Do you run for that chocolate whenever you feel the world doesn’t love you? You could be a stress eater. What is stress eating, how do you know you have it and how do you make sure it doesn’t affect your healthy eating goals?
What is stress or emotional eating?
Stress eating or emotional eating is when you eat food to feel better about an emotion. You are not necessarily physically hungry but the food makes the situation feel better. These emotions can include being stressed, feeling upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored.
So, why is this a problem? When you stress eat, it often doesn’t deal with the emotional problem and only puts you in a viscous cycle where the real problem is not addressed. When we stress eat we don’t reach for a healthy salad but more a comfort food that may include junk food such as sweets and crisps, take away or very high fat or high sugar foods. This can lead to weight gain and other health issues1.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU A STRESS EATER?
Ask yourself the following questions to see if you could possibly be a stress or emotional eater:
- Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
- Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
- Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, angry, bored, anxious, etc.)?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
- Do you feel powerless or out of control around food1?
If you answered yes to one or more you could be an emotional eater. But don’t stress and reach for that packet of chips, there are ways to deal with the situation.
HOW TO DEAL WITH EMOTIONAL EATING
Focus on the real issue
First of all you need to deal with the emotion issue. You can’t eat away stress or sadness. Take a minute to get in touch with your emotions and deal with them. Instead of snacking just to satisfy an emotion, rather distract yourself and substitute with a healthier behaviour. Take a walk or go to gym, watch a movie, play with your pet or children, listen to music, read, surf the Internet or call or text a friend.
Always keep your healthy eating goals in mind. Before you give in to stress eating think about that bikini you want to wear at the beach the next holiday or your healthy eating goals that you have set for yourself. Healthy eating goals can also help you make wiser choices when it comes to your “comfort food”. Tell a family member or friend to help keep you accountable.
Be kind to yourself and responsible
Don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day and stress eat. Just be kind to yourself, recognise the mistake and reassure yourself that you can and will do better next time. This will prevent eating out of failure and make you more conscious of better decisions. Help yourself by removing temptations in the house. If your go to is ice cream, don’t have it in the fridge.
If you feel the urge to really comfort yourself with food then choose healthier options such as a low-fat, low-calorie snack, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip. You can also try low-fat, lower calorie versions of your favourite foods such as plain popcorn instead of chips, to see if that will satisfy your craving.
If all else fails…
Sometimes you need to give in to a craving, food is an awesome thing. Have a moderate serving of your favourite ice cream or a small serving of a creamy pasta dish. Also ensure you are eating enough healthy foods so that you can enjoy the occasional treat2,3.
GET MINDFUL OF WHAT YOU EAT
If you learn stress reduction techniques, how to recognize hunger, and pay attention to taste and what you are eating you are less likely to indulge in foods like a cheese burger and fries. Here are a few things to remember about mindful eating:
- Begin with your shopping list. Make sure that you buy healthy foods and avoid food temptations like sugary treats.
- Don’t skip meals, when you are very hungry you will just want to fill your stomach without thinking of what you are filling it with.
- Start with a small portion and try avoid going back for more.
- Bring all your senses to the meal. When you’re cooking, serving, and eating your food, be attentive to colour, texture, aroma and even the sounds different foods make as you prepare them. As you chew your food, try identifying all the ingredients, especially seasonings.
- Take small bites. It’s easier to taste food completely when your mouth isn’t full. Put down your utensil between bites. Chew slowly to savour the tastes
- Eat slowly. If you follow the advice above, you won’t stuff your food down. Allow yourself five minutes for mindful eating and enjoy your food before you chat with your tablemates1.
Stress eating is real and it happens to all of us at one point or another. It’s not healthy to feed your emotions. When you learn better coping methods to deal with emotions, you not only get mentally stronger but physically healthier. When you are healthy and strong you just feel good.