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Stress: How to Manage Without Food

It would be quite the task to find someone that has not eaten something because they were ‘stressed’ at least once during their life. You could probably argue that a baby under stress can be calmed by a bottle just as much as an adult might find temporary relief from mac and cheese after a rough day. We cannot escape all stress, whether it is from family, work, obligations, or even the stress that comes from making lifestyle changes and trying to lose weight. The difference lies in how you handle it. Ask yourself a few of these questions and work towards implementing new strategies to manage stress.

Am I really hungry or is this stress?

You have your regular breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner then find yourself opening the fridge door again. There might be something new in there that wasn’t there earlier, right? If you just finished your meal 30 minutes ago and your stomach isn’t growling, what could be driving you back to the kitchen? Take a moment to pause and think, maybe there is a deadline at work approaching and you are behind or finances are tight this week and you know there are bills to pay. It is possible that your body is feeling underlying stress and is looking for relief through food to provide a moment of calm. If you learn you are not truly hungry, there is a good chance stress is the trigger. The first step to managing stress eating without food is to name the problem and identify it as an issue. 

Hi, I am a stress eater. What’s next?

Stress is the ‘why’ you are eating. Let’s get more specific with the where, what and when’s of stress eating. Where is it happening-at work, home, in the car, at your relatives. Nail down the environment where stress eating happens so you can change that area to be more supportive. What are you eating? Is it vending machine food, the leftovers on the kids plate, a second helping of dinner when you know you are full already, sweet or salty snack food, maybe even an extra glass of wine? Lastly when does it occur? After lunch in the homestretch of the workday, before dinner while you are cooking, on the weekends when you have a full family schedule to take care of? Take a second to answer these questions and get detailed so you can develop your plan of attack.

So I’ve figured out my “W’s”, give me the secret sauce!

Let’s run through an example. So you’ve identified that you stress eat at work around 11AM right before your weekly meeting. You develop laser eyes for that candy bowl on your co-workers desk and unwrap a good handful of mini chocolates while you talk to your co-worker about what is about to happen at the meeting.  You aren’t even sure how many chocolates you eat as your mind is preoccupied. For next week you plan ahead, set an alarm to go off at 10:30AM to eat your planned snack and instead of going to your co-workers desk walk the opposite way and take a lap around the office. Movement can reduce stress and removing yourself from a tempting environment keeps you away from a potential stress eating trap when you are vulnerable. How about grazing on your kids snacks out of the pantry in the afternoon when you are consumed with everything you need to get done before dinner time? Hide those snacks on a bottom shelf behind closed doors so they are not easily seen or buy the snacks that you are not tempted by or you dislike. Before the kids get home off the bus take 10 minutes to yourself to decompress with a meditation, read a chapter out of a book or journal your thoughts to get organized before the chaos begins. To summarize, evaluate the situation and brainstorm what can be changed in your physical environment and how you can plan to engage in a new behavior to keep ahead of your stress response to eat.

Interesting, seems easier said than done!

And you would be right, but that does not mean that it is not worth the effort! Managing stress eating without food takes time and patience. It is like a muscle that needs strengthening that you’ll have to work on frequently. Don’t beat yourself up for slip-ups but starting by identifying the specifics of your stress eating is key to then figuring out the strategy that will work for you. Check out our post on ’50 ways to decompress and destress’ for ideas of what to replace food with when you are ready to implement a new response to stress!

At Pounds we are here to guide you through this and serve as a support system to provide even more strategies to manage stress without food. Let us help you stay focused, motivated, and reach your goals! You can schedule an appointment by filling out our contact form found here


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