How to Break the Cycle: Managing Stress Eating and Drinking

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Are you someone who turns to food or alcohol as a way to deal with stress? If that’s the case, it’s crucial to understand the challenges of stress eating and drinking and explore effective strategies to break free from this cycle. In this article, we will delve into the phenomenon of stress eating and drinking, examine how they can impact weight gain, and provide practical tips to help you avoid these behaviours.

Research shows that stress-induced eating and drinking can be influenced by various factors, such as age, gender, and dieting habits. Studies indicate that stress eating is more prevalent among women, while stress drinking tends to be higher among men. Although these behaviours might offer temporary relief, it’s important to recognise that they can lead to long-term difficulties, including weight gain and associated health problems.

While stress itself can contribute to weight gain over time, studies have found that individuals who engage in stress eating or drinking experience a more significant increase in body mass index (BMI). However, it’s essential to understand that BMI changes occur naturally as we age, regardless of stress-induced behaviours. Stress-induced eating tends to have a stronger impact on increased BMI after the age of 32, while stress-induced drinking becomes more influential after the ages of 42 (for women) and 52 (for men).

Now that we have a clear understanding of the effects of stress eating and drinking, let’s explore some practical tips for managing these practices:

1. Embrace a Flexible Approach to Eating

Avoid strict diets and rigid food rules that can worsen stress eating. Instead, focus on nourishing your body with a balanced and adaptable approach to eating. Listen to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness, and make choices that support your overall well-being.

2. Normalise Self-Comfort

Understand that seeking comfort through food or drinks during times of stress is a natural and healthy response. Let go of any guilt or shame associated with stress eating. Recognise that taking care of yourself and finding ways to soothe stress is a positive behaviour.

3. Tap into Your Strengths

Acknowledge and appreciate your ability to comfort yourself. Recognise that you possess valuable coping skills that can help you overcome stress eating and drinking. By acknowledging your strengths, you can shift your focus towards building healthier habits and finding alternative ways to manage stress.

4. Create a Personalised Comfort Menu

Work with a coach or create your own comfort menu consisting of non-food-related activities or techniques that provide comfort and relaxation. Explore options such as deep breathing exercises, engaging in physical activity, connecting with loved ones, pursuing creative outlets, or indulging in enjoyable hobbies. Having a comfort menu empowers you to turn to these alternatives when stress arises.

5. Practise and Refine

Implement your comfort menu as your primary strategy for managing stress. Before resorting to food or alcohol, try engaging in activities from your comfort menu. It’s normal to still feel the initial urge to eat, but with consistent practice, you’ll become more adept at finding comfort without relying on unhealthy habits. Be patient with yourself and remember that progress takes time and dedication.

By adopting these strategies, you can regain control over stress eating and drinking, find healthier ways to manage stress and nurture your overall well-being. Remember, it’s a journey, and every step you take towards managing stress positively brings you closer to a healthier and more balanced lifestyle.


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