When life gets hard and when a great start to a day takes a quick turn south, it is so easy to turn to food as an emotional band-aid. I get it! I have been there! When I am studying for a test with so much information it seems impossible to learn, when a relationship I am in turns sour, when I am victimizing myself or feeling sorry for myself, I turn to food. It is a natural human tendency because we associate food with comfort and in times of stress, we so desperately crave comfort. I am in no way saying eating for comfort is a bad thing, but it becomes detrimental when stress or emotional eating becomes a constant thing. Not only may it impact your health, but you are also just avoiding the underlying problem of your emotional eating, which only builds up and becomes a greater stressor! Below I have listed some tips to get out of the stress eating spiral:
- Discover Your Stressors
Next time you have the urge to stress eat, take a moment to think about why you feel the way you do. What in your life is stressing you out right now? Is it something in or out of your control? What can you do right now that can help improve the stress you are feeling? If you realize the stress is simply coming from being hungry, by all means go and eat! But if you realize that the urge to snack is coming from a motivation to avoid an uncomfortable emotion stemming from something else, take a second to identify the stressor and label it (“I feel lonely right now," for instance). Simply labeling your stressor empowers you to do something to decrease the stressor, rather than turning to a snack.
- Have Nutritious Snacks on Hand
Honestly, sometimes as hard as we try, stress eating is inevitable. That little comfort we feel from a late night snack is unparalleled after a hard day. Or, maybe you are just beginning the process of identifying your stressors and controlling your late night stress binge, and that is okay; it is a process! Regardless, have some healthy snacks on hand, so at least what you eat adds nutritious value to your diet!
- Create a De-Stressing Routine
Take a second to note what calms you down. How does meditation make you feel? Journaling? Taking walks? Calling a friend? Everyone is different, so find an activity that calms you down. Next time you feel the urge to step into your kitchen for a stress snack, try a different de-stressing activity instead. Soon, this new activity may become a natural stress response instead of walking into your kitchen!
- Honor Your Hunger
Sometimes you eat when you are stressed because you are actually hungry. Crazy concept, I know. If you really do feel hungry, honor it! Grab a snack. It does not matter if you ate an hour ago or if it is past some certain hour at night; listen to your body and give it the fuel it needs when it needs it. Eat mindfully and intuitively until your body is satisfied.
- Show Some Self-Compassion
When you act in a loving and kind way towards yourself in times of stress, like you would towards a struggling friend, you are less likely to disconnect and give into stress or emotional eating. In addition, if you stress eat and accidentally overindulge, show yourself some compassion and realize that it will be okay! Sometimes you overindulge, sometimes you mindlessly eat, and beating yourself up about it will accomplish absolutely nothing! Instead, show your body and mind some love, a much more productive and rewarding behavior.
We all have those days where we turn to food when life becomes a little too much to handle. However, finding other de-stressing activities and identifying the causes of your eating behaviors are great ways to decrease stress eating. It is also important to understand that it is okay to stress eat once in a while and beating yourself up about it is an incredibly unproductive and stressful behavior. No matter whether or not you participated in an emotional eating activity, show yourself some love.