Stress eating. The madness of food.
The week before my wedding was a mad house. Not only was I getting married but I had just moved to a new country and was in the process of submitting my final university paper. One morning, after having baked a couple batches of cookies for the family, I sat down to continue writing out my case studies and found myself mindlessly munching on the delicious gooey chocolate and caramel cookies, all just screaming to be eaten.
I'd eaten 5 of them before I even registered it. Hello stress eating, welcome to the party.
I’m no stranger to my eating going weird. Like most people, if I’m feeling under pressure, I tend to crave the baked goods goodness. If I’m SERIOUSLY stressed, I just lose my appetite altogether. But normally, I’m very aware of the stress response and I find other ways to deal with it. (sometimes that means adding more coffee and more deadlines. Crowd out the stress! Just kidding, that is not an effective way of dealing with it at all!)
I know that stress eating and binge eating is something that a lot of people, women in particular struggle with, so I thought I'd share how I deal with it.
Firstly, stress or binge eating is NOT the problem, it is the symptom.
Often women tell me that they need to get their binging under control so they go on a diet or create rules for themselves or punish themselves by trying to undo the damage with restriction or over exercise. All of which is about as effective as treating a broken leg with arnica cream.
There is a reason that you are responding by using food to soothe yourself. Take an honest look at your circumstances and pinpoint what's going on that causes you to stress eat, and deal with THAT first.
That does however, take a little time and effort, so while you’re working on that, you can also work on breaking the habitual response, and help yourself by removing the physical element too.
The first thing that I did after realizing I’d mindlessly mowed down the cookies, was put the cookies away in a sealed container. Out of sight, out of mind. The easier the access to the baked goods drugs, the less resistance you’ll have, especially in the beginning when the habit is still well established.
After hiding the evil delicious goodness, I mean, the cookies, I made myself a decent meal. High in protein and fat with very little carbs. There is increasing evidence to suggest that a meal with high levels of good fat and good protein will keep you fuller, reduce your insulin response levels and help reduce sugar cravings. I personally find it a winner and feel a lot more settled and calm, which is why breakfast is normally low carb high fat. (added to this the fact that sugar and refined carbs can be addictive to some people, you’re probably better off without it anyway). The better your overall nutrition and self-care, the less likely you are to binge and the less damage a binge will do.
Filling up on good food also helps you to avoid having enough space for things that you might easily eat when you’re stressed that are really just junk.
I mean, let's be honest, nobody stress eats a chicken salad right!
And lastly, break the pattern. (this is important!)
Take a good look at the pattern of how you stress eat. For me when I’m working, the pattern would be that when I take regular breaks to walk away from my computer… I find myself wandering into the kitchen. Because I’ve done it before, I can do it on auto-pilot. So the solution for me is to get up and walk outside or have a quick stretch. Anything that is different from the old pattern because it helps break the “brain loop” that happens when your mind goes “hey, we’re getting up and we’re a bit stressed, I know what to do next… COOKIES!”
Most importantly please don’t beat yourself up if you fail at this. It just adds to your stress which continues to trigger the cycle. If you’re stress or binge eating, remember that it is NOT the problem and you are not a failure for not being able to find your way out of it. It’s the response, the symptom. After all, you wouldn’t tell someone that they are a failure because they have a runny nose, but you would tell them to do something about the nasty cold that they have.
And if you really want to eat the cookies, do it. But do it slowly, mindfully, enjoy every single gooey mouthful and do it without guilt or regret, and then move on.