Unlearn Your Bad Habits
Emotional eaters continually reinforce the idea that the best way to treat negative emotions is with food. And like other bad habits, stress eating happens before youve had a chance to think about it. For instance, one bad day may habitually lead you to five hours of television and one quart of ice cream. So, you need to un-learn your bad habits and practice doing something other than eating when a bad day strikes.
Take A Minute To Cool Off From Your Stress First
“If I am stressed, I may make a to-do list in order to organize my thoughts and my upcoming scheduleor I may meditate or go for a short walk,” says Alyssa Lavy, RD. “I then check in with my hunger and my desire to eat again. If I still want the food, I allow myself permission to eat that food and enjoy it.”
She warns, though, to keep an eye on portion sizes. But eating a reasonably sized snack or meal should be much easier after taking that moment to emotionally cool off. Because now, your choice to eat will be an intentional one.
What Happens When We Dont Manage Stress Effectively
In small doses, stress can actually be useful as it helps you to stay focused, alert and increases energy. But when stress becomes chronic though, it can damage your health, mood and relationships. Basically, your overall quality of life!
Stress is sneaky! It can easily creep up on you so that being frazzled and overwhelmed starts to feel normal. You may not even recognize how much it is affecting you so it is really important to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and then take steps to stop feeling so overwhelmed.
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How To Relieve Stress Without Overeating
When stress affects someone’s appetite and waistline, the individual can forestall further weight gain by ridding the refrigerator and cupboards of high-fat, sugary foods. Keeping those “comfort foods” handy is just inviting trouble.
Here are some other suggestions for countering stress:
Meditation. Countless studies show that meditation reduces stress, although much of the research has focused on high blood pressure and heart disease. Meditation may also help people become more mindful of food choices. With practice, a person may be able to pay better attention to the impulse to grab a fat- and sugar-loaded comfort food and inhibit the impulse.
Exercise. While cortisol levels vary depending on the intensity and duration of exercise, overall exercise can blunt some of the negative effects of stress. Some activities, such as yoga and tai chi, have elements of both exercise and meditation.
Social support. Friends, family, and other sources of social support seem to have a buffering effect on the stress that people experience. For example, research suggests that people working in stressful situations, like hospital emergency departments, have better mental health if they have adequate social support. But even people who live and work in situations where the stakes aren’t as high need help from time to time from friends and family.
Prepare New And Interesting Meals At Home
Explore the culinary arts and improve your relationship with food by preparing your meals at home. Find recipes that involve new ingredients or make items youve never before tried to cook yourself.
By preparing your own food, you are more conscious of what you put into your body, and studies show home-cooked meals generate multiple benefits. People who cook more meals at home consume more fruits and vegetables and are less likely to be overweight.
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Common Causes Of Emotional Eating
Stress. Ever notice how stress makes you hungry? Its not just in your mind. When stress is chronic, as it so often is in our chaotic, fast-paced world, your body produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foodsfoods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure. The more uncontrolled stress in your life, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief.
Stuffing emotions. Eating can be a way to temporarily silence or stuff down uncomfortable emotions, including anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame. While youre numbing yourself with food, you can avoid the difficult emotions youd rather not feel.
Boredom or feelings of emptiness. Do you ever eat simply to give yourself something to do, to relieve boredom, or as a way to fill a void in your life? You feel unfulfilled and empty, and food is a way to occupy your mouth and your time. In the moment, it fills you up and distracts you from underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with your life.
Social influences. Getting together with other people for a meal is a great way to relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. Its easy to overindulge simply because the food is there or because everyone else is eating. You may also overeat in social situations out of nervousness. Or perhaps your family or circle of friends encourages you to overeat, and its easier to go along with the group.
How Do I Know If My Cravings Are From Emotional Stress
I like to look at cravings by whether they are coming from above the neck or below the neck. Above the neck cravings are emotional, often come on suddenly and aren’t satisfied even after a full meal. If you give in to above the neck cravings, they may sometimes trigger feelings of shame and guilt, and you may feel like you have absolutely no control over your food choices.
