10 ideas to control stress eating

icecreamcontainersAnger, anxiety, depression and frustration – all causes of stress eating.

We live stressed out lives.  And we’re surrounded by a ready-to-eat, tasty high calorie food supply.  Put the two together and the stage is set for overeating and weight gain.  Many of us have experienced that toxic combination.  The authors of a new study tried to measure it.  Thousands of older adults were surveyed for eating habits and stress levels.  Results were unsurprising: higher levels of stress were linked to higher calorie intake from fats, fast food and high fat snack foods.

Stress eating isn’t an enjoyable experience if it makes your weight problems worse.  In which case, you probably would rather stop the behavior, because sadly, stress eating can be another cause of stress.  What can you do?  My best advice is to start drawing a line in the eating behavior sand, and exert mindful control over a behavior that may be driven by a combination of emotion and brain chemistry and habit.  This isn’t going to be easy, and probably won’t always be successful.  Stress eating may start as an emotional reaction, but it quickly becomes an ingrained habit.  You probably won’t ever be “cured” of this tendency, but at least if you recognize it, you can work on strategies for change.

With the stressful holiday season coming, starting an anti-stress-eating plan might seem futile.  Holiday stress eating is compounded by the fact that there is so much more food around.  In many cases, once-a-year treats you may not want to miss.  On the other hand, what better time to give it a try?  What have you got to lose?  Here are some ideas that might help you get stress eating under control:

  1. Don’t skip meals and let yourself get hungry.  That just makes you more vulnerable to stress eating.
  2. Keep known stress eating foods out of your home.
  3. Do not eat while driving or grocery shopping.
  4. Do not eat while standing up.
  5. Do not eat food straight out of the packages or containers.  Put food on a plate first.
  6. Do not make food purchasing trips deliberately to buy high calorie binge foods, whether to a local bakery, fast food restaurant, grocery store or convenience store.
  7. Exercise, preferably daily.  Vigorous aerobic activity can be calming and improve your mood.
  8. Take up yoga, preferably a more meditative yoga that focuses on breathing and stretching
  9. Schedule time with friends, such as an afternoon coffee or tea break (without sugar and whipped cream), an evening spent watching a favorite TV show or some other fun activity.
  10. Recognize the people or situations in your life that cause you excess stress.  It’s likely you can’t do much about some of them (teenaged children, co-workers, a long commute, etc), but you can develop non-food coping strategies.  In other cases you may have more ability to limit your exposure to certain people or situations.

Even when you can’t control the source of stress, just acknowledging it can be helpful.  For example, you realize that every time you interact with a certain person at work, you feel compelled to hit the vending machines for candy bars.  You may not be able to avoid that person, but you can figure out a different way to react besides buying junky candy bars.  Go for a quick walk, climb some stairs, drink herb tea, eat an apple, or find a sympathetic person who doesn’t mind listening to you gripe.  Someday, if that person also needs help dealing with stress eating, you can be the one who listens.  When it comes to battling the stress eating habit, there can be strength in numbers.

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