Stress Eating

3 Strategies For Dealing With Stress Eating

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Do you eat more than you normally would when you are under stress? How often does that happen? Is it time to make some changes around that area?

Stress eating is a common challenge for people who are dealing with difficult life circumstances. If you are stressed out, it can be hard to focus on the right foods and eating habits. This can lead to weight gain and a higher risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes.

If you are dealing with stress eating, here are some strategies you can use to help keep your eating habits under control.

Strategy #1: Develop awareness around what triggers your stress eating

Become aware of your stress eating triggers. Identify the situations or events that often lead you to reach for food when you’re feeling stressed out. For example, if you tend to eat more after you talk to your mother on weekends, you’ve found your trigger. This will make it clear for you that it is that stressor that you want to deal with, and not really hunger. Hence, you need stress relief, not more food.

Taking the time to pause and listen to your body will help you develop that awareness. When you start to crave for food when you are under stress, pause for a moment, and ask yourself if you are indeed hungry. If you are hungry, then you need food. If you are not hungry yet you are craving for food, ask yourself, “What am I really craving for?” If you listen to your body, thoughts and feelings, you could discover that you are indeed looking for something else, such as love and care, or companionship, or acceptance, and so on. 

Having this awareness will give you options. How else can you satisfy that craving that does not involve food (as you are not really hungry)? Maybe you can call a dear friend for support or companionship, or maybe you take a few minutes to remind yourself that you only need acceptance from yourself.

Remember, you have options on how to fulfil your needs. Create that list of options and place that list where you could easily see it, especially when you’re stress eating. It could include taking 3 deep breaths, taking a short walk, playing with your child, stretching, doing some house chores, and other things that can distract you from food.

Strategy #2: Practise mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a technique where you focus on what you are experiencing in the present moment. It helps you become more aware of what’s happening around you as well as inside yourself at any given moment.

Take a few minutes every day to sit quietly and focus on your breathing or listen to soft music. This will help reduce stress by focusing on something else other than the stressor. Then notice what thoughts pass through your mind, and notice how you feel physically (e.g., relaxed or tense). Relax your muscles as you breathe. It’s impossible to feel sterssed if your body is relaxed. Try it. This habit helps you in dealing with stress eating, because you can think about other options besides food to calm yourself down.

Also mindfulness when you’re eating. Be there 100%. Experience your food fully. Notice what you see, hear, smell and feel. Notice the colours, steam, texture, and just how the food feels in your mouth and as it travels to your throat and your tummy. Mmm yum. 

Doing this will give you more pleasure and hence more satisfaction, which helps prevent over-eating. Mindfulness is such a great practice, not just with eating. It helps you experience the simple joys of life every day, it helps you live in the present moment, and it helps you stay out of your head (where almost all of the troubles begin).

Strategy #3: Take a self-compassionate approach

Negative self-talk, shame and guilt do not help you in developing healthy eating habits. Don’t assume that being hard on yourself will create change.

We all have difficult times. We all have food cravings. Seeking comfort in food does not make you a bad person, and it doesn’t make you lesser as a person. Your behaviour and your cravings do not define who you are. It’s okay that you are going through a difficult moment. Everyone does. It will pass, and you can handle it.

Remember that self-compassion is not an excuse to eat anything you want. Of course, you need to adopt habits that support you in reaching your goals. Practising self-compassion when you find yourself stress eating will remove the guilt that people normally feel when “giving in”, and guilt is not good for your health and well-being. Self-compassion means you give yourself a break sometimes, recognising all the factors that lead to your choices.

With self-compassion, you develop kindness towards yourself. This increases self-esteem and emotion quality, which help in creating better choices in your lifestyle. Small things that make you nicer to yourself can indeed improve eating habits.

Which new habit do you commit to develop? When are you going to start? What happens to your life when you develop that new habit? Who else will benefit when you can deal with stress and develop healthy eating habits?


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