Create A Coping Toolbox
During times of stress, its a good idea to have a variety of coping tools. When thinking about whats going into that toolbox, you should consider whether or not this tool is actually helping you cope and process the emotion. Here are three questions worth asking:
In my experience, people who rely on food to feel better do it as a way to avoid or numb unpleasant feelings. The problem is that when you do this, even if you enjoy the thing you ate, ultimately you probably wont feel better in any real or lasting way about whatever was getting you down. And the elephant in the roomthe thing that caused you to stress-eat in the first placestill hasnt been addressed. Do I think that you need a therapy session with yourself every time stress is on the rise? No. Sometimes not dealing for a little while with whatever is happening is a totally okay thing for you to do.
All of this only becomes a problem when you never make time for thoughts or reflections around how youre coping, and what follows is a series of reactive actions . Here are some of my favorite coping tools:
What Does Stress Eating Look Like
Stress eating is when we eat mindlessly, when were not hungry, but rather, when were feeling uncomfortable or stressed.
It typically looks something like standing up at the counter shoveling in shredded vegan cheese from the package, making a mid day run to buy chocolate or cookies then inhaling them in 0.3 seconds, or getting the urge to whip up a batch of brownies or baked goods when feeling frazzled.
Support Yourself With Healthy Lifestyle Habits
When youre physically strong, relaxed, and well rested, youre better able to handle the curveballs that life inevitably throws your way. But when youre already exhausted and overwhelmed, any little hiccup has the potential to send you off the rails and straight toward the refrigerator. Exercise, sleep, and other healthy lifestyle habits will help you get through difficult times without emotional eating.
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Managing Emotions And Stress
As weve seen, understanding our emotions is key to learning how to cope with stress eating behaviors. For some expert strategies on stress and anxiety regulation, I spoke with Dr. Jesús Berrios Ortiz, Psychologist, who recommends the following actions:
- Identify your emotions. Its normal that given any negative situations we are experiencing we may feel fear, loneliness, frustration, anguish and lack of control. Accepting what you feel is the first step.
- Perform physical activity and practice relaxation. Physical activity is essential. This helps us maintain a mind-body balance. In addition, the secretion of endorphins, which are feel-good neurotransmitters, helps minimize anxiety symptoms.
- Work towards developing a positive vision of the future. When going through stressful times, its important to be aware of our present. However, for anxiety management you can think of future dates in which you project yourself in a positive way. For example, what will you do on your next vacation or where will you spend Christmas, etc.
- When dealing with external uncertainty, disconnect from the news and social networks. It is important that we have some relaxation time and activities that generate pleasure for us. You should stay informed, but only from official and reliable sources, instead of unfounded conspiracy theories on social media.
Stress And Eating Behavior
The term stress refers to processes involving perception, appraisal, and response to noxious events or stimuli . Stress experiences can be emotionally or physiologically challenging. In addition, regular and binge use of addictive substances may serve as pharmacological stressors. Acute stress activates adaptive responses, but prolonged stress leads to wear-and-tear of the regulatory systems, resulting in biological alterations that weaken stress-related adaptive processes and increase disease susceptibility . Thus, mildly challenging stimuli limited in duration can be good stress or eustress and may increase motivation to achieve goal-direct outcomes and homeostasis this can result in a sense of mastery and accomplishment, and can be perceived as positive and exciting . However, the more prolonged and more intense the stressful situation, the lower the sense of mastery and adaptability and thus the greater the stress response and risk for persistent homeostatic dysregulation . The perception and appraisal of stress relies on specific aspects of the presenting external or internal stimuli and may be moderated or mediated by personality traits, emotional state, and physiological responses that together contribute to the experience of distress.
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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 Does Stress Affect Your Appetite
Studies show that women with high chronic stress levels tend to engage in emotional eating. In addition to psychological responses to stress, there may also be physiological responses. During a stressful event, the body releases cortisol, a hormone that helps the body protect itself. However, if cortisol levels are elevated for a prolonged period of time, such as during repeated and constant stressors, this can lead to increased food consumption, fat storage and weight gain.
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How To Try It
Next time you get the urge to stress eat, treat it as an experiment.
Use our Behavior Awareness worksheet to document what happens and how you feel before, during, and after.
Important note: This is a judgement-free zone.
This process will help you identify triggers, but itll also start removingor at least, lesseningany guilt or shame you feel around overeating.
