The past year has been stressful without a doubt. We have been isolated and put in unprecedented situations. It is no surprise that I have heard multiple people say stress eating has become a problem. It can be a challenge to address because it is easy to be unaware you are doing it until after the fact. By the time we do realize it, we often feel guilt, shame, and say horrible things to ourselves. Below are some helpful tips to address stress eating.
1. Before grabbing food pause and check in to see if you are physically hungry. This can help you become more self-aware and identify if you are physically hungry or if you are grabbing food out of stress or other reasons. Creating this awareness gives you the option to choose to eat or not. As you are first starting this, do not worry about your decision to eat regardless of hunger level. Consider it a win if you pause and check in to see if you are physically hungry. Once this becomes a habit you can address the decision piece. This quick check in can also help you to notice patterns. Maybe Thursday is your stressful day at work and you always hit the drive-thru instead of eating what you had planned at home. Once you notice this you can work to create a solution.
2. If you’ve paused and have identified you are grabbing food out of stress, take 3 slow breathes and notice your body position. Try to make your exhale twice as long as your inhale. As you are noticing your body position, be aware of the tension in your neck and shoulders. Are your shoulders up by your eats? Are your arms crossed? Are your teeth clenched? What are your legs doing? Where ever your body is holding the tension, think about relaxing with each exhale. It’s hard to become less stressed if we keep our posture in it stressed state.
3. Do a non-food activity. If you’ve identified that you want to eat out of stress, do an activity that you enjoy and does not include food. Here are some ideas:
- Go on a walk
- Talk with a friend
- Take a bath
- Play a game
- Take a nap
- Read a book
- Listen to music
- Practice a daily gratitude
- Do one of your favorit hobbies
4. Address the stress. We all have those one off stressful days where a “non-food activity” works great, but if you start to notice a pattern, it is helpful to address the issue(s) causing the reoccurring stress. Start by getting curious about what is causing the stress. This can help you know what actions can be the most helpful. That may mean talking to the person involved in the stressful situation, getting better at time management, talking to a counselor, uncluttering a space, setting boundaries, delegating tasks you do not need to do, or asking for help. In the example of Thursdays always being a stressful day a work, doing HeadSpace (a mediation app) for 3 minutes in your office or car (before driving) could be a helpful tool to leave that stress at work and enjoy your evening at home. Rearranging the work day or better time management could also help address the issue in this situation. Addressing the stress may be uncomforatble, but it is the most important step for long term success and will even help you to grow as a perosn.
5. Create a more mindful eating environment by reserving eating for the kitchen or dining room table. It is not uncommon when we are eating out of stress to stand in front of the fridge or pantry or zone out on the couch with our food of choice. If we sit at a table, we have to make the choice to get up, plate out food, and sit in a space without a TV. It helps us to be present focusing on the food we are eating. It also gives us the opportunity to slow down and use all five senses to really enjoy our food.
If you’ve been stress eating start with self-awareness. It’s not trying to have more willpower after a stressful day to repeatedly saying no to food. The great thing is we have the power to become more self-aware. We can slow down, get curious, and ask ourselves questions. We can change our situation. We can choose to lean in and address our stress. If we feel lost and don’t know where to begin, we can ask for help.