

But I want you to think about how you might leverage the value of five minutes. When we're stressed and overwhelmed, our brain gets so big and dramatic and reactive. And you know, that won't matter. That doesn't count, or I don't have time for that. But there was so much power in a teeny tiny break. Five minutes.

A quick walk, right? A change of scenery and by a quick walk, maybe you get outside, maybe you just get up from your desk and walk around your office or walk around your home. Right? Or step into somebody else's doorway and have a quick conversation. Five minutes, some easy stretches to take the kink out of your neck. Right? Or watching a funny video online. Five minutes. Five minutes can actually have a dramatic effect on helping you recalibrate.

And when you recalibrate, when you reconnect, when you take care of yourself, even in a little five minute way, it can have a profound effect. And it can absolutely help you avoid the stress eating spiral when you're feeling overwhelmed and when you're feeling like there's nothing you can do. Five minutes is a Piece of taking your power back, reminding yourself that you do have some power. Even if it's just, you know, five minutes, if you don't have five minutes, try three.

Okay, another thing we have to talk about, and I kind of talked about it a little bit, but if you are in a situation where you are stressed or overwhelmed or feeling vulnerable to stress eating, it is probably going to be really important to spend some time thinking about and strategizing around How you can avoid night eating. And by night eating, this is different it shows up differently for everybody, but it might be at the end of your work day, evening eating. It can be after dinner eating, and for some people it is staying up super late after everybody else goes to bed. So you can have some time alone and do your night eating.

So what you want to do is come up with some tactics to avoid that. Anticipate it if it is potentially an issue for you. What works really well for a lot of people is a) giving yourself permission to go to bed because it is a myth that you can run on fumes. And if you just stay up, you'll get more done and you can't go to sleep yet. You have to keep working and you have to keep using the food to fuel you because it doesn't work.

Okay? So give yourself permission to rest, give yourself permission to sleep. Front load your rest and the next day will go better. And then create a wind down ritual that includes some nice things for you. It doesn't include food. But some nice things, some comforting things, some caring things, some non-working things.

Avoid the myth that working until the last minute when you drop into bed is going to work. It doesn't work. You are probably not being productive and you are definitely not going to sleep nearly as well as if you give yourself a wind down ritual. And really focus on how to take care of yourself at the end of the day.

The last thing, which was also the first thing, is that when you're stressed... you know what, even when you're not stressed, it is always so important to be aware of your inner perfectionist. She's probably there in the background telling you how it needs to be all or nothing or keeping track of the things that you didn't do as well as, well, that you didn't do perfect.

Ignore your inner perfectionist as much as you can, or remind yourself that nobody's perfect. It's a part of being human and perfectionism and the expectation that somehow you are going to clean out your to do list every night and have a zero inbox and get everything perfect and keep everybody happy. It's an impossible expectation that only overlays more stress and overwhelm and busyness to a schedule or a day or a life where you don't need those things.

When things don't go as planned, or when things go totally off the rails. When you're eating, go sideways, when you don't remember to use the tactics or whatever it is, look for the opportunity there. This is the way you keep moving forward.

When things don't go well, what's the learning? I was expecting too much. My plan was too grandiose. I really could have taken a break. Or you know what? I didn't have a transition between those two things. You know what? I didn't get enough sleep last night and I really next time want to go to bed earlier.

I'm giving you some examples. Right? What is the learning when you look at what didn't go well? What do you know about why it didn't go well? And sometimes there isn't any learning. Sometimes it was just a really hard day and I was doing my best. And the learning is I have to give myself grace because not only am I not perfect, well, I have to give life grace. Not only am I not perfect, life doesn't always unfold perfectly either.

I did say ignore your inner perfectionist, but that's really difficult to do. I think what's much easier is to recognize her when she shows up. Remind yourself that she doesn't know everything. That a perfectionistic plan is just a stressful, overwhelming plan.

You know, when things don't go perfectly, ask yourself how you can adjust or course correct with these tactics as you move forward. And then keep moving forward.

So there you have it. Those are the tactics that I find are very helpful to consider and to play with when you are working to avoid stress eating when you're busy or you're overwhelmed. Again Notice which ones jump out at you notice which ones seem useful to you either now or would probably be useful to you when you think about your pattern with stress eating. And then pick one or two, at the most three. I think I'd really stick with one or two, pick one or two to play with and see how you could pay a little bit more attention to them. How you could implement these tactics just a little bit.

Do not use this podcast episode as a way to add more stress or more overwhelm, or a million more items to your to do list.

Just play with this and see how it helps.

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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