No matter how dedicated you are to your healthy diet, everyone stress eats sometimes. The key to learning how to stop stress eating is not to never, ever eat due to stress (because we're human and that's unrealistic). Rather, the key is to not make food your default for all the ails you.
The truth is that there is nothing wrong with finding comfort from food--it is comforting and nourishing and good for you. The last thing we want to do is make anyone feel guilty about eating.
We need to eat. Eating is good for us. Eating whole, clean foods is obviously better for us than eating junk, but on occasion, junk food can have a place in a healthy, balanced lifestyle too.
STRESS EATING DOESN’T STOP STRESS--IT ADDS TO IT
The problem with stress eating is that it's a psychological response and you can't use food to subdue non-physical hunger. You may enjoy the food, but more often than not, the problem--whatever is stressing you out--will still be there, nagging at you along with a hefty serving of indigestion and remorse.
Today I'm going to show you how to stop stress eating by giving you insight into how to get to the root of the problem. Or, at the very least, teaching you how to find a way to release pressure instead of adding to it with an unhappy digestive system.
1. UNDERSTANDING PSYCHOLOGICAL HUNGER
Learning how to stop stress eating starts with learning about psychological hunger.
Psychological hunger is a conditioned or external response rather than a real, physiological need.
You want to eat because you've been conditioned to eat at a certain time or because you're stressed out or sad or tired or angry or happy or just because there's delicious food in front of you. But what you are not is truly hungry.
Real hunger is when your stomach is grumbling or when you feel light-headed or queasy and irritable. Of course, some of these symptoms, like feeling queasy and irritable, are also signs of stress, so you have to be able to differentiate between the two using the other symptoms.
For instance, if you just ate but feel like you could eat again simply because you're irritated, that's psychological hunger.
If you ate a couple of hours ago and are feeling irritated and experiencing one or more other signs of physical hunger, like experiencing stomach rumbles, then you likely need to eat.
2. UNDERSTANDING CRAVINGS
When we’re stressed, our bodies perceive a threat and as such, crave fast energy in case they need to fight or run. It’s a pretty primal response, and it can completely throw off our commitment to cleaner eating.
So, when something has you strung out, wanting to shove your face with sugary treats is a normal, natural response, but--unless you’re actually in mortal danger--one you don’t need to indulge.
Instead, try drinking a big glass of water or some herbal tea. A coffee with some stevia and cinnamon is also a great way to get some calorie-free sweetness, while also balancing your blood sugar. However, if you’re having trouble sleeping, limit the coffee to before noon and instead use stevia and cinnamon in a tea or fruit-infused water.
3. TRY TO IDENTIFY THE SOURCE OF YOUR STRESS
Next, you’re going to try to find out what the hell is stressing you out. Sometimes, it’s a combination of things and sometimes, it’s just one. Regardless, being able to bring that source to light is a great way to identify the problem.
You may not be able to fix it right away, like if the problem is a pain in the butt teenager or obnoxious coworker, but once you know what the problem is, you will be able t take steps toward making changes.
And some of those changes can start occurring immediately, which leads to our next point.
4. MASTER THE ART OF DISTRACTION
A change of perspective can work wonders to calm you down and keep your hand out of the cookie jar. Eating obviously is a distraction many people use, but one that, as we’ve discussed, can create a dangerous dependency in the long-run.
Instead, distract yourself with a non-edible alternative. Go for a walk. Knit. Have a bath. Read a book. Sit in the sunshine. Clean. Watch some TV. Call someone you’ve been meaning to chat with. If you haven’t worked out, do that. Do something other than eat that you enjoy. Not only will this distract you, but it will reinforce that eating is not the only pleasure in life and remind you that next time you are tempted to stress eat, there are other pleasant alternatives.
We cannot overstate the importance of sleep in helping you stop stress eating. Sleep is when you're body resets and rejuvenates itself. It's when hormones are rebalanced and cortisol--the stress hormone--is returned to a healthy level. But, if you don't get enough sleep, this reset doesn't happen properly.
How much sleep is enough?
7-9 hours is the recommended amount for adults. Don't compromise on your shut eye. Make sleep a priority and you’ll see a noticeable decline in your urge to eat your body weight in bon bons when life gets chaotic.
6. DON’T SWEAT IT IF YOU STRESS EAT
Let’s reiterate the first point we made in this article: we’re human and we’re not perfect. Even when you do everything right, you’ll sometimes stress eat. We can try to get to get enough sleep, and identify our issues and distract ourselves but dammit--life isn't as simple as a how-to guide and the multitudes and possible combinations of stressors and wild cards is practically infinite. You cannot possibly be expected to be on the ball, all the time.
So, if you do stress eat, relax. Move on. Learn something from the experience if there is something to be learned but if it was just a total, unpredictable chance that led you to the point where you found yourself digging into your second pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream, then that's okay.
That's more than okay. It's all part of living an authentic, beautiful and messy life.
How do you stop stress eating? Share in the comments!