Often, if youre allowed to overeat, it suddenly doesnt feel as urgent.
When its no longer forbidden, the intense craving for a whole box of cookies sometimes turns into a more manageable desire for just one or two.
So try to observe your experience as neutrally as possible. If youre having trouble, imagine youre a scientist collecting data on someone else.
Afterward, review the worksheet. What do you notice?
Are there any patterns or aha moments that stick out to you?
Maybe you notice you head for the snack cupboard right after getting off a stressful, two-hour-long conference call.
And you realize youve been doing that almost every day for weeks.
Its possible youll have to do this experiment a few times before the trigger becomes obvious. Thats okay.
If this happens, do your best not to obsess about the decision to eat or not eat.
Instead, try to focus on learning more about your own behavior, and keep your worksheet notes handy so you can add to them as needed.
Once youre aware of the trigger, decide what to do about it.
If its something you can avoid, great.
Potential Role Of Insulin
Animal models have demonstrated that GCs act directly in a feed-forward manner that promotes food-associated drives and CRF and ACTH secretion. For example, adrenalectomized rats demonstrate reduced food intake, while GC administration increases food intake by stimulating the release of NPY and inhibiting CRF release , . However, these effects do not appear to increase feeding-motivated behaviors under all conditions. Adrenalectomy reduces chow intake, while subsequent corticosterone replacement normalizes it however, high corticosterone levels neither stimulate nor reduce chow intake . When rats were made diabetic using streptozotocin , a marked, dose-dependent effect of corticosterone on intake of rat chow was noted . Together, these findings suggest that insulin secretion, also stimulated dose-dependently by GCs, partially blocks chow intake stimulated by corticosteroids.
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Do You Stress Eat Regularly Do This
In addition to making a list of non-food ways to address your feelings, and questioning yourself in the moment, building regular meditation, exercise, and healthy eating habits into your day will holistically reduce and prevent stress eating. These healthy habits help lower your stress hormone levels and nourish your body with nutrients that support a calmer, less-anxious, and happier mood.
Have you tried these tips? Have they helped? What is your experience with stress eating? Tell me in the comments below.
Addictive Properties Of Hyperpalatable Food
Food-intake research indicates there is significant overlap with substance addictions, with much to be learned from this relatively well-established field , including with regards to the role of stress and hyperpalatable food. Stress, particularly uncontrollable stress, is a potent negative reinforcer that promotes the acquisition of drugs of abuse . Pretreatment with corticosterone, thought to mimic the condition of chronic stress, exaggerates this effect . Conversely, adrenalectomy abolishes the effect of stress on drug acquisition .
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What Causes Stress Eating
Stress eating is the response some of us can engage in as a result of emotional stress. The Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine defines emotional stress in the following way:
Emotional stress involves the experience of negative affect, such as anxiety, in the context of a physiological stress response that includes cardiovascular and hormonal changes. Emotional stress commonly occurs when an individual perceives that he or she does not have adequate personal resources to meet situational demands effectively.
Emotionally stress can arise from:
- Interpersonal conflict
- .and many other situations unique and valid for you
I think we can all agree that feeling emotional stress really sucks. In fact, risking a bit of TMI here, I personally tend to lose my appetite completely when Im stressed, which is just the other side of the coin. Its definitely not fun. And as commonly known, theres a strong connection between emotional states and eating habits.
Why Stress Can Make You Overeat And How To Stop It
Stress is a normal bodily response and can be life-saving if you need a burst of speed, energy, or alertness to respond to a dangerous situation. When you get stressed, your body enters the so-called fight-or-flight mode, increasing the production of certain hormones and shutting down non-essential processes until the stressful event is over.
One of these hormones is cortisol, which suppresses appetite in the short term but can have the opposite effect if it remains chronically elevated. Chronic stress puts your body on constant alert and can lead to a multitude of complications, including overeating.
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Choose Filling Nutritious Foods
Stocking your kitchen with filling, nutrient-dense foods can not only help improve your overall health but also combat the tendency to stress eat highly palatable foods.
For example, filling your fridge and pantry with foods that can help fill you up in a healthful way rather than foods rich in empty calories like candy, chips, and soda is a smart way to prevent the chances of noshing on unhealthy choices.
Filling foods are ones that are high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Nuts, seeds, avocados, beans, and eggs are just some examples of nutritious, satisfying choices that can help fill you up and prevent overeating (
Strategy #: Go Ahead And Overeat
Our brains like patterns.
