Emotional eating takes many forms, some easier to recognize than others, most pretty common. One form that many admit to is “stress eating”. Maybe you’ve had a bad day and think “I deserve it” as you head for the Haagen Daz. Maybe you think “I just can’t bother right now” with choosing something better—you’re just too strung out. Or maybe there’s a certain kind of situation, like a deadline or an argument, that always starts you grazing.
In some ways, food serves the stress management function well. It’s fast. And the chewing or crunching, the melting sweet in the mouth, the feeling of taking exactly what you want—any or all of these things can be very pleasing indeed. Eating distracts you for a little while, too. And if you eat enough, you may even get a sleepy or slowed-down feeling that cuts anxiety.
Eating as stress management doesn’t work, though, in anything more than a temporary way. Sometimes the relief lasts only as long as the chewing, in fact. And even if you do get relief for longer—20 minutes? 60?—the real trouble comes after days and weeks. It doesn’t take long at all for stress eating to equal pounds. And that creates brand-new stresses to deal with, like worsened self-esteem, and at some point high blood pressure and diabetes risk.
It helps to think of stress management as requiring a tool box, or a repertoire of skills. So maybe once in a while that pie can help out….but you’ve got non-food ways to manage, too. It’s often hard to start the process of building that tool box or repertoire. The food seems to call out, and it is easy, and it is so good. New ways may not work as well at first, either. If you try them out, though, and repeatedly do so, you’ll find that they work better in time. And then you can tell yourself that you’re managing stress without overeating. You can feel good about that. You’ll see your weight dropping, or at least not going up. You may feel better physically. These things will reinforce your new efforts.
You can find books and courses that teach stress management. The Eat Sanely course addresses it in depth. Any of these would help you deal better with stress. On your own, you can start by listing some potential alternative activities to eating. Try one out next time you’re pulled toward stress eating. Then, assess how it worked for you afterward. If an activity helped a little, try it again, and then again, when pulled to eat—you may turn it into a new habit. If it didn’t help, try another activity on your list. Give yourself credit anytime you succeed in not eating to manage stress.
Here are some ideas of alternative activities to try. Circle any that might have potential for you. Add your own ideas at the end.
Reading a book or magazine
Watching a movie
Calling a friend
Cleaning a drawer or closet or tidying a pile of clutter
Taking a nap
Making a cup of herbal tea
Writing in a journal
Meditating, stretching, or doing floor exercises
Taking a walk or bike ride
Drawing, painting, or working on a craft project
Starting or continuing work on a household project
Weeding, raking or other lawn work
Brushing a pet
Taking a bath
Giving yourself a manicure or pedicure
Writing down your ideas for solving a problem
Calling a person who needs cheering up
Making a surprise present for someone
Doing a crossword or other puzzle
Taking several slow deep breaths
Putting on some music that you love