We have been discussing moderation and mindfulness. Click here for a quick refresher.
As we dig deeper into mindfulness, we need to examine stress eating.
We rarely recognize when we are stress eating. I have experienced this myself. The day is going great, then something stressful happens and I find myself opening the refrigerator and cabinet doors. How do we stop before we are elbow deep in the cookies and chips?
To be mindful about what we are eating, we need to get in touch with the body’s signals, like hunger and cravings.
CRAVINGS: Cravings are felt in the head, and can arise from boredom, and the need for a reward or distraction. Stress is another cause of cravings and might take the form of wanting something sweet or salty right away. Cravings are mental, emotional, and habitual.
Stress eating is triggered by certain sights, smells, people, or emotions. The process is automatic, and you are usually not aware of what is triggering it. You might find yourself in front of the cabinet or refrigerator, reaching for something and wondering “Why am I eating this?” If you start to pay attention, you might realize these cravings come after a difficult meeting at work, or after talking to your mom, or watching the news.
HUNGER: On the other hand, hunger is felt in the gut. It is the physical sensation of a grumbling stomach or feeling a little shaky or dizzy. You can trust it to tell you it is time to eat.
Can you recognize the difference for you? Mindfulness is “noticing and naming” what is going on IN THE MOMENT. Learn the difference between hunger and cravings and between hunger and stress eating.
Eating feels good and offers a temporary solution to stress. It helps us forget our stress for the moment. The problem is the feeling is temporary and will not solve our problem.
When we experience emotional eating and the guilt that follows it, it is so easy to give and say “Well I give up. I’m going to eat everything now.”
Here is where I can help you.
3 Strategies to Deal with Stress Eating.
Go Ahead and Overeat.
Many of our thoughts, emotions and actions happen automatically. Habits develop from years of practice until all we need is a trigger to set off our stress eating. It does not require the brain to make decisions.
Next time it happens, give yourself permission to eat. Use it as a learning experience, without judgment. Write down what happens and how you feel before, during and after. This will help you identify triggers. It will also help to remove the guilt and shame around overeating. Also, because you are “allowed to eat,” it becomes less urgent, the cravings are less and often manageable. You will find you can eat 1 or 2 cookies instead of the whole box.
Review your notes. Do you notice a pattern? Once you are aware of the trigger, you can make choices. You can decide if this is something you can avoid. Even If you cannot avoid the trigger, you can become aware that it is happening.
Create a Menu of Alternatives.
Make a list of options that you can use before stress eating. Things that will help with the stress, but also break the trigger-stress cycle:
- Take deep, cleansing breaths.
- Drink more water.
- Check for signs of hunger.
- Play with your dog or children. Call or text your partner or friend.
- Listen to a favorite song. What gets you pumped up? Or more relaxed?
- Get up. Go for a short walk. Do a few stretches.
- Spend a few minutes on housework or organizing your desk.
We are using a delay and distract strategy. Oftentimes we think we are hungry, when in fact we just need to drink some water. Make it easy for yourself. Keep water on your desk. Cut up vegetables in the fridge. Most important, keep this list nearby for when you need it.
Remember, you do not have to use it every time. We are not aiming for perfection. Try it and see how you feel. You can still have a snack. A better alternative when snacking is to measure out the portion, put it in a bowl, sit down and enjoy it mindfully.
Often when we are stress eating, we will use negative self-talk before, during and after. It reinforces the trigger – stress eating – feeling bad cycle.
Self-compassion can help break that loop. It can interrupt the “screw it” feeling that leads to over-eating.
- Giving yourself a break.
- Being honest about your problems.
- Being kind to yourself.
How do we practice self-compassion?
- Mindfulness – being aware of what we are doing but not judging ourselves.
- Knowing that stress happens to everyone.
- Self-kindness. We should treat ourselves like we treat our loved ones.
Before stress eating, you can use mindfulness and self-kindness to break the cycle.
After stress eating, use kindness to remove the guilt and shame that can lead to binging.
Remember, self-compassion is not:
- Eating whatever you want all the time.
- Ignoring your problems.
So, let us not use food to bury your feelings and our problems. Let us use strategies to opt-out of the stress eating cycle.
Do you need help with your nutrition? Do not know what to eat or where to start? Schedule a Nutrition Coaching Consultation with Dr. Hessel! Follow the link here to get started: www.drhesselmd.com/nutrition