Stress + Stress = Food?

Stress can really get the better of us – sometimes in unexpected ways.

From January to April, I had been dealing with stressful situations at work and the pressure that comes with also working part-time as a consultant.  Although I kept going to the gym, my eating behaviors changed. At about 10:30 p.m., I would eat. Lots. Without realizing it, I had fallen into the trap of emotional eating.

I wasn’t eating chips or chocolate though. Instead I was binging on foods heavy in carbohydrates like multi-grain crackers and kashi cereal. The body is not meant to be overwhelmed by food and over-stuffed at night!

Food is often used to distract and comfort us, like a reward for surviving a tough day. If we are not careful, it becomes what we turn to for solace and that’s what happened to me.  Thankfully, I’ve managed get back on track, but for those of you still suffering from emotional eating, here are some helpful tips to deal.

  • Exercise, exercise, exercise: Make exercise your reward! I truly believe fitness can help you get through any difficult situation. It’s a chance for your body – through sweat and movement – to release any tension and stress from your day. It’s also critical to helping you manage stress long-term.
  • Don’t let food be your outlet: Before you open the bag of chips (or in my case, crackers) take a moment to notice your thoughts. Are you thinking about what a hard day you’ve had? Are you dwelling on an upsetting event that happened that morning? Try getting these thoughts out before committing yourself to the chips.  Journaling is wonderful way to do this. It doesn’t have to be long entries – just writing out the thoughts, or writing a description of the upsetting event, can act as a release. Better to pick up a journal than a bag of chips!
  • Self-Soothe: Unhealthy habits, like emotional eating, are often caused by lack of self-care. Take care of yourself during stressful times. Schedule in time for you: take a walk during the day to clear your mind. Call a friend at lunch. Have a bath when you get home. Take yourself to a movie. Learning to self-soothe takes practice but you’ll get there if you make a point every day to do something good for you.

At a recent yoga class, the instructor urged us to focus on letting go of what “doesn’t serve you.”  Overeating doesn’t serve you, but self-support can. Be good to yourself and slowly watch the bad habits fall away.

Now after a stressful day, I have a hot cup of soy milk in the evening. It doesn’t mean the stressful periods have gone away – I’ve just discovered more healthier ways to get me through it. You can too.


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