It starts with a slight craving for sugar, and before you know it you’ve finished off an entire bar of chocolate. Or
when you’re back home and in no mood to talk, simply reach for that huge bag of chips while browsing through
channels, you’re stress eating.
Stress eating (also known as mindless eating) is when people turn to food to suppress negative feelings and emotions such as stress, anger, boredom and loneliness. It serves as a distraction from relationship conflicts, problems at work, financial pressures and other stress factors.
Are you a stress eater?
If eating is your primary coping mechanism, then chances are that you are a stress eater. Watch out for the following behaviours to find out whether or not you stress eat –
- You eat when you’re stressed
- You eat to calm yourself down and feel better
- You eat even when you’re not hungry
- You reward yourself with food Identify your stress eating triggers While the most common trigger for stress eating is your emotions, it’s not always the case. The first step to coping with stress eating is identifying your stress eating triggers, which could be –
- Boredom – When people feel bored, unfulfilled and empty, they tend to fill the void with food. It serves as an effective distraction from their underlying feelings of emptiness and boredom.
- Childhood habits – Many parents reward good behaviour with food. Children raised in such environments tend to carry over these habits when they’re adults., especially when they feel nostalgic or want to feel good about themselves.
- Stress – When people are stressed, it produces cortisol, which triggers cravings for salty, sweet or fried foods as they give you pleasure. That’s why people turn to food for relief at high-stress environments.
Four techniques to stop stress eating
Although stress eating is compulsive and difficult to control, it can be handled. The first step is to identify what triggers stress eating and then take steps to resist the urge. Here are four simple techniques that can help –
1. Maintain a food journal
Keep track of your stress eating triggers by jotting them down in a journal. Tracking your behaviour over a period of time can give you useful insights into your eating habits. Record moments when you feel hungry or crave food. Stock your fridge with healthy foods so that the next time you crave something, you can eat something healthy.
2. Practice mindful eating
If you eat while doing other activities such as watching TV or working, you’re distracted. When your mind is elsewhere, you don’t feel satisfied and end up binge eating even if you aren’t hungry. With mindful eating, you pay attention to your food. Eat your meals without any distractions. Don’t rush through the meal, take small bites and chew well. Stop eating before you feel completely full as it takes time for your brain to receive the signal that you’ve had enough.
3. Exercise regularly
Your body produces more cortisol when you’re stressed. Exercising releases endorphins — natural painkillers that trigger a positive feeling in your body, induce sleep and reduce stress. Get moving to release feel-good endorphins and naturally relieve stress.
4. Talk to someone
Bundling up your feelings only exacerbates the negativity. The next time you feel the urge to stress eat, consider talking to a friend or a relative and process your feelings with them — a much healthier alternative than overeating.
Emotional eating is quite common and the solution isn’t easy. However, finding productive ways to cope with stress is the key to reducing stress and maintaining a healthier lifestyle. With some amount of mindfulness and self-restraint, you can definitely put a stop to stress eating.