Life is full of potentially stress-inducing events and situations, the frequency of which very rarely decreases over time! Feeling the inclination to be “stressed-out” is not in-and-of-itself a bad thing. We incur feelings all the time that we never asked to feel; the arrival of which we often can’t control. However, how we act upon those feelings once we realize that we are having them IS up to us. It is, ultimately, what we DO with those feelings that produce the results that ARE within the scope of our control.
Understanding this is incredibly liberating, yet it also makes us aware of our responsibility to make good choices. Liberating, because it frees us from the guilt or shame associated with the initial presence of a negative feeling as we realize that those feelings come to everyone from time to time. Aware of our responsibility to make good choices because we also know that once the feeling arrives, we are in charge of whether or not it materializes in a negative way.
Some of the negative ways in which a feeling of stress can materialize are poor sleep, declining physical and mental health, and even poor eating habits. Knowing this can allow you to identify the symptom of stress and equip you to address and avoid it.
What is stress eating?
Stress eating is consuming food in response to negative emotions like anger, fear, or sadness. Oftentimes when this happens, it’s not because we’re hungry. Instead, it is a perceived way of escape from the negative emotion via shifting our attention to something else or attempting to swap out a positive emotion that comes with a food you enjoy with the negative one.
Because the foods we often turn to in the midst of dealing with negative emotions are unhealthy “comfort” foods, we flirt with the danger of a dangerous cycle. The more you eat, the worse you feel, the more you become upset with yourself, the more negative emotion there is to fuel the stress eating! It can be a difficult train to get off of.
So, let's learn how to stop stress-eating.
First, understand, you are not a bad person if you find yourself stress-eating. Remember, the negative emotions that can often trigger a stress eating response come to all of us. Sometimes, the transition from a negative emotion to a negative result like stress-eating happens with almost no down-time in between; typically because it’s a habit we’ve formed. We condition ourselves to skip the period of identifying the emotion and consciously deciding what we are going to do about it and go straight to the habit. Which leads us to the next step.
Secondly, we have to re-train ourselves to take a pause. To question our motives and take a look at the emotion before jumping right into the habit we’ve formed. Ask yourself:
- How am I feeling?
- What am I feeling?
- What time is it?
- Am I eating because I'm hungry?
- What am I doing?
These questions will help us recognize a pattern. It’s important to understand that habits can take some time to break and that it will take a conscious, focused effort. Setting visible reminders to yourself via appointments on your phone or notes left around the house can be helpful in those early stages. They will trigger you to remember to take that pause and take stock and what you are feeling.
Next, we can proceed to start replacing some of the negative responses and activities with predetermined positive responses as we learn to identify the cycle. Some positive responses to consider can be:
- Drink a glass of water.
- Take a walk.
- Stretch for a minute.
- Do a set of push-ups.
- Play with your pet.
- Listen to your favorite song.
- And, as crazy as it may sound, shout at the sky.
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The key is to engage in something that still satisfies the objective of shifting our focus from the negative emotion to something positive. The more we learn to do this, the more we will forget about the stress, and of course, stress eating. Beyond that, when the positive activity can be something that you enjoy, it makes it even easier to build a new habit.
Ultimately, many of us enjoy food and find comfort in it; there’s nothing wrong with that. To use it, from time to time, to take our mind to a different place is a pleasure that we should all enjoy. At the same time, let’s also make our best efforts to ensure that we don’t give our unconscious consent to continued destructive patterns that diminish our long term health and quality of life.