Below the neck cravings are not emotional, but rather a sign of physical hunger. It builds gradually and many food options sound appealing. Once you’re sensibly full, the cravings go away. Below the neck cravings aren’t associated with any feelings of guilt or anger, but rather you feel satisfied and maybe relieved after eating that particular food or meal.
Sometimes, these cravings may be hard to distinguish between. Has overeating sugary foods at night become a habit or does your body really crave them? Have you been training your body by giving in to those above the neck cravings every night to expect a surge of sugary foods, only to create almost a dependency and need for the food at a certain time of the day? Think back to when this habit started and try to practice mindful eating to be more in tune with your body and its true physical hunger needs.
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Anxiety And Appetite Problems
The connection between stress and appetite is still not fully understood. Everyone responds to stress differently, but a sizeable number of those with anxiety admit that stress causes changes in not only their appetite but also how they enjoy their food.
On the outside, anxiety-induced appetite issues may not appear to be a serious problem. But it is. Often the way individuals alter their diet in response to stress and/or anxiety causes a downstream effect on their long term anxiety outcomes. If you currently suffer from anxiety-induced appetite issues, you should work towards solving them.
Work On Your Coping Skills
Every time you eat in response to stress, its just a reminder that you cant cope with your emotions. When the urge to stress-eat strikes, try asking yourself, Whats the worst thing that will happen if I dont eat?
Yes, your stress level might rise a bit for a minute, but the feeling will pass, and its probably not nearly as bad as you thought it would be. Practice tolerating your emotions or finding other ways to deal with your stress.
If you feel the need to eat, try hard, crunchy foods they help relieve stress by putting tight jaw muscles to work. Try snacking on a handful of almonds, soy nuts, or baby carrots.
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Reflect On Your Core Values In Those Stressful Moments
“At the beginning of the day, bring to mind a few core values that are important to you, like generosity, compassion, kindness, etc.,” says Wagner. “When you feel the urge to stress-eat, ask yourself ‘What activity can I do right now that is more aligned with my values?’ If well-being is a value, maybe choose to go for a walk or take a calming bath. If relationships are important, try calling a friend. Aligning your stress-relieving strategies with your values can help you manage your stress in healthier ways. This 10-minute active meditation is a great start.”
Consume A More Colorful Diet
According to new research from Edith Cowan University, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with less stress. In a study of over 8600 adults in Australia, it was found that those who ate at least 470 grams of fruit and vegetables per day which is somewhere around five average servings experienced 10 percent lower stress levels than those who consumed less than 230 grams, or just over two average servings.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that are linked to lower levels of inflammation, which can impact mood. These healthy foods also add fiber and can contribute to your daily hydration needs. Try creative ways to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, such as blending them into your protein shakes to add delicious flavor and texture, or mixing different fruits into a fruit salad or a mix of veggies in a stir-fry. The flavors play off one another, and the beautiful colors add appeal.
Finally, be kind to yourself and give yourself time to work on your stress eating. If you find that these tactics arent working for you, ask your health care provider if counseling or group support might be helpful for you.
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Stress Eating Hormones And Hunger
Stress also seems to affect food preferences. Numerous studies granted, many of them in animals have shown that physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both. High cortisol levels, in combination with high insulin levels, may be responsible. Other research suggests that ghrelin, a “hunger hormone,” may have a role.
Once ingested, fat- and sugar-filled foods seem to have a feedback effect that dampens stress related responses and emotions. These foods really are “comfort” foods in that they seem to counteract stress and this may contribute to people’s stress-induced craving for those foods.
Of course, overeating isn’t the only stress-related behavior that can add pounds. Stressed people also lose sleep, exercise less, and drink more alcohol, all of which can contribute to excess weight.
Ways To Manage Stress
You can flip your mentality to make stress work in your favor. A little pressure every now and then can actually be motivating. Stress can help you focus, increase your drive and accomplish more things when harnessed correctly. But this is hard for a lot of us to achieve.
Learning how to channel your stressful energy into a more positive outcome really starts with getting more comfortable with change. If you are someone who has a hard time with change, you likely feel stressed often. Learning to embrace change can do wonders for stress.
