Tips for Dealing with Stress Eating

Do you stress eat to numb certain feelings that seem unmanageable? Do you use food like a drug to avoid unpleasant emotions, such as anxiety or stress? Are you unfamiliar with healthier ways to cope with stress? Has stress eating been a default coping mechanism throughout your life, beginning in childhood? Perhaps you learned stress eating as a coping mechanism during childhood by watching family members stress eat. Do you have a difficult time identifying what exactly stressed you out in the first place that led to the eating? People are more likely to stress eat if they feel disconnected from what is actually triggering their stress. 

Some of the best tips for stopping stress eating are the following:

1. Engaging in mindfulness exercises, including things like meditation, yoga, and relaxation techniques.

Mindfulness exercises work for a number of reasons. For one, they allow people to become more aware of what they are feeling in a given moment and focus on helping people tolerate whatever feelings may arise. This is the direct antithesis of wanting to run away from or numbing one's emotions, which is what happens in stress eating. Additionally, mindfulness exercises allow one to slow down, rather than react with impulsive default behaviors, such as stress eating. Slowing down one's actions, gives a person some more time to decide to do something else rather than just react on the desire to eat. The combination of slowing down and becoming more connected with one's feelings, also helps a person start to better understand what exactly happened that caused the feeling of stress. Having that understanding is important because now a person can think about how to best handle the situation.

 2. Find healthy and new coping mechanisms, which should include exercise, distraction, and a social component.

Exercise has been shown time and time again to improve the ability to cope with stress and to decrease anxiety, which is why it will help stop stress eating. Any exercise will do. Distraction can help stop stress eating because it creates space and time for the immediate desire to default on the usual coping mechanism of stress eating to pass. The distraction will be most successful if it is engaging in something you enjoy. Therefore it needs to be a very personal and individualized choice of distraction. Making it your own choice is what will make it an effective way to combat the stress eating because if it is something you enjoy, that in itself will be a stress reducing agent, making stress eating less necessary for coping.

3. Being around others.

Being around others can make people more aware of what they are choosing to eat, as people are more self-conscious around others. Even more importantly, having a strong social support network has been found to be a buffer for managing stress. People handle stress more gracefully when they feel supported. Social support can also be a excellent distraction for avoiding a stress eating moment.

4. Get Help.

If you are having a hard time implementing these tips on your own, seek out help from a professional.