Dealing With Stress Eating
Hey it’s Monique here. The way I approach my health, wellness and nutrition now, especially after 25 years of binge dieting, binge eating and yo-yo dieting behaviour, is way more logical than my normal ‘non linear’ way of thinking. I’m way less emotional and a whole lot more ‘conscious’, less likely to try every new trend, less likely to react to stress and way more chilled. In fact for the first time in my life, I have a really positive relationship with food and get excited every day just thinking about what I can create and eat that will SERVE my body and my health. AND I’m excited to say that I’m no longer a stress or emotional eater. Yusssssss!
For most of my life – even as a child – I can admit that I have been a stress eater / binger / starver. I was all over the place, ‘reacting’ rather than ‘responding’ to stressors, blaming my genes for my weight issues and either bingeing to medicate myself OR starving myself to find some semblance of control in my life.
After talking to many of you over the last few months, it seems to be more common than I thought, so my first message to you, wherever you are in your journey is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There are a heap of us out there who are, or have experienced stress eating (or starving) and what I want to tell you is that you can beat this. I’ve done it so I KNOW you can do it too!
In my journey, I’ve realised that there were 4 key stressors for me:
- External stressors: ‘I’m too busy to eat, there’s too much pressure on me just to keep going, everyone needs me, I’ll make things right for everyone else first’
- Internal stressors: ‘I’m not good enough, I’m already overweight so what does it matter, I’m unattractive, no one likes me, I’m unlovable’
- Dietary stressors: ‘I just don’t know what to eat! I can’t be bothered cooking. I don’t have time to cook. I don’t like vegetables. It’s easier to get a takeaway. I don’t know how to cook.’
- Genetic stressors: ‘I come from an obese family – can’t change that. I’m big boned. My family all have thyroid problems. It’s in my genes.’
I’ve heard all of these statements over the years and used all of these excuses myself. The first thing to do is to addressthese stressors and develop strategies to start changing your thought patterns and your behaviour, enabling you to become more aware of your thoughts, behaviours and triggers and instead of giving in to them, changing your response, consciously. So here’s some ideas that can help.
1. Be present with what’s going on.
Stress eating provides a momentary escape from discomfort, giving you a hit of pleasure and satisfaction when you’re feeling something you don’t want to feel. Overeating works to numb and soften our feelings, taking attention away from the actual issue. Our brain and body can only process a certain amount of information at any one time, so focussing on eating means you can’t coherently focus on the issue at hand.
SO: how to deal with this?
Before reaching for a treat, stop and tap in to how you’re actually feeling. Verbalise it. Even if you have to walk away somewhere and swear or call a person rude names in the privacy of your own company, DO IT. Tell yourself that it’s OK to feel sad, mad, scared, tired — you name it. Welcome your feelings with kindness and curiosity, and ask them what they want from you. Talk to yourself. It’s ok to do so. Through listening to your emotions, you’ll discover what it is you truly feel and WHY and you’ll be less likely to eat your feelings.
Often when people start a new weight loss journey they simply think of reducing calories – which does actually work! It’s all about calories in VS calories out, right? However, dieting does not mean you should forget FLAVOUR! Often we sabotage our diet emotionally with a ‘fear of missing out’ mentality. The reason I started creating low cab alternative recipes is that I love cakes and biscuits! I love baking! I love treats! I also realised that when I felt like I couldn’t have particular foods – particularly ones that taste great – I did feel like I was missing out. I learnt to cook meals as well because being a great baker did not mean I could actually cook. My dishes are full of flavour without compromising my weight loss goals and not only do I feel satisfied, I never need to binge anymore. In fact, even knowing that I can have cakes and treats makes me want them even less.
3. Portion control and re-learning the feeling of hunger.
I’m a snacker by nature. I prefer to snack all day and have smaller meals, however not everyone is the same – and I do ensure that my snacks both fit my nutritional and calorific guidelines. When you’re starting out however – as the big challenge in this is the mental game – I highly recommend that you stick to 3 well planned meals each day. You can have a couple of snacks as back ups, but start with good nutrition FIRST (plant, protein and fats with your biggest portion being plant) and ONLY eat if you’re hungry. Often if you’re an emotional eater, you become completely disconnected from feelings of hunger and fullness. By becoming conscious of your portion sizes and waiting till you actually have feelings of hunger, you’ll retrain your body to give you the right signals, reducing your stress eating response. FYI: A great way to test this is if you’re about to have something to eat, ask yourself: AM I ACTUALLY HUNGRY? Have a glass of water. Walk away for 15 minutes and if you’re still hungry after that, chances are it’s the real thing. If you come back and you’re fine, chances are it was a triggered response and an opportunity to ask yourself ‘what’s going on?’ Which takes me to the next point……
4. Know your triggers
Co-worker driving you crazy? Finances keeping you awake? Are the kids really demanding and you’re secretly not coping? Unexplained weight gain? Well, I can pretty safely say it is explained right there. Stress has a massive impact on our lives and while there are complex chemical and hormonal reactions that can happen in our bodies during stressful time which can trigger weight gain, it can also activate hunger. Becoming conscious of your triggers can really help you in this process. If you know you eat when you’re lonely – as an example – plan to call a friend or write in a journal instead. Journalling is a marvellous tool to become conscious of your behaviours, patterns and trigger when you’re wanting to make changes, so consider keeping a food and eating diary or make notes in your phone when you’re feeling like stress eating. Also, consider carrying nutritionally dense food such as good quality protein bars or snack packs with a handful of nuts in them, so that you never feel deprived. Stress eating can be your body’s reaction to feeling deprived, so create new ways to nourish yourself without compromising your goals. Stock your cupboards with delicious, healthy foods, pack your calendar with exciting things to do, and be disciplined about setting aside time for yourself to relax and journal!
5. Admit that your genes don’t define you.
When I was 18 months old, I was admitted to hospital. I was a morbidly obese child, was talking in sentences but I couldn’t walk. The doctors had decided I was possibly ‘retarded’ or that there was something wrong with my brain. I had a brain scan and the doctors decided, after looking at both of my parents who were also overweight, that ‘Elephants don’t make mice’. That became my story for more than 20 years. ‘I can’t change my genes so pass me another doughnut’.
Here I am 25 years later wearing the same sized clothes I did when I was 11. How is that possible? By realising that your genes don’t define you: you just need to learn how to work with what you’ve got. Are you stress eating, then feeling sick and blaming it on the fact that your gall bladder issues are hereditary? Listen here: You’re the one who put the doughnut in your mouth – not your genes. Often weight gain, aside from being a calorie issue, can be an inflammation issue. Some bodies simply can’t handle certain foods. For me, its carbohydrates and now that I know this, my body no longer has problems with inflammation, so weight loss is much easier. It all starts however by being conscious and making better decisions that serve your health and your body. In times of stress you have an opportunity to work either for or against your body. Which team do you want to support? Yours or your triggers?
So: remove temptations from your cupboards, know your triggers, become aware of when you’re hungry, face up to what’s actually going on and stop blaming yourself and your genes. You are so much more than all of that and you can do this.
FYI: if you’re not sure which of the stressors are affecting you, you can take this quiz