Stress eating occurs when we eat in response to a stress signal instead of a hunger signal. It is reaching for food to calm our nerves, soothe our sadness, chase away boredom or buffer against other emotions we are uncomfortable with.
When we stress eat we are usually reaching for sugary and/or salty foods. It’s often food we eat with our hands. Hand to mouth eating frequently occurs without much awareness or mindfulness.
Tips to Help Decrease Stress Eating:
1) Being Body Aware – This means getting in touch with your body. Get back into your body, get grounded, get centered. Are you truly hungry? Pay attention to what sensations are going on in your body. Has your heart rate increased? Do you have butterflies in your stomach? Are you feeling fragmented and disassociated in your body? Feeling out of sync between body and mind?
You can bring yourself back to center by concentrating on your breath. Put one hand on your chest and one on your belly and breathe in deeply. Is the breath going to the upper chest area or the belly? You want the breath to go into the low belly. By doing this you engage the parasympathetic system (aka rest and digest) and reduce the sympathetic system (aka fight or flight).
2) Exercise your emotional muscle – Emotions are energy in motion. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions. We need to let emotions flow and we need to express them. When we don’t do this we “eat our emotions” with food. Emotional eaters tend to eat foods that are nutrient poor (junk food) instead of nutrient rich (veggies, fruits, healthy fats, lean proteins).
Keep a check on your feelings. One way to do this is to check in with family and friends. Be real about your emotions as this allows others to feel comfortable to open up with you as well. Journaling is also a great tool for expressing your emotions.
3) Developing alternatives – Rather than engaging in stress eating come up with alternatives. Make a list of 5 things that you can do instead of eat when you are not really hungry but are craving food due to emotions. Some ideas: call a friend, physical movement, journaling, nap, read a good book, organize a drawer in your kitchen or bathroom.
4) Having healthy foods available – If you can’t fight the urge to eat, make the best choices with the cravings you have. Ideas: avocado for someone who craves fat, fruit for someone that craves sugar, cacao powder in water for someone who craves chocolate, olives for someone who craves salt.
5) Fueling your body with real food – Be sure you are getting lots of nutrients so you are not vulnerable to the effects of stress. Food modulates our mood and if we stick with whole unprocessed foods our mood will be better and we won’t feel as stressed.
Your Partner In Health!
Sara Yadlowsky, FMHC