Many of our thoughts, emotions, and actions actually happen on autopilot. Theyre parts of sequences our brains know well from years of practice. Those sequences just need triggers in order to take place.
In the presence of a trigger, your brain dictates a given behaviorlike stress eatingwithout requiring any conscious decision-making on your part.
The physical sensation of hunger is the most obvious trigger. That stomach-grumbling, slightly shaky, even-Brussels-sprouts-sound-good sensation is one you can trust to tell you its time to eat.
But stress eating usually comes after other types of triggers, like certain sights, smells, people, and emotions.
For example, you might find yourself hitting the Girl Scout Cookies hard every Saturday afternoon. Youre always left wondering how it happened, and why you feel so crappy about it.
The process is so automatic you often dont have any idea whats triggering it.
But if you really started paying close attention, you might have an epiphany: Its also the time you talk to your mom every week.
So heres a wild idea: Give yourself permission to overeat.
Its going to feel counterintuitive at first.
But view it as a learning experiencea necessary step in the process.
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Tips On How To Stop Stress Eating
Stress eating entails turning to food as a means of coping with stress, finding comfort or relief, or rewarding ourselves, and it is actually a very common behavior that many people struggle to get control of.
Reaching for another slice of pizza when you are strung out may be more common than you realize, but unfortunately, this eating habit does not pay off and is often accompanied by feelings of shame and/or guilt.
That said, here is your guide to the 7 most important things you can do to help ease the temptation of stress eating.
1. Remove Temptations
The number one thing you can do to help curve your stress eating habits is to remove temptations.
This can mean keeping snackfoods stored out of sight, or swapping them out for mostly healthy choices. Keeping junk food within your line of sight makes it that much easier for the idea to get planted in your mind, so simply shifting some things around may make a difference.
On the other hand, keeping healthy foods within arms reach or within eyesight might work in your favor.
When you first start learning to combat stress eating, you may still find yourself searching for a snack sometimes, and thats okay. That being said, if the first snack you see is a healthy one, the associated feelings of shame and guilt may be lessened when you give in.
2. Do Not Restrict Yourself
3. Maintain a Regular Meal Schedule
4. Move Your Body
5. Drink Enough Water
6. Choose Filling Foods
7. Check in With Yourself
How To Stop Emotional Eating From Stress
Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments.
As anyone whos watching their weight will tell you that hunger is just one of many reasons that people eat. Those with a tendency toward emotional eating are especially vulnerable to making poor choices.
If youre an emotional eater, you may find yourself eating to deal with uncomfortable emotions, using food as a reward when youre happy, and craving sweets or unhealthy snacks when stressed. Dont worryyoure not alone! The following ideas can help you to cut down emotional eating and develop healthier eating habits, even when you’re stressed.
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Tips To Stop Stress Eating
You dont have to live your life controlled by emotional food cravings. Here are three ways you can break the cycle and avoid the consequences of stress eating.
1) Know Your ReasonsIf you want food when youre not hungry, stop and ask yourself why. Do you need to be comforted or relieve anxiety? Are you fidgety and want something to occupy your attention? Are you feeling ignored or like your best efforts are failing? Pinning down the source of your stress can help you find constructive ways to deal with the root cause instead of relying on food as a temporary fix.
2) Know Your TriggersCertain activities, situations and people can cause undue stress and trigger emotional eating. You may develop an unconscious routine of using food to make yourself feel better after an encounter with one of your triggers. Over time, you come to associate these foods with comfort and the foods themselves may trigger overeating. The best way to address both issues is to make a clean break with as many triggers as you can, including removing problematic foods from the house.
3) Have an Alternate PlanKnowing in advance how you want to combat stress instead of eating gives you a powerful weapon for fighting emotional triggers. Some common tactics include:
- Engaging in gentle activity like stretching or yoga
- Going for a walk, taking a bike ride, or performing other low-impact exercise
- Journaling your thoughts and feelings regarding a stressful event
Things To Do Instead Of Stress
If you’ve ever been in a situation where you couldn’t stop snacking because of a stressful event you were going through, you’ve engaged in an activity also known as stress-eating. Induced by the wrong hormones in your body, it’s not really the best for your overall health and wellbeing, so here’s what you can do instead and curb those cravings.
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