Skip to Content

Conquer stress and emotional eating

popcorn.jpg

Whether you're happy, sad or somewhere in between, "feeding your feelings" can be a sign that you're not dealing with stress appropriately.

While it's normal to sometimes use food to cheer yourself up, this can easily turn into a coping mechanism for people who are prone to eating disorders.

"Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than hunger," Jane Jakubczak, a registered dietitian at the University of Maryland, told Web MD. "Instead of the physical symptom of hunger initiating the eating, an emotion triggers the eating."

Identifying Stressors

The first step to conquer stress and emotional eating is to identify what your stressors are. Is it work, your marriage, your kids or some other aspect of your life that is creating internal chaos? Make an effort to start keeping a record of situations that trigger the stress response. Then keep notes on what your eating habits are like on days where you are experiencing the most stress. It will probably become clear that the more stressed you are, the worse your dietary habits are. To take this a step further, try to identify your top three to five major stressors that trigger emotional eating.

Coping with Stress

After you've identified what your stressors actually are, it's time to learn how to cope with them effectively. Since stress – not hunger – is the root of emotional eating habits, dealing with these triggers is the only way to reform your behavior. Common ways to alleviate stress include: deep breathing, exercise, taking a warm bath, listening to your favorite music, going for a walk, venting to a friend or doing something tactile, like knitting, gardening or cooking. Find the methods that work best for you. Realize that coping with stress is something you must learn and practice; it won't change things overnight. But as you start developing healthier responses in times of stress, you will turn to food less frequently.

What Are You Craving?

According to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center, emotional hunger brings about cravings for a specific type of food, while real, physical hunger makes you open to a variety of foods. Consider what foods you crave during times of stress, and work to eliminate these foods from your pantry or refrigerator. Simply identifying that you want pizza and wine every time you sit in bad traffic after work, for example, can help you realize the craving is probably emotional, not physical.

Create Healthy Comfort Foods

Food doesn't have to be the enemy when it comes to stress. Furthermore, it's OK to turn to "comfort food" when you need a little boost – so long as those foods are healthy. Learn to make healthier versions of your favorite comfort food dishes. A habit of McDonald's french fries can be replaced by making your own baked potato wedges in the oven, or a chocolate cake craving can be curbed with a piece of dark chocolate. When you start to associate the ability to find comfort even in healthy foods, you'll be even more empowered to cope with stress in a productive way. Just be careful you're not eating when physical hunger isn't there.

"If you eat when you are not hungry, chances are your body does not need the calories," said Jakubczak. "If this happens too often, the extra calories get stored as fat, and too much fat storage can cause one to be overweight, which may present some health risks."

Source: Web MD