We’ve all been there. It starts with one biscuit, then a piece of chocolate or two, then a packet of chips, and before you know it you are scooping the last tiny bit of ice-cream at the bottom of the tub with nothing left but a bloated stomach and unresolved issues.
Stress eating is triggered by emotions. Whether it be stress, sadness, and even boredom, we turn to food to relieve stress as a primary emotional mechanism to cope with unpleasant feelings. But feeling guilty or getting angry with yourself for overeating will only make you binge more.
Medicinenet explains stress eating is a response to chronic stress from things like work, study or family issues and those are under this stress are likely to have chronically high levels of cortisol in their bodies which contribute to emotional eating patterns.
Satisfying emotional needs through comfort foods is what Molly, 21, turns to when she spends what seems all her time studying at her campus library.
“I generally feel pressure around due dates and when I feel my time needs to be put into study and I relieve my stress with snacks,” she explains.
“And because of this, I’m not getting enough energy because I’m eating bad food, and I’m not getting the energy from that so I keep eating to keep refueling because obviously, it doesn’t last that long”.
Medicinenet also explains that eating to fill an emotional void or to calm stress, can easily become a habit.
This habit was adopted by Darren, 24, who turned to food to deal with the “overload of assignments” he was facing during the last trimesters of his 4-year degree.
“Every year I get worse,” he admits. “It’s become an unbreakable habit because at the time it makes me feel a lot better so I turn to it whenever I am studying”.
“It has just become second nature to be eating sometimes I don’t even notice I am,” he said.
Overcoming stress eating cannot be done overnight but there are a few tactics you can use to build control over those eating habits.
- Only eat when you are hungry
The most obvious sign you are stress eating is when you find yourself munching on snacks when you aren’t hungry. The best thing to do to avoid this is to check for hunger cues. To ensure you’re hungry and not just bored, take a moment to feel your stomach for signals of hunger for e.g. if your stomach feels full or not. Although it is recommended you do eat every few hours, make sure you eat nourishing meals rather than snacks otherwise you will find yourself looking in the pantry often.
- Identify your eating triggers
When you find yourself needing a snack, take a note of what you are doing and how you are feeling at that exact moment to pinpoint what is initiating your stress eating. Whether it be work, study or something personal, it helps to be aware of what triggers these emotions and find other alternatives like exercise or music.
- Resort to healthier alternatives
If you find yourself looking for a snack, turning to a healthier, a more nourishing alternative can not only boost your energy but won’t sabotage any weight loss efforts. Replacing certain foods with healthier selections will avoid any further negative emotions from weight gain, which commonly results in more overeating. Leaning towards lower-calorie versions of your favourite foods as well as lower fats is also a step closer to overcoming stress eating.
- Do not skip meals
Skipping meals will only make you more hungry and you will end up eating more food than what you were contemplating on eating earlier. Not only does it alter your metabolism but also affects your mood and concentration. Less food in your body means the brain receives less glucose affecting your ability to concentrate.
- Consider any mistakes good mistakes
If you experience any setbacks, good. Forgive yourself, sleep on it and start fresh the next day. Use that previous stress eating episode as a lesson and learn from it by planning how to prevent it next time. Figure out where and how you went wrong and steer yourself away from any similar situations by focusing on the positives. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for trying.
For more tips and advice, visit the Mayo Clinic website.