Do you know the 3 types of stress eating? Here’s how to pick the solution that will work for you.
Are you a stress eater? Given the right combination of stress, chaos, overload, and exhaustion, most of us will stress eat. While extreme or acute stress can shut down appetite, Ongoing stress causes physiological changes that lead to increased hunger and increased cravings for high fat and sugary foods. Women seem to be more prone to stress eating than men.
In the long run, the biggest part of the solution is managing and reducing stress – of course. In the short term though, when the stress feels unavoidable, it’s really helpful to be able to avoid the vicious cycles that stress eating can lead to. Even if that chocolate chip cookie binge brings on a few moments of calm, when you overeat in response to stress, you’re more likely to feel defeated, frustrated, “behind,” and yes, more stressed or overwhelmed.
Why you need to know what kind of stress eater you are
Relying on willpower doesn’t work when it comes to stress eating. When you’re already stressed, exhausted, or overwhelmed, you’ve maxed out your bandwidth by definition. You don’t have extra reserves to be strong, extra disciplined, or more “in control.” What you need when you are stressed is a solution, perhaps short-term, that will work instead of eating.
There are three very different types of stress eating, and while you may engage in more than one, they each require a different approach.
The 3 types of stress eaters
- “I’m outta here.”This is otherwise known as The Ostrich or Head in the Sand Approach. You’ve done it if you’ve eaten to shove down a feeling, to avoid thinking about something, numb out or escape. Sometimes this type of stress eating shows up as a way to procrastinate. It might be bingeing or constant grazing, and it feels like eating on autopilot. In the short term, if you’re going to manage escape eating, you’re going to need a non-food-related strategy to zone out from your current situation.
Note: I’m not saying that avoidance is a viable long-term strategy, but in the moment, sometimes it’s what you’ve got. So manage your eating in the short term by focusing on strategies that help you escape – fantasy, a light novel, trash TV. Give yourself permission to lose yourself in something. Just make sure you’ve eliminated food from the equation so you don’t accompany it with autopilot eating.
- “Oh no, you don’t!”This is almost the opposite of “I’m outta here” stress eating. Ever feel that you were so agitated or frustrated or wound up that you just needed to crunch on something? This is stress eating in reaction. Eating as a way to discharge your feelings, push back, prove something, or take action. “You can’t make me” or “I’ll show you” are other phrases that sometimes fit this kind of overeating.
In the moment, this is the kind of trigger that demands an active solution. No bubble bath in the world will soothe this kind of craving. You don’t need escape or numbness or soothing, you need some other way to release the pressure. The solution here is expression. Yell, dance, scribble frantically, or call a friend and vent.
- “I deserve it”Stress (and not enough self-care and nurturing) can leave you feeling unsupported, unacknowledged, overworked, and unrewarded. Food becomes a quick and easy solution – a treat, a pity party, or a small reward in the midst of a very long day. If stress eating is aimed at feeling better or acknowledging how hard you are working, it’s going to keep happening if you don’t replace it with another strategy that provides comfort, acknowledgment, or reward.
This may be the situation where a bubble bath or a pedicure does work. You need a gift, a reward, an acknowledgment, or something special to look forward to – and you need to put it in place now.
Can you do more than one type of stress eating? Of course, you can. Different situations elicit different reactions. Knowing that you need to respond to your eating in different ways at different times, is the critical first step.
Take good care,