Are you a stress eater? If you are not, you are very lucky. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I am! If you are too, or think you may be . . . please, read on.
Stress eating is a bad habit that develops over many years. For those who are afflicted, you may or may not be aware of it, because it has been part of your life for such a long time that it seems perfectly normal.
Stress eating involves bouts of over-indulging in foods that are bad for your health –whenever you feel stressed. You may be doing it because it makes you feel better and it gives you a sense of control at a time when your life feels out of control. It may make you feel better in the moment; but, it is a dangerous habit that should be broken.
Important Facts You Should Know About Stress Eating
How It Develops
The interesting thing is that not everyone who deals with a lot of stress eats large amounts of bad food to feel better or to hide from negative feelings.
In fact, some people do just the opposite – they stop eating.
People who overeat generally, or who are emotional overeaters, are at a higher risk for becoming stress eaters, as well.
For other people who fall into this trap when they are stressed, but, otherwise have fairly normal appetites, there are studies that suggest it may be due to a hunger hormone, which spikes when a person is stressed.
If you actually feel hungrier when you are stressed, and it isn’t just driven by the need for a distraction, the hormone may be the problem. For me, it’s the need for distraction – so be honest with yourself about this. When I am stressed, I often eat when I am not hungry at all.
Symptoms of Stress Eating
You may not know that you are a stress eater. You may think you simply have a big appetite; or just not particularly great at controlling your cravings.
It you are not sure, keep a journal. Make notes of everything you eat (and how you are feeling at the time) that are outside of regular meal times. Look for patterns of stress eating.
For example, the times when you head to McDonald’s right after you have a fight with your significant other, or the boss has chewed you out for something you did (or didn’t ) do. Or, the evening when you eat an entire pint of ice cream when you are sitting alone after a hard day of work. Or, you eat two pieces of pie when you were worrying about the big test that is coming up. Those are classic signs of stress eating.
Other signs of stress eating:
- You always gain weight during stressful times in your life
- You feel like you deserve to eat what you want because of everything that has happened
- You feel a sense of urgency in terms of eating certain foods – there may be a compulsion to get in the car and drive to get that hot fudge sundae you want.
- After a long difficult day, food is the only thing you can think about.
- You have uttered the words “I need this to feel better.”
What You Can Do About It
When you recognize the signs and think (or know) that you are a stress eater; then, it is time to STOP! It may be difficult to stop completely – and NEVER do it again. But, there are some things you can do to slow it down, and eventually stop completely.
Things that Can Help
Acknowledgement – It order to change any habit, the first step is to acknowledge that you have the habit, and are committed to breaking it. If you do not take this step, anything else you do will be temporary. Your efforts may help for a short time, but you will fall back into the pattern at some point.
Meditation – Meditation is a tool used by many to overcome harmful behaviors. It is a great way to ground yourself and empty your mind so that the stress no longer overwhelms you.
Meditation is not necessarily easy in the beginning. It takes practice. Do not feel discouraged if you don’t “get it” right away. Stay with it.
Because of the vast number of advocates for this practice and the fact that it has been around for centuries, there is obviously real benefits that can be enjoyed from meditation.
Begin slowly and work up to longer periods of time. Try a few minutes of meditation each day and let your mind clear itself. It may take as long as a couple of months before you are consciously aware of the benefits.
Some people find they do better if they go to a community meditation facility – others prefer to do it in private.
Aromatherapy – This is another relaxation method that has been used for centuries; and seems to work well in managing stress and eliminating stress eating.
Some of the methods of aromatherapy include aerial diffusion (typically with an oil burner), topical application, and inhalation. The scents enhance focus and aid relaxation.
Some practitioners claim that it is important to use only natural essential oils because the synthetics may contain ingredients that can irritate the skin if applied topically.
Massage – This is the combination of touch and physical manipulation of joints and muscles to release stress and tension – often combined with aromatherapy. As tension and stress dissipate, the need for stress eating diminishes.
Food replacement – As you become more and more aware of your patterns, try replacing the bad foods you tend to eat when you’re stressed with healthier alternatives. Instead of a plate of nachos, eat tortilla chips with salsa. Replace a pint of ice cream with a low-calorie frozen yogurt bar or a high-protein granola bar in place of a candy bar. You may be surprised how well this works, but you do have to be prepared. And . . . remember you don’t eat the whole box of high-protein bars – just one.
The main thing is to recognize that stress eating is a problem – then, do something about it. Begin today!