Stress eating is one of the most challenging types of emotional eating and stress is a major cause of overeating and weight gain—especially for busy women. Knowing that you want to eat less or stick with healthy eating tips is one thing. Figuring out how NOT to overeat when you’re overloaded, overwhelmed, and just plain-stressed-out is another. “White knuckling it” only goes so far (that’s when you hold on tight and try to rely on pure willpower).
When you are trying not to stress eat, you’re eventually going to need something to do instead of turning to food. While I cover this topic in-depth in my emotional eating coaching program, I want to give you some simple tips you can start using today to break free from this common kind of emotional eating.
Eventually, you’ll craft your own list to beat stress eating triggers. In the meantime, here are ten things to do instead of stress eating:
- Blow off steam. If stress is pressure, you don’t want to be the pressure cooker (with mounting tension building up inside). Acknowledge your stress and find a way to let some of it out. Yell or play loud music in your car; run, walk or dance; knead some bread dough or shred some papers. Scribble on paper or vent.
- Phone a friend. Psychologists call it social support and it can work wonders. Whether you want someone to advise, distract, make you laugh, or just listen, connecting with someone who knows you and whom you trust can make a huge difference. If you don’t have time to talk now, make a date to talk in the future.
- Change your scenery. Remove yourself from the situation—even if only temporarily. Leave the room or the office. Sit in a different chair. Get a new mental and physical perspective. If you have stress eating rituals (like visiting the vending machine at a certain time on certain days), shake things up a bit—take a different route and avoid the familiar (and habit-filled) routine if you can.
- Relax and stretch. Stress builds up in our bodies and then creates more stress and discomfort. If you can’t change your life (or the next hour), you can still be kind to yourself and stretch out your neck or your back. Try to create comfort in your body in ways that don’t involve eating.
- Escape (even for 30 seconds) Sometimes stress and overload lead to the belief that you can’t “afford” to stop and that you just need to keep working harder and harder. Don’t buy into this. It’s a recipe for stress eating. Give yourself permission to take a break—even if it’s just a minute or two. If you can’t go for a walk, go to the bathroom. Google images of tropical beaches and put one up where you can see it, take a minute to get a glass of water or brew yourself a cup of tea.
- Journal. This is an excellent way to untangle your feelings, check in with yourself, and decompress. Try writing for ten minutes before you sit down to eat. You are less likely to overeat when you have taken the time to understand what’s driving your hunger and to think about what you might do instead.
- Rant. Give yourself permission to throw reason, logic, and good manners out the window. Go to a place where you can express yourself privately (cars are good for this) and let loose. Get mad, be frustrated, stop being reasonable. Have a tantrum if you want or a good cleansing cry. Put words to your feelings instead of trying to bury them with food.
- Sleep. Stress is exhausting and sleep will work more wonders than working late into the night. If you’ve been sleep-deprived, getting at least 7 ½ hours of sleep a night will also decrease your appetite and your cravings. You’ll be more productive and better able to focus. Successful women guard their sleep!
- Make a list. Start creating more effectiveness instead of stress eating. Identify your top three priorities or action items for the day and identify one lovely or kind thing you will do just for you. If you’re making the list later in the day, start with the one lovely thing. Hint: it might just be one of the things on this list you are reading now.
- Breathe. You can’t physically grow more stressed and more relaxed at the same time. When you start relaxing—even if it’s just a tad—you reverse the cycle of growing more and more stressed or anxious. Here’s a powerful tip. Set a timer on your computer or phone to go off once an hour. When your timer goes off, stop what you are doing for 60 seconds and just breathe. Focus on your breath for just sixty seconds or put your hand over your heart and breath and focus on your heartbeat. Super-short centering breaks like this can help you break vicious cycles and be more mindful and relaxed.
The key to ending emotional eating and making peace with food is to identify the tools that work for you. Play with these ten strategies and start collecting your own.