Triggers for Stress Eating

In my last post, the question was asked, Are you a stress eater?

Today we are going to look at triggers for stress eating.  When you can identify the triggers  that set you off, you will have a much better chance of stopping the binges before they start.

People sometimes joke about being a stress eater and really don’t give it much thought, which is dangerous. It can leads to general poor health, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  Good enough reasons to stop?  I certainly hope so.

But . . . to stop, you must know what your triggers are.  How do you find out?

Keep a Journal

Triggers for Stress Eating

Image by Seth Sawyer

This one is a pain in the “you know what,” but necessary.  In order to identify your triggers, you must know what you eat and when you eat it.

Keeping a journal is the best way to keep track.  It is more than simply a list of foods you eat. You must also include the thoughts and feelings you were having when you chose to eat – plus exactly what you eat and the time of day that you eat.

For example: You start the day with a quick cup of coffee and a banana that you grab as you walk out the door.  Then, about 9:30, you have a couple of doughnuts in the break room, with another cup of coffee for a quick pick-me-up.

You make it until lunch and manage to eat a fairly healthy salad – good job!

But, at 2:00 p.m. your boss calls an emergency two-hour meeting that leaves you frazzled and facing another couple of hours of work before you can go home.  You make a quick run to the local McDonalds for a cheeseburger and coke, which takes the edge off – and back to work.

Finally at 6:30 you drag yourself out of the office, tired and annoyed.

You get home at 7:00 p.m., eat some cheese with crackers because you are too tired to fix dinner and enjoy a pint of Rocky Road for dessert.  You are tired, alone, and you deserve it.

You must record everything – the time, the food, and the reasons you ate – including anything you told yourself about why you were eating.

BTW,  don’t forget the half bag of chips that your neighbor shared with you around 6:30.

Choose a small note pad that fits easily in your purse or pocket so that it is always with you and you can makes notes throughout the day.

Make a List of Triggers

Be diligent with your journal and after four or five days, study your notes.

Start by looking for signs of binge eating.

  • What did you eat? And, how much?
  • What time of day?
  • What triggered the eating? (A fight? Anger? Disappointment? Fatigue?)

For example, you may have binged at dinner. You had three pieces of cheesecake for dessert.

Look at every detail of the entry to see what was going on in your head and/or the circumstances? Maybe you had a fight with your teenage daughter just before dinner.  Or – you received an overdraft from your bank in the mail when you arrived home from work.

Start a page in your journal for things (situations, circumstances, emotions, specific actions by specific people, etc.) that lead to binge eating – those are your triggers.

What You Eat

After you have looked carefully for triggers, go back and look for the types of foods you eat when you are stressed.  Make a list of your most common stress foods.

For example, you may be someone who can eat a whole package of Mother’s Taffy Cookies or Andes Thin Chocolate Mints  when you are stressed, or you maybe you prefer a bag of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips with large bottle of Coke.  Everyone has their favorites.  What are yours?

Identify Patterns and Primary Stressors

In addition to triggers, you will also find patterns that lead to stress eating.

For example:  Finances are a big stressor for many people.  Anytime you have to deal with financial issues, note differences in your eating patterns – frequency, types of foods, when you eat, what and how much you eat, etc.

The stressors that seem to create the biggest problems, with the greatest frequency are the ones that you want to work on first.

Tackle one at a time.  If finances create major stress for you – that is where you start.  If a relationship is your biggest stressor, start there.

Start paying attention to what happens, how you feel, what you tell yourself about the situation, and what, when, and how much you eat as a result.

The triggers and patterns will become clear after a fairly short time.  Once you have identified them, you can decide how you are going to deal with them.

Test the techniques mentioned in the previous post:  Are You a Stress Eater?  And find the ones that will work for you  Meditation?  Massage? Food replacement?  Or, possibly a combination.

For your peace of mind, and your overall health, start journaling and finding ways to manage your stress other than eating.  You will be glad you

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