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Mar 6, 2011

Stress Eating

You Can’t Eat Your Demons

Jobs, relationships, school, bills, children, dentists, mothers-in-law.

Everybody has stress in their lives. Different individuals tend to handle that stress in very different ways. Some handle it productively by kick boxing their way to relief, buckling down to get stuff done, or talking it over with a loved one. Others become self-destructive, reaching for cigarettes, alcohol, or too many cups of coffee.
And some people find they have an overwhelming desire to eat the entire contents of their refrigerators in a single sitting.
Historically, it made some sense to eat when under extreme pressure. When humans lived constantly on the edge of starvation, consuming extra calories when stressed to the breaking point could help people face challenges with adequate energy supplies.
But now that the average person is far more likely to be overweight than underweight, it makes significantly less sense.

Attack the root cause.

The simplest way of eliminating stress eating from your life is to eliminate stress. That of course, is much easier said than done. While it’s impossible to remove all stress from your life unless you’re a multi-billionaire living alone on your own private island with a plethora of servants to attend to your every whim, you can examine where the pressure is coming from and try to resolve it.

Identify your major stressors.

You can’t do anything about your stress eating until you identify the source of your stress. This isn’t always as simple as it sounds. For a variety of reasons from the banal to the profound, we often try to lie to ourselves about what is stressing us out. It’s hard to admit that you might not be as happy in your relationship as you think you are or that you really are terrified of something as simple as going to the dentist.

Do something about it.

Once you’ve pinpointed where the pressure is coming from, ask yourself why it’s making you stressed out. If it’s your job, what exactly is stressing you out? Are you having problems with co-workers that you could address with your boss? Are you having problems with your boss that you could address with Human Resources? Do you feel overwhelmed because you weren’t adequately trained for some of your responsibilities? If this is the case, you could ask a trusted co-worked for some help, or do some research on your own to try to fill in the knowledge gaps.
If it’s a relationship issue, you could try sitting down to talk honestly with your partner, friend, or family member. If it’s a money issue, plan a realistic budget and stick to it. Once you’ve honestly addressed what it stressing you out, you’ll feel much better.

Not every problem has a solution.

There are some stressors that you just may not be able to resolve simply. They may take time or there just may not be a way to make them go away at all. Dentists and mothers-in-law are just a fact of life, but the mere fact that you’ve identified them and tried to address them should alleviate some of your stress. Problems that you’ve acknowledged and examined are less scary than those you continue to ignore.

Channel your stress in a healthy direction.

If you can’t resolve the stressor, at least you can redirect the stress. Aerobic exercises that release endorphins such as cycling, kickboxing and running will help you alleviate the physical nervous tension that accompanies stress while also calming your mind. If exercise isn’t your thing, many people find activities with repetitive motions, such as knitting, particularly soothing. Others find relief in the communing with nature and reminder of a simpler time that comes with gardening.
All these activities will not only get you out of the kitchen and away from food, but they will also help address the physical and psychological symptoms of stress.

If you have to eat, eat well.

Even if you follow these steps, there may be times when you feel compelled to drown yourself in a vat of ice cream. Don’t look upon it as failure, just recognize it as proof that you’re human. Plan ahead so that you have healthy food on hand to limit the damage. Prepare tupperware containers of your favorite pre-cut fruits and vegetables, and always keep a low calorie dip or dressing on hand for the veggies. Invest in an air popper and some organic popcorn. (But make sure not to drench it in butter.) You can gorge yourself to your heart’s content on carrots and unbuttered popcorn without doing much damage to your waistline or psyche.
It might be helpful to review the steps you can take to help eliminate or reduce your tendency to stress eat.
  • Identify the source of your stress.
  • Try to resolve the source of your stress.
  • Honestly acknowledge your stress even if you can’t resolve it.
  • Focus on healthy outlets for your nervous tension.
  • If you have to eat, limit the damage to your waistline and ego by treating yourself to healthy low-calorie snacks.
Eating may be the way you’ve dealt with stress in the past, but it doesn’t always need to be, and even if you slip, the slip needn’t be catastrophic.

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