Stress Eating: When Emotional Eating Hurts

by Marsha Hudnall

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Recognize Your Stress Eating Characteristics

Stress Leads to Emotional Eating in Women  | Why Stress eating causes women to overeat

Do you find yourself reaching for a snack when you are:

Anxious?
You’re worried about what might happen, what didn’t happen, what you want to happen, what you don’t want to happen?

Bored?
There’s nothing to do and so much time to not do it in.

Unhappy?
Things just aren’t working out the way you want them to, and you’re looking for a little comfort.

Tired?
You’re dragging and need a boost?

Or do other feelings send you (often without realizing it) straight to the cookie jar?

When Stress Eating Becomes A Problem

You’re not alone. In fact, eating in response to emotions is part of normal eating. It’s just when emotional eating is your primary — or even only — way to cope with stress that it becomes a problem. And that’s typical of people who struggle with weight.

Whether it be due to feelings of deprivation that send them to food in times of difficulty, or something else we don’t understand, people who “watch their weight” tend to be most susceptible to emotional eating or stress eating. And of course, emotional eating doesn’t always take care of the stress. It frequently adds to it.

Five Stress Eating Strategies

Consider these steps for taking charge of emotional eating or stress eating.

1Eat Regularly

When we skip meals, or go too long between meals, we set ourselves up for emotional eating struggles. It’s important to support our physical self if we want to manage our emotional self.

2Keep A Food Diary

Note what, when and how much you eat, and how you feel before and after.  Note whether you are hungry when you begin eating. Tip: Forget judgments. The purpose isn’t to ‘control’ your eating; it’s to discover your patterns. Often we aren’t aware when we eat in response to emotions or stress; it’s become a habit.

3Create A List Of Habit Busters and Keep It Handy

You can keep them in a cookie jar or your drawer at work. The best habit busters take less than five minutes and you can use more than one at a time. Some examples are taking a brisk walk around the building (or wherever you find yourself) when you encounter a mid-afternoon urge that has nothing to do with physical hunger. To manage feelings of loneliness, keep a list of good friends you can call for a pick-me-up. For a longer fix for loneliness, seek out places to volunteer that will get you out and feeling better.

4Manage Stress

Stay active with regular physical activities such as walking, swimming, biking, skiing, dancing, whatever you like that keeps you moving. Add regular relaxation techniques such as mindful meditation, yoga, Tai Chi or the like. Practice breathing — yes, breathing. Breathing exercises can reduce anxiety, depression, irritability, muscle tension and fatigue.

5Eat Mindfully

One of the primary principles of mindful eating is to eat when you are hungry, and don’t eat when you’re not (at least most of the time). Check in before you eat to see if you’re physically hungry. If not, then try something else to help you relax. Also, times when we reach for food when we’re not hungry serve as a signal to us that something’s up. While you may not be able to do it 100% of the time, in the waiting, the sitting, the watching as you wait to get hungry, you may be able to attend to what’s underneath the eating.

Finding A Healthier Way To Cope With Stress

Finally, it helps to realize that eating in response to stress has been a lifesaver for many of us. It served as a way to take care of ourselves. But at some point, it may have begun to hurt more than it helped. If that’s true for you, these steps can help you develop new habits that will support your well-being.

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