Ways to Stop Stress Eating
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Do you find yourself hitting the Haagen-Dazs hard after a tough day at work? Do you eat even when you’re not hungry? Do you eat to feel better? Do you reward yourself with food? Do you eat more in stressful situations compared to less stressful ones?
If you answered “Yes” to all or most of these questions, then chances are you’re one of the millions of Americans who stress eats (emotional eater).
What is Stress Eating and Emotional Eating?
According to HelpGuide, stress eating or emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better - eating to satisfy an emotional need, rather than satisfying a physical hunger. It’s a coping mechanism of sorts.
But it’s not an uncommon behavior. According to the American Psychological Association; around 27 percent of adults habitually overeat to manage stress. Around 33 percent of those adults do so because it helps distract them from stress.
While it’s okay to use an occasional pick-me-up snack to cope with a stressful day, when it becomes common occurrence is when it becomes a negative behavior. For one, you can easily pile on the calories and pounds by stress eating. What’s worse is, researchers have noted that people tend to store more fat in their bodies when they are stressed compared to when they are relaxed.
Signs of Stress Eating
Stress can affect your appetite and more importantly how your body copes with it. Levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol increase in moments of stress. Higher cortisol levels means higher insulin levels, a drop in blood sugar and a craving for fatty, sugary foods.
It is important to identify if you’re hungry because of physical hunger or emotional hunger brought about by stress. Here’s how you can identify if its physical hunger vs. emotional hunger.
Emotional hunger hits you instantly; while physical hunger is gradual. Emotional hunger is often an overwhelming urge to eat. It’s emotional eating when you suddenly crave for comfort foods but don’t ever feel satisfied once you’ve eaten. You never feel full and often the mindless eating result in a lot of guilt or shame afterwards. It’s the whole “Did I really eat that whole bag of cookies?” sense of dread that washes over you after overindulging.
How to Stop Stress Eating
Identifying physical hunger vs. emotional hunger is just half the battle. If stressful situations make you eat more, here’s how you can stop or cope with stress eating:
- Mindful Eating – Mindful eating is a practice that helps you get control of your eating habits. For a stress-eater, it can help you determine what your emotional and stress triggers are and how to cope with them better. One of the ways you can practice mindful eating is when the hunger pangs strikes, first determine if you’re really hungry or just want to be soothed. Pause for a few minutes, drink a glass of water or prepare a Simply Slender detox drink and ask yourself if you really need that bag of chips or that burger. Then check in a few minutes if you still want that snack. Chances are you never really needed it.
- Take note of your emotional triggers - There are helpful food tracking apps like Rise Up that can help you keep track of what you were eating, how you felt beforehand, who you were with and when you overate. Once you’ve determined your triggers, you’ll be better informed to avoid them later on. When you sit down for your meals, try to eliminate all distractions from the table and make the meal just about enjoying the food in front of you. Chew your food slowly, savor it and never rush your meals. It takes the body at least 20 minutes to register fullness. And finally, choose healthier options. You can still get your fave comfort foods, just make them healthier!
- Substitute mindless eating with healthier habits – Once you’ve determined that its emotional hunger and not physical hunger, try to do something else other than give into your cravings. Instead of eating, why not meditate, listen to soothing music, go outside for a short walk or take up crocheting. You can also use scents and aromatherapy to destress. Dab a small amount of lavender essential oil diluted with a neutral carrier oil on your wrist and inhale or use scented candles and diffusers. Essential oils like lavender, bergamot and ylang ylang are great for stress. I even have a close friend who puts on her favorite lotion every time she feels stressed and wants to stress eat because the scent calms her. Try to take your mind off that urge to eat and put your attention elsewhere to something much more productive.
- Don’t be afraid to feel – we tend to overeat as a way to muffle our emotions and keep them “stuffed down”. Sometimes we don’t want to feel and eating makes us forget rather than deal with these emotions directly. But it’s okay to feel anger, to be frustrated and to feel powerless sometimes. But sometimes it’s healthier in the long run to allow these emotions rather than obsess or suppress them. There are healthier and better ways to deal with anger, frustration and the everyday stresses. All it takes is to be mindful of what triggers them and how you cope with them.
"Emotional Eating" - HelpGuide
"Stress and Eating" - American Psychological Association
"Do stress reactions cause abdominal obesity and comorbidities?" - The International Association for the Study of Obesity, May, 2001
"Can Stress Cause Weight Gain?" - WebMD
"Mindful Eating 101 - A Beginner's Guide" - Healthline, January 12, 2016