If stress sends you running to food for comfort, resulting in unwanted weight gain, then to lose weight and keep it off the trick is to learn how to stop stress eating.
How Stress and Eating Are Connected
People who don't have a problem with stress eating may not see how stress and eating are connected, but it is a problem common to many. Often the cravings that sabotage and derail our weight loss efforts strike when we hit an emotionally weak moment. For those who eat when under stress, the problem is that we turn to food for comfort and stress relief when life seems to be out of control. Eating is the mechanism used to give us a sense that we do have some small measure of control and we use it to cope. The problem is that the foods we turn to tend to be high in calories.
Emotions and Stress Eating
While it's easy to recognize negative stress, like when we are under financial pressure, facing a serious health issue, a broken relationship or stress related to our job, there are also good times in life that are just as stressful. For example, planning a wedding, buying a new home or changing to a new job can all be good things that still create stress in our lives. As our emotions take us on a roller coaster, turning to food to help us to feel better is nothing more than a momentary relief. Once the food is gone and the reality of how much we've eaten sets in, it can put us into a downward spiral and back to the cookie jar!
How to Stop Stress Eating
Once you recognize the problem of emotional eating and how you use it to deal with stress, it is possible to take steps to help stay on track with your weight loss plan. Before you take a bite of food between meals, ask yourself if you are really hungry or if you are using the food as a distraction from how you are feeling. If your real goal is to lose weight, then ask yourself if eating that food will help you lose weight. Taking these simple steps before you eat can help rein in your emotions long enough to look at what you are doing logically. Each time you defeat the urge to stress eat, you'll feel a sense of freedom that will strengthen your resolve as you build new habits to deal with stress.
Learn to Manage Your Stress
One key to prevent stress eating is to learn to deal with stress in other ways.
- Exercise: While you may not feel you have time for exercise, making the time offers benefits that are both physical as well as mental. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise has been shown to improve mood and reduce stress.
- Meditation: Meditation takes on many different roles. Yoga offers relaxation techniques and is a good way to add exercise and meditation to your life to help relieve stress.
- Make Time to Relax: Life is busy, and if you fill every moment with things that must be done, stress builds. Take time to do something relaxing. This can be as simple as scheduling time to read a book or take a bubble bath. Even 20 minutes of relaxation can make a big difference.
Tips for How to Stop Stress Eating
These tips can help break your stress eating habit.
Ask yourself whether or not you are really hungry before you eat: Often we crave certain foods to make us "feel better" and help us through negative emotions related to stress. Before you eat that food, set the timer for 15 minutes and see if you still want to eat it after the time has elapsed.
Keep a food journal: Journaling is a therapeutic exercise. Writing down what you eat and how much you eat along with the feelings experienced at the time can help you see the relation between your mood and eating patterns. A food journal can also help you see how to break those patterns.
Stock your kitchen for success: When you go to the grocery store, don't buy items you know will tempt you. If your comfort foods are not easily accessible, you will be less likely to eat them during times of stress.
If you have tried these approaches to breaking the habit of emotional eating but still need help, you may want to share your struggle with an accountability partner. Find someone who will support you in your efforts or join a support group to help you learn to deal with stress in ways other than food. Sometimes it helps just to have someone to talk to.