Do you turn to food when you feel stressed or overwhelmed? Does a bad day at work send you off track with your eating or exercise plan? Does an out-of-control to-do list leave you craving chocolate?
There are ways to avoid the stress eating/emotional eating trap. Here are three straightforward strategies you can try.
1. Know that you ARE a stress eater
This one sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s an important tip. If you are someone who turns to stress in response to food, it’s an important fact to respect about yourself—because it allows you to understand what might be going on and once you understand and take it seriously, you can intervene. If you know that stress leaves you fantasizing about a trip to the office vending machine, then the next time that urge hits, you have the opportunity to work backward. Instead of heading off, quarters in hand, on autopilot, you can stop and examine what might be going on that is leaving you feeling–not really hungry–but stressed. As you get practice at asking yourself this question, you might even find that you start to refine the word “stress” even further. Over time, you might find yourself asking really specific questions like, “What feels out of control right now?” “Why am I feeling overwhelmed?” or “Is anything going on that would contribute to my feeling anxious?”
2. Put some other tools in your toolbox
The benefit of step one is that it allows you to ask different questions. Instead of asking yourself, “How can I stop eating these cookies?” you are able to target the real trigger for your hunger and ask yourself about what you really need to address the stress. For this, you are going to need a different set of tools. Emotional eaters use food as a strategy to cope with emotions. While this might work as a temporary band-aid, eating never solves the real problem. Focusing on what and how much to eat doesn’t address the stress you are feeling at all.
As you get clearer on what the situations are that lead you to stress eating, you can begin to ask yourself what you can do instead of turning to food. Know that at times of overwhelm, our ability to problem solve is not at its best. Make a list in advance of as many strategies you can think of to help you with stress or overwhelm. Keep it handy. It’s one thing to know that you want to eat in response to stress. It’s another to have some ideas about what to do INSTEAD.
3. Be prepared
Too many of us take the ostrich approach to stress and overwhelm. Sticking our head in the sand, or “not thinking about it” never keeps the stress from happening. Practice identifying the potentially stressful situations before they hit. Make a note of upcoming events or times that have the potential to be difficult and spend some time on the front end strategizing about how to handle them. If you are truly facing a situation that is out of your control, identify some strategies (in advance) that you can use to comfort yourself, distract yourself, or to cope with the difficulty.