5 Ways to Stop Stress Eating

Dr. Kristen M. White, Inland Empire Psychologist

Tough day?  It’s pretty easy to find some comfort in the drive thru or refrigerator.  On the positive side, at least you’re comforting yourself, and it could be worse—drugs, sex with strangers, you name it, there are certainly worse ways to cope.  At the same time, coping through food often leaves an unwanted mark on our waistline as well as our self-esteem.  So what can we do about it?  Here are five ways to break the habit of de-stressing with food:

1) Make substitutions: The typical advice is to stop: Stop eating carbs. Stop eating sweets. Stop eating after 7pm.  The much better advice  is to do something different.  Make cauliflower mashed potatoes instead of regular ones.  Eat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream.  Drink a glass of herbal tea instead of having that late night snack.  In other words, find something you can enjoy without all the guilt.

2) Find new ways to de-stress: Find alternative activities that you enjoy and help you de-stress.  These activities can include anything from walking to deep breathing to drawing to calling a friend.  Experiment until you find some that work for you, and then write at least five of these activities on a notecard that you can pull out whenever you feel stressed. 

3) Plan ahead for trouble spots:  Think ahead about when you typically end up eating unwanted foods.  Is it after those tough meetings with your boss?  Or when you get home and are trying to unwind at the end of the day?  Make a specific plan for these times—whether it means doing something to unwind away from the kitchen/TV or having a substitute food on hand to enjoy without the guilt.

4) Keep track of your successes:  Change is hard and takes time.  As you try to do something different, don't expect perfection.  Most importantly, don't focus on your failures.  Instead, notice your successes and start writing them down so you can read them whenever you get discouraged.

5) Involve others:  Another way to beat discouragement is to have a partner.  Try to find someone who wants to make similar changes—ideally with food, but perhaps with some other behavior in their life if that fits better.  Discuss your plans together and set regular times for check-ins.  Just knowing this will happen may help to keep you on track.

Bottomline?  You can successfully make changes, even in something as habitual as your eating and coping.  It’s going to take time and intentionality though.  It’s also going to take a lot of experimenting to find out what works for you.  Think of failures as new information about what didn’t work and just try again.

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