All of us have plenty of stress in our lives.
After the last couple of years, your stress level may have quadrupled.
If you find yourself responding by “stress eating,” know that you are not alone.
“What exactly is stress eating?”
Stress eating is consuming food in response to negative emotions like fear, anger, or sadness.
When we stress eat, food is being used to solve a problem. Now, unless we’re actually hungry, it’s likely a problem that food itself isn’t meant to solve.
That’s stress or emotional eating.
Here’s what compounds the whole problem: stress eating itself can make us feel guilty. We often feel terrible once our spoon hits the bottom of the pint of ice cream.
This can drive more negative emotions, which can trigger even MORE stress eating.
And the pattern continues.
During an episode of stress eating, it’s important to ask:
- What am I doing?
- What am I feeling? (Both physically and emotionally)
- What am I thinking about?
- What time is it?
- Where am I?
- Who am I with?
Also, gauging these at different times can be helpful too.
How is your stress looking:
- An hour or two before the eating episode?
- Right before it?
- During it?
- Right after it?
The purpose of these Emotional Eating Notes?
To look for patterns!
We’re looking at our notes for clues into our psyche. Whatever we captured is okay.
If you order pizza every Thursday after talking with your overbearing mom (of course, she means well), step one is to recognize it.
Oftentimes, this awareness step alone can help shift behavior. “Oh, I’m reaching for a beer like I normally do after ending my workday. Typical Me.”
After creating some notes on what spurs our emotional eating, it’s time to think about some alternatives for coping with stress.
After documenting what sets off our stress eating, we need to formulate a plan on what to do when our anxiety rises.
That means it’s time to build…a Stress Response Menu!
Our Stress Response Menu will be a list of actions or activities you can do to de-stress outside of eating.
Ideally, you’ll do them before an eating episode, but they can be done during or after the fact too.
In other words, if you only realized you were stress eating when your hand reaches the bottom of the Doritos bag, no problem, you can do your stress response activity right then.
The purpose of the Stress Response Menu is to reward yourself with a small moment of self-love, whenever your anxiety levels are too much.
EXAMPLES FOR A STRESS RESPONSE MENU:
- Close your eyes and take five deep breaths
- Drink a large glass of water
- Take a short walk
- Go listen to one of your favorite songs
- Do a quick stretching routine
- Write in your journal
- Play with your dog
- Shout at the sky
There are times when food is the perfect response to stress.
“Stress eating” might be appropriate if:
- After a long workday, a glass of wine with cheese helps you unwind.
- To celebrate the coming of the weekend, you have an ice cream party on Friday night.
- The week already seems long, and it just started, “Taco Tuesday” might help you survive until Friday.
The important thing here?
“We are making a choice.”
We are choosing to deal with stress or anxiety with food. By making it an intentional activity, we can remove the guilt around emotional eating.
Food can be fine as a reward, as long as it’s us controlling the behavior, and not the food itself.
In addition, if we can recognize the action (or plan for it), we can then adjust our calories before and after and not go
If it seems like you aren’t quite there yet, start with your Emotional Eating Notes and your Stress Response Menu.
Even just the process of taking notes on specific episodes of stress eating may be enough to slow down the behavior.
Remember, no matter what happens:
- You are not a bad person if you stress eat.
- You are not a bad person if you forget to take notes.
- You are not a bad person if you ignore your Stress Response Menu.