6 Ways to Combat Stress Eating

In an ideal world, you would eat in much the same way you fuel your car — just as you pull into the gas station when your tank is getting low, you’d pull a chair up to the table and eat a nutritious meal only when you’re hungry. And just as your gas tank can only hold so much fuel, you wouldn’t eat more than your body requires to keep you energized until the next meal.

Unfortunately, when it comes to eating right, the average person tends to struggle from time to time. This is particularly true when stress levels are high, as they are for a reported one in four Americans at any given time.

Stress, the flood of hormones it releases, and the immediate soothing effects of high-fat or sugar-rich comfort foods really can push you to eat when you’re not hungry, just as it can lead you to overeat at mealtime.

Whether it’s a relationship conflict, health problems, job-related pressure, or financial trouble that triggers the desire to eat when you’re not hungry, chances are you don’t give much thought to what you’re doing until you’ve already polished off half a pint of ice cream.  

And while your impromptu snack may leave you feeling better for a few minutes, chances are those feelings of relief slowly dissolve into feelings of guilt every time. If you’re tired of giving in to mindless cravings whenever you feel stressed, these tips from our experts at 23 Sandstone Body and Mind Spa can help you break the cycle and regain control.  

Keep a food/mood diary

This deceptively simple idea may not require you to count every calorie or download a fancy app, but it’s still one of the most effective ways to get a better understanding of exactly how your mood influences your eating habits.

To keep a food/mood diary, all you have to do is write down what you eat, when you eat it, and what you were feeling or thinking about when you started eating. It may also be helpful to rate your premeal hunger levels to give yourself a more complete picture of your eating behaviors.  

Identify your triggers

Once you’ve determined the kinds of feelings that lead you to stress eat, it’s time to identify the specific stressors that trigger those emotions. While you may already be able to accurately detail the main sources of stress in your life, they aren’t necessarily one in the same as the exact things that trigger your stress response.

For example, you may already feel that your work is a source of stress, but your food/mood log can help you determine what your main source of work-related stress is falling behind on deadlines.      

Take five before you dive in

The very first step in mastering the skill of mindful eating is learning how to pause and take a few moments to reflect before you dive into an impromptu snack or second serving. Any time you reach for extra food, whether it’s between meals or when you’re sitting at the table, ask yourself if you’re truly hungry. While physical hunger tends to linger, emotional hunger pangs usually pass in a few minutes.

Find ways to calm your stress

Although effective stress relief means different things for different people, all methods, techniques, or approaches have one thing in common: They make you feel more relaxed and give you space and strength you need to stay in control of your actions, especially when trying to break an unwanted habit like stress eating.   

You may find that breathing exercises are an excellent way to tame stress — any time, anywhere. You may also find that carving out a few minutes each day to meditate helps you maintain focus when temptation is high. If you’re not one for sitting still, exercise can also be an ideal way to de-stress.

Revamp your diet, if necessary

Stress may be the main driver of your desire to eat when you’re not hungry, but it’s still important to take a good look at your overall diet to ensure it’s nutritionally sound and doesn’t help facilitate your access to junk food.

Even if you’re actively trying to lose weight, it’s best not to put too many limits on your food. Cutting your calories too much, focusing on bland foods, or foregoing all treats may just amplify your food cravings, especially when you’re stressed.

Instead, make sure your meals and snacks provide satisfying amounts of a variety of healthier foods and keep your cravings in check by giving yourself permission to enjoy the occasional treat. If you’re not sure where to start, our team offers one-on-one nutritional coaching to help you analyze and revamp your diet.  

Lean on friends and family

People who have a strong social network are less likely to give in to food cravings when stress levels rise because they can work through their feelings and relieve stress by talking with trusted friends or family members. If you don’t have solid social support, you may find that a support group can be just as helpful.  

For more strategies that can help you break the cycle of stress eating, call our office in Jackson, Tennessee, or use the easy online tool to schedule a consultation with Dr. McKee.

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