Change is all around us. It is happening inside us each and every day – all of your bodys cells are constantly changing, and it is impossible to stop. Without it we sit still, we never grow, we don’t get stronger or more resilient, we will just decay and waste away.
Start by recognizing that change can be really good, and that learning to love it is a life skill we all need to work at. Try new things often. Go towards what makes you uncomfortable and embrace it. Find ways to learn from challenges – look back at your failures and hardships as a way to get better moving forward.
Even if you are good with change, negative stress can feel unavoidable at times – it is a part of life. So as you continue to work on getting comfortable with what makes you uncomfortable, here are a five ways you can help keep your mind at ease and handle difficult situations as they arise.
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Take 5 Before You Give In To A Craving
Emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realize what youre doing, youve reached for a tub of ice cream and polished off half of it. But if you can take a moment to pause and reflect when youre hit with a craving, you give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision.
Can you put off eating for five minutes? Or just start with one minute. Dont tell yourself you cant give in to the craving remember, the forbidden is extremely tempting. Just tell yourself to wait.
While youre waiting, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Whats going on emotionally? Even if you end up eating, youll have a better understanding of why you did it. This can help you set yourself up for a different response next time.
Reduce A Worrys Power Over You
One very effective way to reduce a worrys power over you is by getting the negative thoughts out of your head and on to paper. Being able to see the worry in black and white helps give you more perspective.
Study your worries by keeping a Worry Diary.
Write down what you fear might happen and then later write down if what you were worried about actually happened, whether it was as bad as you expected, and what you did to cope with the situation.
This will help you understand your worries better, distinguish between worries that are useful and those that are useless, and help you realize that you can cope no matter what happens.
- Set aside some time during the day to worry your worry time. Select a time every day that is convenient for you and pick a suitable amount of time to worry . Use this time to think about your worries and about possible resolutions. It can be helpful to write things down. It will take time to train yourself not to dwell on worries at other times of the day or night.
- Practice is key here. What you can do if you worry outside of the set aside time is to write the worry down and put it in a worry box . Then, when its your official worry time, you can look at your worries and deal with them appropriately.
I hope you find these 6 tips useful. If you would like to read more about ways to overcome anxiety and worrying please take a look at my free booklet.
When clients first come in to see me, the main concerns that come up again and again are:
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What Is Emotional Eating
Emotional eating can also be defined as stress eating. Food fills a need that goes beyond satisfying hunger. Food actually makes us feel better. Desserts, take-out, fast food, and pizza these are common foods people eat to satisfy emotional hunger.
Common reasons for turning to food as a coping mechanism are:
Build Mindfulness And Check In With Your Body
“When we stress eat, it is often unconscious. The first thing we need to do is build awareness of our actions. When you are tempted to go stress eat, notice what you are thinking. Are you avoiding a task, feeling overwhelmed by a surprise project, or have kids yelling at you in the background of your zoom meeting? Life’s stressors often don’t end, but the way we respond to stress can absolutely be adapted,” says Luther. “By first building the awareness of when you tend to go stress eat, you will be much more successful at changing your behavior over the long-term. Once you notice you are making your way to the fridge or cabinet, now is the time to use one of the other tips to divert your mind and focus away from stress eating and towards stress reduction!” Maybe take a look at these 11 Mindfulness Hacks to Eat Less, According to Experts.
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Physical Impact Of Stress
There are also some physical reasons why stress and strong emotions can cause a person to overeat:
- High cortisol levels: Initially, stress causes the appetite to decrease so that the body can deal with the situation. If the stress does not let up, another hormone called cortisol is released. Cortisol increases appetite and can cause someone to overeat.
- Cravings: High cortisol levels from stress can increase food cravings for sugary or fatty foods. Stress is also associated with increased hunger hormones, which may also contribute to cravings for unhealthy foods.
- Sex: Some research shows that women are more likely to use food to deal with stress than men are, while men are more likely than women to smoke or use alcohol.
It is very easy to mistake emotional hunger for physical hunger. But there are characteristics that distinguish them.
Recognizing these subtle differences is the first step towards helping to stop emotional eating patterns.
Alternatives To Emotional Eating
If youre depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento.
If youre anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.
If youre exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
If youre bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy .
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