No matter how dedicated you are to your healthy diet, everyone stress eats sometimes. The key to learning how to stop stress eating is not to never, ever eat due to stress (because we're human and that's unrealistic). Rather, the key is to not make food your panacea for all the ails you.
The truth is that there is nothing wrong with finding comfort from food--it is comforting and nourishing and good for you. The last thing we want to do here is to make anyone feel guiltier about eating than so many of us already do. It ain't right.
We need to eat. Eating is good for us. Eating whole, clean foods is obviously better for us than eating junk, but on occasion, junk food can have a place in a healthy, balanced lifestyle too.
Stress Eating Doesn’t Stop Stress--It Adds to It
The problem with stress eating is that it's a psychological response and you can't use food to subdue non-physical hunger. You may enjoy the food, but more often than not, the problem--whatever was stressing you out--will still be there, nagging at you along with a hefty serving of indigestion and remorse.
That's where this guide comes in. We're going to show you how to stop stress eating by giving you insight into how to get to the root of the problem. Or, at the very least, teaching you how to find a way to release pressure instead of adding to it with an overburdened digestive system.
How to Stop Stress Eating
1. Understanding Psychological Hunger
Learning how to stop stress eating starts with learning about psychological hunger.
What is psychological hunger?
Psychological hunger is a conditioned or external response rather than a real, physiological need. You want to eat because you've been conditioned to eat at a certain time or because you're stressed out or sad or tired or angry or happy or just because there's delicious food in front of you. But what you are not is truly hungry.
Real hunger is when your stomach is grumbling or when you feel light-headed or queasy and irritable. Of course, some of these symptoms, like feeling queasy and irritable, are also signs of stress, so you have to be able to differentiate between the two using the other symptoms.
For instance, if you just ate but feel like you could eat again simply because you're irritated, that's psychological hunger.
If you ate a couple of hours ago and are feeling irritated and experiencing one or more other signs of physical hunger, like experiencing stomach rumbles, then you likely need to eat.
One of the best ways to gain a deep appreciation of real hunger vs. psychological hunger is to try intermittent fasting (IF). IF involves using short, sustainable periods of fasting (usually 16 hours) and shorter periods of eating to lose fat, gain muscle, and balance hormones. This hormone re-calibration is particularly powerful since it has been shown to boost your cognitive function, allowing you to better distinguish between real and psychological hunger.
What's more, most people who IF find their ability to control their appetite better than ever before. “What people report is that after they ‘get over the hump’ and start to lose weight, their hunger levels subside a bit and they start to feel the benefits of the weight loss,” says Corby Martin of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana. “They find it easier to move around, their joints hurt less, they feel better.”
Learn more about IF in our Fast & Furiously Fit ebook. Packed with the science behind IF, a plan to get you started, and tons of recipes (including decadent desserts and sumptuous snacks), this guide will show you how to live your best life using this simple eating paradigm.
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2. Understanding Cravings
So, when something has you strung out, wanting to shove your face with sugary treats is a normal, natural response, but--unless you’re actually in mortal danger--one you don’t need to indulge.
Learn more: 8 Tips to Beating Your Sugar Addiction.
Instead, try drinking a big glass of water or some herbal tea. A coffee with some stevia and cinamon is also a great way to get some calorie-free sweetness, while also balancing your blood sugar. However, if you’re having trouble sleeping, limit the coffee to before noon and instead use stevia and cinnamon in a tea or fruit-infused water.
3. Try to Identify the Source of Your Stress
Next, you’re going to try to find out what the hell is stressing you out. Sometimes, it’s a combination of things and sometimes, it’s just one. Regardless, being able to bring that source to light is a great way to identify the problem.
You may not be able to fix it right away, like if the problem is a pain in the ass teenage kid or obnoxious coworker, but once you know what the problem is, you will be able t take steps toward making changes.
And some of those changes can start occurring immediately, which leads to our next point.
4. Master the Art of Distraction
Instead, distract yourself with a non-edible alternative. Go for a walk. Knit. Have a bath. Read a book. Sit in the sunshine. Clean. Watch some TV. Call someone you’ve been meaning to chat with. If you haven’t worked out, do that. Do somethiing other than eat that you enjoy. Not only will this distract you, but it will reinforce that eating is not the only pleasure in life and remind you that next time you are tempted to stress eat, there are other plesant alternatives.
How much sleep is enough?
7-9 hours is the recommended amount for adults. Don't compromise on your shut eye. Make sleep a priority and you’ll see a noticeable decline in your urge to eat your body weight in bon bons when life gets chaotic.
6. Don’t Sweat it If You Stress Eat
Let’s reiterate the first point we made in this article: we’re human and we’re not perfect. Even when you do everything right, you’ll sometimes stress eat. We can try to get to get enough sleep, and identify our issues and distract ourselves but dammit--life isn't as simple as a how-to guide and the multitudes and possible combinations of stressors and wild cards is practically infinite. You cannot possibly be expected to be on the ball, all the time.
So, if you do stress eat, relax. Move on. Learn something from the experience if there is something to be learned but if it was just a total, unpredictable cock-up of chance that led you to the point where you found yourself digging into your second pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream, then that's okay.
That's more than okay. It's all part of living an authentic, beautiful and messy life.
How do you stop stress eating? Share in the comments!