A typical day when LiveLight members confront the challenges of stress eating can sound like this:
“Today was a tough day for good choices. I am under a lot of stress from many directions and this is my weak link. I can eat well socially or by myself but on emotionally stressful days, I want something crunchy and salty. So, I had some Pirate Booty.”
“While looking for a job and getting my new place settled, I’m super stressed and feeling really hungry throughout the day. Trying not to snack as best I can.”
For nearly everyone, the steady challenges of life (relationship conflicts, work stress, fatigue, finances, or health issues) trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating and undermine our health. Interestingly, while stress triggers you to eat, eating is only a brief distraction, and the emotions often return amplified by the stress eating and the personal frustration with undermining our health.
You can approach this from two sides: short-term solutions and long-term solutions.
Short-term solutions for stress eating
Create a visible feedback loop
Keep a stress/food diary. Record food and calories consumed during stressful times. This will make clear the impact of stress on your weight (an actual calorie value) and the benefit of uncoupling stress and eating.
Create a healthier replacement behavior
Try to drink two glasses of water and eat a large serving of vegetables before you put anything else in your mouth. Another option is to replace the vegetables with sugarless gum. Consuming 16 ounces of water and chopped salad or a bowl of broth and vegetables usually dampens the desire for more food. Appreciate that you are putting clean nourishment in your body and that this will bring you back to a healthy balance point, versus carbs that will feed the stress and drive you further away.
Long-term solutions for stress eating
Start with the obvious: get the tempting food out of the house and make healthy food ready to eat and at your fingertips. Roast your favorite vegetables with some tasty herbs and have them ready at your desk. Next, think about location. If you always eat in front of the TV or sitting unstructured in the kitchen, structure your vulnerable time with something that makes you feel satisfied, such as reading a book, completing a house project, or exercising.
Build in a mindfulness practice
To make a change at a deeper level, create a daily mindfulness practice consisting of a short period where you focus what you are doing instead of repeatedly processing and planning stressful events of the day. This can be when you shower or brush your teeth. During these windows, practice following your physical movements and letting go of processing or solving problems. I like the idea of coupling a mindfulness practice with something you already do because you don’t have to add anything to your day.
Mindfulness practice makes people more resilient by rendering them less responsive to stressors. In other words, stressors lose their ability to attach themselves to your mind in loops where you replay the same worries or frustrations repeatedly.
We are all stronger and less susceptible to emotional eating when connected to a group. That can include a doctor, a friend, or a group taking on the same challenge.
The path through a disruptive inconvenience often reveals a new and better way.