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Stress eating

6 powerful tools to curb stress eating

Do you ever have one of those days when everything seems to be going wrong, when your stress levels are off the charts, and you find yourself reaching out for your “comfort food” to feel better?

Based on a report by American Psychological Association, in the United States, 38 percent of adults reported overeating because of stress or in attempts to distract themselves from stress. Half of these adults (49 percent) said they engaged in these behaviours every week—sometimes more than once.

Likewise, many of us turn to food to ‘fill’ our emotional needs. A tub of ice-cream to drown the loneliness, a pizza after a stressful day at work, or a trip to the drive-through to suppress your anxiety. If your emotions nudge you towards food, even when you are not hungry, then you too have fallen victim to stress eating—also called emotional eating.

While we are all aware that stress is bad for us, how we deal with the stress can sometimes be just as bad. In this feature, Soulveda list ways to cut down stress eating and develop healthier eating habits, even when you’re overly emotional.

Keep a food journal to practice mindfulness

Your emotions have the power to influence your choices and decisions. Unhealthy eating habits stem from the same place when you let your emotions run amok. By being mindful, you can put a leash on your emotions and prevent stress eating from cultivating.

Mindfulness is about being aware of what you’re eating, when you’re eating, and more importantly, were you hungry at the time. Maintaining a food journal is an easy way to do so. Each time you write about what you are eating, it will help you recognise harmful eating habits and patterns. You can address the issue head-on and restrain your urges and stressors better.

Steps to changing bad eating habits

Each time you write about what you are eating, it will help you recognise harmful eating habits and patterns.

Take proactive measures

Author Karen Salmansohn says, “Food can distract you from pain. But food cannot take away your pain. In fact, overeating the wrong foods can create more pain.” Physical or emotional unrest and pain are believed to be one of the biggest triggers for making poor food choices. When we are in pain, we ‘binge’ on food items that comfort us, but unfortunately, such behaviourial patterns promote weight gain, poor health, and low mood, worsening the situation.

Instead of ‘eating’ your feelings away, take proactive actions to put your stress eating to rest. If stress forces you towards the pantry, you need to manage your stress differently. Try yoga, meditation, or choose a stress buster of your choice that isn’t food! If work pressure or relationship issues are your concerns, talk to someone. Discuss an action plan and solutions to deal with the challenges.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

If you are trying to curb your unhealthy eating habits, that’s a great start! But, do it the right way. Don’t go on a hunger strike, limit your calorie intake, or consume the same type of food everyday. Being too hard on yourself may just increase your food cravings, especially in response to heightened emotions. Instead, eat healthy food, enjoy an occasional treat or two, and get plenty of variety to curb your cravings.

Plan, learn, and appreciate

If you are upset or feel angry, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you have your emotions in check. If you have an episode of emotional eating, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Don’t feel guilty or punish yourself for it. But do take action to address your eating impulse.

Learn from each setback. Observe each time you give in to your emotional craving. It can help you make a more effective plan for the future like not storing hard-to-resist ‘comfort food’ in the house. Focus on all the positive changes you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for walking towards better health.

Let the craving pass

Negative emotions lead to feelings of emptiness or an emotional void that you have the urge to ‘fill’. Food can act as a filler for the void, creating a false sense of ‘fullness’ and wholeness. Once you start acting on the impulse of eating whenever you are stressed, emotional eating begins to become your haven. But it isn’t a safe haven, as it leads to obesity, heart disease, and other life-threatening illnesses.

Before you eat, analyse your hunger. Is your appetite real or emotionally driven? An easy way to tell is, if you ate not too long ago and don’t have a rumbling stomach, you’re probably not hungry. If you are not hungry but still reaching towards a bag of chips, it is probably the emotions controlling your urges. Give the craving some time to pass.

Emotional vs physical hunger

Before you eat, analyse your hunger. Is your appetite real or emotionally driven?

Seek professional help

Emotional eating doesn’t fix any of your emotional problems. In fact, it usually makes you feel even worse. After an episode of stress eating, not only does the original emotional issue still linger, you also end up feeling guilty for overeating. If you’ve tried all self-help options but still can’t control your unhealthy eating urges, consult a mental health professional. Therapy can help you understand why you eat emotionally and help cope with it effectively.

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