Even though there may be an evolutionary reason why we are tempted to eat when stressed, it isn’t a habit that benefits us. Stress eating is often the villain/antagonist behind weight gain or that stubborn, final four pounds. For many people, stress eating also allows them to avoid their stressors rather than focusing on finding a solution. Stress eating becomes a stressor in itself, creating an awful cycle, when it is a habit we want to break.
Most coping techniques were, at one point, functional to manage stress, but anything done to excess can be damaging. Grabbing a snack that can be quickly converted to glucose can help you think your way out of a problem, but a toll is taken on your waistline when overused. By the time you have gotten there, stress eating is a habit so stopping is slightly more complicated than admitting you have a problem. Awareness cannot just come after the deed is done, but must come prior to your actions if you want to change behavior.
Often it is easier and more effective to change a habit by replacing it with another more functional habit. It is necessary to your physical and mental health to manage stress and recover from the adrenaline response. Eating when stressed may not be the best choice for coping, but it’s likely what has become easiest for you. The following ideas can help you to stop stress eating by replacing stress eating with another healthier habit.
Another oral habit may be the easiest switch. Consider drinking water, sipping coffee/tea, or chewing gum when stressed instead of reaching for salty, sweet, or fatty foods. Chewing and swallowing (even if it is just your own saliva) can make you feel more full as well.
To prevent yourself from eating when stressed, you may need to do something else distracting. To keep your mind off of eating and what is stressing you, exercise or cleaning may be a healthy alternative for you. Cleaning also has the benefit of keeping your hands busy and away from snacks. Folding laundry seems like an excellent alternative to me. I wouldn’t want to risk dirtying my fresh laundry with crumbs.
Journaling or blogging can distract you, keep your hands busy, and help you process the stressor that is causing distress. By the time you finish writing, you may have found a solution and no longer need eating to cope with the stress.
One of my primary stress management and healthy living tips is to eat good food – as in healthy, good for you food. It is not the best solution to breaking a habit of stress eating because it will leave you open to more temptation to have something salty, sweet, or fatty ‘just this once’ at some point, but it may be the easiest switch. Think about almonds, berries, or other low calorie snacks.