Your poor, unsuspecting fridge. One minute it’s just sitting there, doing its thing, and the next it’s being completely ransacked by a crazed person on a mission – aka, YOU.
Because you just had the WORST.DAY.EVER. You need junk food, and you need it now. Pity the person who tries to get in your way.
Stress eating has gripped us all at one point or another. Usually, it’s when we’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or just plain tired. Logic tells us to put that sugary snack down and sloooowly back away … but our stomach wins every time. We keep eating and eating, ignoring all STOP signs. And while we may feel great in the moment, the guilt quickly sets in afterward. That’s right – more stress.
Sure, the odd binge won’t kill you. But if you want to get your stress eating under control – for both your mental and physical well-being – these six tips can help:
1. Face Your Demons
Thought we’d start with something nice and light, right? Nah … we’re going to go deep here!
When you stress eat, you’re not doing it to fill a physical need. Your body isn’t screaming, “Hey, you haven’t fed me in days! Bring on the grub!” You’re doing it to fill an emotional void. You want that tub of ice cream or bag of chips to make that bad better. And momentarily, it does! When you eat sugary comfort foods, the reward system in your brain gets activated and you feel great. Stress? What stress?
But how do you feel afterward?
Unless you have a magic wand, the underlying issue – the thing that got you stressed in the first place – is still there. So, whether it’s a heavy workload, difficult relationship, or any other situation that’s causing you grief, you need to confront the problem. Only then will you be able to help tame those massive kitchen raids.
2. Limit Temptation
If junk food is your downfall in times of stress, then you need to take an “out of sight, out of mind,” approach. This starts at the grocery store. Do your best to stick to the perimeter of the store, where healthier, fresher foods can be found. If you fill the bulk of your cart with overly processed or sugary items, that’s exactly what you’ll reach for when cravings hit. Remove the temptation, and you’ll be forced to go a healthier route.
On that note, one way to tell if you’re eating for hunger or eating for stress is seeing WHAT you gravitate towards. If you’re genuinely famished, you’ll be happy to eat anything – including fruits, veggies, and high-protein snacks. If you’re eating for comfort, then you’ll likely want one thing and one thing ONLY. So before the damage is done, pause and ask yourself: What am I really eating for?
3. Ditch the Crazy Diets
It’s been shown that nearly 50% of individuals are on a diet at any given time.* That’s a whole lotta people trying to get lean through often-drastic nutritional measures. Monitoring what you eat is one thing, but when fad diets have you slashing calories or boycotting entire food groups, you’re in trouble. You’ll find yourself feeling more tired, irritable, and desperate for the foods you’re not “allowed” to have. In short, you’ll be the worst kind of HANGRY – the kind on the brink of a giant binge.
Watch what you eat, of course. But don’t completely deprive yourself of food that delights you. Instead, allow yourself the occasional treat, and stick with a well-balanced, nutrient-dense meal plan to help keep cravings at bay.
4. Move It and Groove It
Have you ever had to push yourself to go to the gym? If you can honestly answer “no,” to this question, then we salute you! For the rest of us humans, there are times when the urge to exercise isn’t so strong. But when we do go, boy does it feel good afterward! We walk out feeling like we can take on the world! Any stress we had pre-workout is all but a distant memory.
Moral of the story: Exercise is a far better coping mechanism than stress eating. Not only does it send happy, stress-fighting chemicals to your brain, it also helps you become fitter and more confident in the process. So when that urge to hunker down on the couch with a lapful of junk food hits, opt for exercise instead. Gym or no gym, any heart-pumping activity will do!
5. Rally Your Friends
Countless studies have shown that people who have strong social relationships tend to be happier, healthier, and live longer. Conversely, people who have limited social support tend to experience more anxiety, depression, and feelings of stress.
Rather than heading straight for your kitchen at the end of a bad day, try heading out with close friends instead. You’ll be amazed at how being around others can give you the same quick “high” that comfort food can.
Or, maybe you just want to slide into your fuzzy PJs and stay in for the night. That’s OK too. A simple text or call to a friend can give you the outlet you need.
When it comes to relationships, just remember it’s all about quality over quantity. It’s not how many friends you have, but how deep those friendships are. If you can’t get past the “Nice weather today, huh?” chit chat, then you should probably lean into someone else for more meaningful support.
6. And When All Else Fails … Distract, Distract, Distract
If you feel a massive stress-eating binge coming on, find a happy equivalent to distract you. Maybe it’s taking a hot bath, reading a good book, or quietly meditating. Whatever brings you joy AND keeps you away from the kitchen will do the trick!
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.