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When we experience uncomfortable emotions, especially stress, anxiety, loneliness and anger, our instinctive reaction is to avoid the negative feelings altogether. For some that might mean using food as a way to re-shift your focus onto something you feel you might have more control over in that moment. The issue with this is that food only serves to provide a temporary relief for your discomfort, and the issues that brought along the desire to reach out for food in the first place don’t actually get resolved. Now you’re left dealing with the aftermath of a stress eating episode, including feelings of shame and guilt.
If this sounds a lot like you, you are not alone. I have provided some things you can do to help you get through those stressful moments without turning to food.
1. Get back in your body and allow yourself to feel
One great way to begin to stop this cycle of eating is by allowing yourself to feel whatever emotions that are coming up instead of avoiding them. Deliberately and consciously try to get back into your body, feeling your hands, legs, feet, and even try to notice where in your body you might be feeling the negative emotions. Once you have identified where you are feeling the emotions, allow yourself to feel it. Surrender to the feeling and take slow, deep breaths. Ask yourself, What is driving this hunger? What is it that I need? I always find I am less likely to stress eat when I take time to understand what I’m feeling and then think about what I might do instead.
2. Make a to-do list
Instead of stress eating, write a list of all the things you want to accomplish including action items for the day AND at least one pleasant thing you will do just for you. You can make this a daily habit. I do this every morning and feel a real sense of accomplishment when I set small daily goals for myself which I get to check off from my list!
3. Call a friend and went
As human beings, we all share that longing to be seen and heard. Sometimes when we’re stressed, it’s helpful to let out our frustrations and feelings and have someone be present for us and listen. Instead of turning to food the next time you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed, try and call a friend. Tell them how you’re feeling. Let it all out. I find connecting with someone I know and trust when I feel stressed can make a huge difference. By the time I get off the phone I find the urge to stress eat goes away and I can actually focus on what needs to be done in the present moment.
Maybe your friends are not around and you can’t really phone anyone up. Don’t worry, you can always pull out a pen and paper or grab your phone and use the notepad app to let off some steam. Writing is a fantastic way to help you connect to your feelings and decompress. When you notice the urge to eat coming up, try writing for ten minutes. Check-in with yourself and ask yourself what you are feeling and how you can resolve the issues that are creating stress in more productive ways.
5. Change up the scene
Notice where you are when you find yourself wanting to stress eat, and remove yourself from the situation (even if it’s for a few minutes!). Change things up a bit. This might mean leaving the kitchen or office and going into another room. Or even something as simple as sitting in a different chair might help you gain a new perspective on things.
Think back to the last time you wanted to stress eat. Were you on the highway passing through your favourite drive-thru on your way home from work? Maybe you were at home alone? Take notice of your stress eating rituals and try to break the familiar routine by changing your environment.
6. Pamper yourself
The next time you feel like eating food to cope with stress, try to do something pleasant for your body that engages it in one or more of the 5 senses to re-shift your focus onto nurturing yourself instead. Make yourself a cup of warm soup or tea. Take a hot shower or bubble bath and put on some nice smelling lotion. Slip into some comfy clothing and read one of your favorite books! Not only will your body feel amazing but you’ll leave feeling empowered that you fought off the urge to stress eat.