Finding comfort in food when you’re stressed is common and it’s a practice known as emotional eating. Emotional eating can be a cycle that’s hard to break.
Those who eat their emotions as I like to say, suppress and soothe negative feelings with food.
What’s worse is that you may even feel guilt or shame after eating this way, which is what leads to a cycle of excess eating and the issues that come with it like obesity, or heart disease.
Here are 5 ways to stop stress eating.
Having awareness is key to stop stress eating. It all starts with awareness. In my book Unbreakable I share how to spot the difference between emotional eating and true hunger.
One of the major cues is that physical hunger develops slowly over time vs emotional hunger comes about suddenly or abruptly.
Another cue is that with physical hunger you actually feel the sensation of fullness and can stop eating vs emotional eating you keep eating food without feeling full and may even feel guilt or shame afterwards.
A great way to track this is with a food journal which will give you a sense of what, when, why and how much you’re eating. Remember there’s power in writing things down.
#2 Find Relaxation Techniques
If you feel that you’re a stress eater than you probably are that’s why it’s important to find relaxation techniques that don’t involve food as the focus. One thing that you can try to stop stress eating is meditation. This can be a mediation as short as a few minutes where you recite a positive affirmation of how you want to feel.
An example of an affirmation can be ‘I am a healthy eater’ or ‘I believe in myself and my abilities’. Even if you don’t feel it, continue to repeat it anyways as these mantras will eventually begin to rewire your brain, help you to reduce stress and heal your relationship with food.
Since feelings of shame and guilt are associated with emotional eating, it’s important to work on the self-talk you experience before or even after an episode to help you to break the cycle of emotional eating.
Other relaxation techniques to stop stress eating could include journaling using prompts to get your thoughts flowing and the stress out of your brain and on to paper.
Watching a funny YouTube video works too – just make sure it something that you truly enjoy doing that will help to ease your stress.
#3 Find Healthy Alternatives
Having healthy alternatives on hand are important so you don’t feel deprived. I’m a self-professed cookie monster so I’ve struggled with this too and have had to find ways to satisfy my sweet tooth, especially in times of stress.
If soda is your weakness, drink Perrier or sparkling water instead of soda. Just watch out for the flavoured waters which may be packed with sugar.
#4 Focus on Gut Health
One study in the area of anxiety and depression noted that your gut bacteria not only influence how you eat but also how we think and feel. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body that connects your gut and brain and sends signals in both directions.
The relationship between the gut and the brain is bi-directional and is called the gut-brain axis. This simply means that they talk to each other. Your gut sends messages to the brain, and your brain sends messages to the gut – through chemicals called neurotransmitters.
For example, the neurotransmitter serotonin contributes to feelings of happiness. Recent studies are showing that serotonin is actually produced in the gut which is why maintaining proper gut health is KEY for improving your mood, reducing stress and to help you to stop stress eating.
You can enhance your gut health through fermented and cultured foods like Greek yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and miso are a great source of probiotics.
Probiotics supports the microbiome aka your gut by introducing beneficial bacteria
#5 Get Moving
Exercise is when stress is actually a good thing. Through your body’s stress response exercise transfers benefits to the body. Exercise is one of the best ways to course correct being in a damaging stress state that may be causing you to stress eat.
When you exercise it actually rewires your brain and sends information to your brain that you’re thriving. It can be as simple as a walk or jog around the block or a quick yoga routine. This could be very helpful especially during particularly emotional moments as it changes your state from focusing on food as a solution to your stress, which may help you to stop stress eating.
In one study, where participants engaged in eight weeks of yoga, they found that yoga was helpful in diffusing emotional states such as anxiety and depression.
Yoga also promotes mindfulness which positively impacts your emotional, mental and physical health.