How to stop stress eating

It's 3 a.m. and you find yourself staring at the bright, white lights of the inside of your refrigerator. There's a hunger for something you just can't quite place. Luckily, there's nothing in there − but you still feel that hunger so you start rummaging through your cupboards.

As if this desperate foraging for an after-hours snack wasn’t overwhelming enough, you're now accompanied by a deep sense of shame. Why can't you break the pattern of midnight snacking? Why does it have to feel just so good to cram cookie after cookie in your mouth?

And why does it feel so terrible immediately after − sometimes even before − you swallow?

If you've broken up with your diet more than once; if you've ever used food to calm feelings of anxiety; if you experience rushes of adrenaline through the day, emotional and stress eating could be at the core of your relationship with food.

What exactly is stress eating?

Our need to consume things is regulated by a series of chemical and behavioral processes in the body. There are various aspects of the body involved in digestion, hormone regulation, blood sugar management, cell nourishment, muscular rejuvenation and more.

In other words, the process of eating is not confined to just one part of the body system.

But there's something deeper going on here. These processes are the body's way of communicating with itself and your own conscious mind. Because of your body's deep and diverse interconnection with itself and its multiple systems, these processes can get hijacked.

Stress eating

Stress and emotional eating is just one of the ways your body's natural eating and feeding rhythms become interrupted and pathologized through unprocessed emotions.

We develop a response that gets practiced over time, a method of "coping" with the stresses of the modern world.

Emotional eating is a behavior, a response, an action that we practice repeatedly when it comes time to dealing with our true feelings. These can be feelings of boredom, stress, panic, anxiety, loneliness, shame, self-hate, fear of abandonment − and the list goes on.

How do you know its emotional eating? Well, at first it can be hard to spot the signs. It may just happen that your stressful day and need to eat coincides with dinnertime.

But if you find yourself craving sugary snacks or salty bites through the day more and more, you could be using food to quell these feelings or calm yourself down.

Why do we want to eat our feelings?

Anxiety and eating have an interesting relationship. Our need to consume or eat when we're stressed goes back to our biological and evolutionary responses.

But it also takes us back to childhood, during early infancy, when crying meant that we needed to be fed, changed or otherwise attended to, and our needs were instantly met through consuming nourishment, food, or even feeling love, care and nurturing from our parents.

But once we mature, the line between physical needs and psychological responses become blurred. Our emotions enter into our actions and, though we think we're being rational about our decisions, there are often other processes at play.

High levels of cortisol, which is the body's stress hormone related to spikes of adrenaline in the body, can cause us to reach for food as a comfort or a way to regulate this sudden mood and motivation shift.

Another reason why we emotionally overeat is because of unprocessed emotions. It's actually quite a marvelous and simple mechanism. Think about it: when we're feeling "empty" and we turn to food, we're literally trying to "fill ourselves up", right?

This can often lead to binge-eating, craving only certain kinds of foods and guilt or shame about eating in general.

I'm ready to stop emotional eating

The worst thing you can do is stress about stress eating.

Instead, take hope in the knowledge that there are multiple things you can do to address the issue and, essentially, repair your relationship with both food and your own body and sense of self.

Once you get to the heart of the "why", you'll be able to take steps to heal yourself and rebuild your patterns. Let's take a look at how, from multiple angles. Take each of these methods as a continual process of healing.

How to stop stress eating behaviour & eating disorder

Working with a therapist

It may not seem obvious, but issues of overeating, binge-eating and even anxiety and eating all stem from emotional wounds and issues from the past we haven't yet resolved.

Now, that's not a bad thing. We can't know everything right away. Maturation is a process of coming to terms with your issues and dealing with them, healing them, with professional support.

From talk therapy to hypnotherapy to CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), there are several psychotherapeutic modalities you can try and incorporate to help you shift these childhood patterns.

Learning new ways of coping with stress

Take a moment to examine which situations give you stress and critically analyze what your response is, step by step. Break your behavior down.

Now start to move towards new ways of responding to or dealing with stress. You can undertake breathing exercises, walk away from the situation, start a visualization or say particular phrases to yourself intended to trigger a state of calm.

You should also take time to give yourself relaxation through your week, including massages, spa days with friends,

Moving your body more often

Exercise has several benefits: improved mood, better heart function, deeper sleep and even improved skin. But one of the best and most instant effects is the release of endorphins, which immediately counter feelings of stress in the body.

Taking up meditation

Meditation has been known to calm the mind, bring a deeper body-mind awareness and promote deeper levels of sleep, rest and relaxation.

Using mindful breathing, meditation can be used to calm the central nervous system, bringing the body back into alignment. This connection strengthens overtime. Once the "monkey mind", as it's known, is silenced, you can begin to get to the heart of what is really behind your emotional eating issues.

Don't be surprised if you find out that the answers are right there at the surface and all you needed to do was drown out the distractions and focus.

Start a vitamin routine

Along with the various other psychotherapeutic and physical tools you'll be using to address these eating issues, another side to tackle it from is diet and nutrition.

Using vitamins like B-complex vitamins and ashwagandha, a naturally-occurring root and herb used to address issues of anxiety and stress, you can bring your body's chemical structure back into balance.

Take our 5 min consultation quiz to discover a tailor-made mix of vitamins, created to help you live your most vibrant life through the four pillars of health: nutrition, sleep, relaxation and activity. Our team of nutritionists will check in with you each month to answer your questions and keep you on track.

What’s next?

Experiencing issues around anxiety and eating are more common than you may think. It's never just one reason that may trigger you to developing a habit of eating through your feelings. Again, this doesn't happen overnight − it's a response practiced many times over.

And, in the same way, the "resolution" can't be found overnight either. Practice any (or all!) of these methods and you'll start to see a definite improvement in every aspect of your life.

Nutritionist to give you more food tips

Sources

Nguyen-Rodriguez, Selena T. et al. Psychological Determinants Of Emotional Eating In Adolescence. 2019.

"Why Stress Causes People To Overeat - Harvard Health". Harvard Health, 2019. 

"Emotional Eating - An Overview | Sciencedirect Topics". Sciencedirect.Com, 2019.

Writer: Ms Gauri Lokare

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