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I’m only human. I succumb to stress and emotional eating just like any other person. Recently, I was at the dentist’s office when I received the news that I would have to undergo major dental surgery. This upset me and increased my stress. What did I do? I stopped on the way home at a fast-food joint and quickly consumed an 1100-calorie meal. Not because I was hungry, but only because I was upset.
Stress or emotional eating is when a person consumes food to feel better emotionally and that food consumption is not for sustenance. The Mayo Clinic defines emotional eating as, “Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness.”
I am not a nutritionist. I am a mom and a woman with experience losing 70 pounds and keeping that weight off for 14 years. Let me share with you seven tangible and practical ways to help you overcome stress eating. These are not necessarily listed in the order of importance.
1) Track Your Food
By keeping a food journal, you have a tool that is impervious to your stress. The daily calories you are allotted does not change dependent on how you feel. Your daily calories will remain the same. This consistency will help you combat the tendency to give in to emotional eating and to eat without regard to consequences.
Tracking your food intake will also help you recover if you lapse and have a stressful food intake. When I reacted to my bad news and ate that unhealthy lunch at the fast food restaurant, I still took the time and logged my calories. Yes, I was over my daily limit at 1 p.m., but because I was aware, I was also able to stop the emotional eating and I ate light the rest of the day. By tracking my calories, I was able to make up for the emotional binge and I did not gain weight from the momentary lapse.
I recently heard a quote that I simply love. “You are a soul. You have a body.” The authorship of the quote has been attributed to C.S. Lewis although there is disagreement if it truly came from him. But no matter who wrote it, this quote is very true, and I believe will help you and I overcome issues regarding stress and emotional eating.
We are souls that desire to be in relationship with God our creator through His Son Jesus Christ. Our bodies are temporary vessels to help us live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). As such, we don’t have to be slaves to our bodies. We don’t have to succumb to the stress around us. We can rely on our Heavenly Father to help us through the stresses in our lives.
I Pray that the Lord will help you focus on Him instead of focusing on the problem. That you will overcome the temptation to eat food for emotional comfort. And I pray that you receive the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). By praying, we can tap into a ultimate resource that will help us understand what is truly important in our lives.
When things are stressful, it’s important that we engage in activities that help reduce stress. I mentioned prayer as a stress reducer. Exercise is also a way to reduce stress and will help you burn negative energy.
Before I became a mom, I was a long-distance bike rider. I would get out on my bike for what I would call, “asphalt therapy.” It is impossible to climb a mountain on a bike and worry about issues with the job or family. Basically, my only focus was to climb that mountain.
Exercise can also be a metaphor to overcoming other challenges in life. By conquering your exercise goal, you understand that you can overcome other problems in life. And you will be stronger both mentally and physically. Any exercise will help. Get up and get moving and I promise it will help you feel better.
4) Rely on Friends
We need friends and family to help lift us up during the difficult times. And it is in difficult times that we experience the most stress and are most susceptible to emotional eating.
For me, my husband is not the best resource to overcome stress eating. I love him, but he will quickly join me in whatever unhealthy foods I have decided to eat. But I have a gal-friend that will remind me that during stress is when I should purposefully eat healthier. This is the friend I need to rely on most when I’m vulnerable to stress eating. In return, I also help her out during times when she needs the reminder to focus on healthy foods.
Find friends who will help you overcome stress eating. I also recommend finding community resources that will help also. Use online resources, like my Facebook group Losing Weight with Food Tracking, to reach out to others who are also trying to lose weight. With the help of friends and family, you will be reminded to eat healthier during times of stress.
5) Make Healthy Food Choices
I touched on this above, but when you are under stress, it is the best time to focus more on eating healthy. We often consume foods high in sugar and carbohydrates (which the body converts to sugar) when we emotionally eat. It’s important to understand why we tend to eat sugary foods during times of stress. According to a study by NIH, sugar can stimulate the brain to produce Dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. So, we eat foods high in sugar and we feel better… but only for a short time. Then we crash, feel tired and worse than when we started. This is the cycle of consuming too much sugar.
The next time you are under stress, focus on eating foods that are low in sugars but high in nutrients. Try to eat at home so you are not vulnerable to eating fast food that is high in fat and sugars. Limit sugary snacks from the grocery store but instead buy healthy fruits. Eat lean protein, healthy fats and healthy carbohydrates. These foods will help stabilize your body’s response and possibly even your mood. You’ll have more level energy and be better equipped to tackle the issues you are facing.
6) Get Enough Sleep
While I was researching the topic of stress eating, I was surprised that I didn’t find others mentioning the importance of rest. If I’m exhausted, I’m more vulnerable to stress. And if I’m stressed, I’m more vulnerable to emotional eating. The converse is true. If I’m well rested, I’m less vulnerable to stress (or at least I can deal with it better) and I’m less likely to eat to feel better.
My toddler is an early riser. So, one way for me to get enough rest is to go to bed earlier than most people. That’s what works for me. I try to get about seven hours of sleep and when I do, I am in a much better state to combat the stresses of the day. When your body is rested, you will have the energy to face the problems of the day and you will be less prone to engage in emotional eating.
7) Tomorrow is a New Day
When I succumb to emotional eating, I must always remember that tomorrow is a new day. Do not beat yourself up. Life happens and all of us make mistakes. I recommend you track the food in your food diary, and then be ready to do better tomorrow.
Be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to start fresh tomorrow. And remember that, “This too shall pass.”
For more information on counting and logging calories to lose weight (food tracking) or for recipes from the Food Tracking Momma, please CLICK HERE to subscribe to this blog and let me help you live life more healthy and abundantly (John 10:10). You will receive the FREE eBook LOSING WEIGHT WITH FOOD TRACKING.
I pray that these methods will help you overcome stress eating. Thanks for your time and happy food tracking!
Andrea- The Food Tracking Momma