Stress Eating

Yesterday I had a raging headache. Bored, cold, and feeling miserable I found myself turning to a leftover pile of Halloween leftover spoils. My mindless plowing through mini snickers, twix and any other chocolatey delights eventually led to a full stomach and disappointment. I no longer had the want to eat my healthy dinner that I packed up. Sadly, this is common pattern with millions of Americans. I find personally that when I am less than happy with my life circumstances and find myself feeling stressed I turn to food for comfort.  

If you were being chased by a tiger in the wild you would never see someone pull out a cheeseburger and go to town….so if stress eating is an unnatural activity why is stress eating such a common phenomenon?

Well according to research ANY stress whether chronic or acute, can affect your weight. Stress from paying bills or stress from just barely avoiding a nasty car accident is the same kind of stress according to our bodies. There is no way to distinguish between the two. Your body responds to stress in the same way. Doesn’t matter the source. Hormones releases a burst of adrenaline along with cortisol which can increase appetite.

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Appetite aside, maybe you’re not hungry. Maybe you find yourself just eating….today people turn to emotional eating as an outlet. Emotional eating is when people use food as a way to cope with feelings instead of to quell hunger. After a long, tiring day of work I find myself desiring something sweet and carby.

(Fats and sugars) can be especially effective in temporarily soothing our exhausted, hard-working selves. Why? …eating sugars and fats releases opioids in our brains. Opioids are the active ingredients in cocaine, heroin, and many other narcotics. So the calming, soothing effects you feel when you eat ice cream and BBQ potato chips are real.
— Psychology Today

In addition to food being a soothing mechanism for stress, we also have a serious problem with enduring and coping with difficult feelings and stress. In America, we are taught to avoid things that feel bad so most people use food to distract themselves. Life is full of inevitable ups and downs, but hey at least food will always be there for you.

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So what can we do to combat emotional eating ? Especially around the holidays.

LEAN INTO IT. Lean into feeling like shit.

Its probably the last thing you want to do. I have found when we drop our judgments about negative feelings and allow ourselves to get curious, often times what we are avoiding isn’t as bad or scary as we have made it out to be. Leaning into the icky feelings is not easy. You need to armor up. Start by getting plenty of sleep. Make it a priority. Next try to consume healthy, nourishing meals during the day. These two things are far from easy. Trust me I know, but these small acts of self respect will help. From there make time to move your body. A simple walk or online yoga class is a great place to start.

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Once you have a regular habit of quality sleep, food and movement you can begin to practice letting yourself experience difficult feelings. Set a timer. Start with 5 mins and then work your way up to 20 mins. Why do you feel tired? Why does this feel bad? Where do you feel it? I don’t know anyone on this planet who enjoys feeling mad, sad, rejected, or bored but just like anything repetition makes the master. The more we spend time getting acquainted with these feelings the more comfortable we become.

Be kind and patient with yourself. You can do this. Know that these changes take time. Stress eating is a powerful and effective way to find temporary relief but real change comes leaning into stress. If you need any support you can always message me or get one on one coaching.