We’ve all done it. Found our hand at the bottom of an empty bag of chips wondering how that happened. Maybe not chips but possibly some cookies, candy, or fried item? Regret follows and sometimes some more food. In the heat of the moment we think it will make us feel better or maybe we didn’t think about it at all? Maybe the decision was unconscious? Is this a part of how we’ve programmed ourselves to respond?
Stressful scenarios tend to cause a fight or flight response within us. Often times we choose flight and when we do, our instincts kick-in. Instincts being the mode of operation that we’ve trained ourselves to take. Trained so effectively that we don’t even have to think about it. For many of us, our stress response leads us to the nearest item of comfort food there is. It’s usually unhealthy, not on our meal plan, and often unaccounted for when we reflect back on what we ate for the day. Then we wonder why we’re not achieving our goals.
Overcoming this stress response is difficult. We have to take ourselves from a place of “out of control” to a place of being completely in control. That takes time. Here are some strategies that might help you not just overcome this scenario the next time it pops up but put a habit in place that changes the way you respond to stress and the desire to eat when you are.
First, let’s talk about replacement ideas. Stress eating crushes our goals because the calories that we consume are unplanned and in excess of our daily intake requirements. If calories in become more than calories out, we gain unwanted bodyfat. Next time you feel stressed and want to eat, try this first. Chug a large glass of water, 16-20 ounces. Wait 3 minutes. If you’re feeling hungry, go for it. Another concept, trigger foods. Oftentimes our go to’s when stressed are actually trigger foods. When we eat them we can’t stop ourselves from continuing. I’ve had to soak my hands in soapy water before trying to get the dye from the flaming hot cheetos off of my fingertips. If you have a problem with trigger foods, always have your favorite fruit in stock and visible with you. If you feel stressed and want to eat, eat your fruit first. Wait 1 minute. If after the fruit you still want the trigger, do it, or go get it. An apple just might save you from taking in 800-1000 unwanted calories!
This next action is actually fun and can be applied to more than just food. Start an “I hate” and “I love” list on your phone. Everytime you stress eat something, take note of how you feel after. If you hate how that food made you feel, write it on the “I hate” list. If you love how you felt put it on the “I Love” list. The simple act of documenting will make you more aware of your decisions. We’re aiming to eliminate habitual and unconscious decision making around eating. And if you’re like me you hate making the same mistake twice. A little visit to the I Hate list when stressed just might prevent this!
My favorite strategy, get outside. Often stress is caused from being cooped up all day long in front of screens. The internet causes so many negative emotions of envy, overwhelm, and lack. Work has us on a computer, a phone, and an ipad too. Humans were not designed to interact on screens. Take a step outside and breathe the fresh air. Vitamin from natural and direct sunlight is a great stress reducer. Get in tune with nature and you may find that your worries don’t seem so overwhelming anymore!
Finally, and the toughest one, is to stop yourself dead in your tracks. When you feel stressed, and before going to food, take a 1-5 minute break or action. Accept that you’re feeling stressed. Then reflect. On a sheet of paper’s left side, quickly write down everything that is on your mind. Then on the right side categorize each under “In my control” and “Out of my control.” Let what’s out of your control go. Focus on what you can control, then further compartmentalize each item as urgent or not urgent. The urgent items, decide to complete them now or figure out who can help you. The non urgent, set a note to put them in your calendar to be done later or a reminder to put in the calendar on another day. If you’re still stressed, have a snack. At least you may have identified why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling and have taken the time to make a conscious decision instead of relying on old faulty habits.
I hope this helps you the next time you find yourself in a tough spot and are hoping a snack will make it all better. It won’t so if you can, don’t.