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Approximately 27 percent of adults report eating to help them manage their stress. Another 34 percent say this is a regular habit of theirs.
Eating to manage stress may be a common practice, but that definitely doesn’t make it normal or healthy. Stress eating on a regular basis comes with a wide range of health risks, and it stops you from getting to and dealing with the root cause of your stress.
If you’re ready to stop stress eating, keep reading. Listed below are some tips that will help you kick this habit.
Why Do We Stress Eat?
Have you ever wondered why it is that you turn to food in times of stress? What is it about an impending work deadline or relationship problem that makes you want to grab a bag of chips or carton of ice cream?
When you’re dealing with chronic stress, your adrenal glands produce a hormone known as cortisol.
One of the side effects of increased cortisol production is an increase in appetite. This, in turn, can cause you to feel hungrier and increase your chances of eating more food than you normally would.
Stress Eating Health Risks
Eating because you’re stressed out every once in a while likely won’t lead to any long-term health effects. However, if you find yourself stress eating on a regular basis, you could be setting yourself up for some serious problems, including the following:
- Weight gain and increased risk of obesity
- Increased risk obesity-related illnesses like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes
- Poor mental health (including conditions like depression and anxiety) that results from feelings of guilt and shame caused by overeating
This last point is especially important. Even if you don’t think that your stress eating is taking a toll on you from a physical perspective, it could be wreaking havoc on your mental and emotional health.
Tips for Stopping Stress Eating
Okay, you can see why stress eating is problematic. How do you stop doing it, though?
There are two components to overcoming a habit of stress eating. For many people, the first step is to replace the habit with another, healthier one. The second step is to get to the root of your stress and find ways to lessen it.
Keeping the following tips in mind can help you figure out why you’re so stressed out and help you learn to cope with your stress in healthier ways:
Write in a Journal
To overcome stress eating (or any other unhealthy behavior, for that matter), it helps to become more aware of what triggers your desire to stress eat.
Writing in a journal can help you monitor your feelings and notice patterns that trigger you and cause you to want to overeat. The more you do this, the easier it will be for you to pick up on your emotions and catch yourself before you fall into the trap of overeating to cope with your stress.
Writing in a journal can also help you identify the biggest stressors in your life so that you can find ways to reduce or eliminate them.
Talk to a Therapist
There’s a lot you can do to manage your tendency to stress eat on your own. Sometimes, though, it helps to talk to a therapist or another trained professional.
A therapist can help you get to the root of your stress and pick up on patterns that you might not notice when you’re working alone. It also helps to have support when you’re going through a difficult time and working to change old behaviors.
Join a Support Group
Speaking of support, you may also want to look into joining a support group designed for those who struggle with stress eating.
Having the support of others who know exactly what you’re going through can help you avoid feeling alone while on this journey. These people might also be able to provide you with advice and guidance.
Take Up a Hobby
Instead of reaching for food when you’re feeling stressed, what if you could do something fun or productive instead?
Taking up a hobby and having that be your go-to when you’re stressed out can help you replace overeating with a better habit. Try reading a book, doing crafts, or working on projects around your house.
Exercising is another great hobby that you can turn to instead of overeating.
Exercise helps the body to produce endorphins, which relieve stress and boost your mood. Even something simple like going for a walk can help you feel more at ease during times of stress.
Don’t Make Drastic Changes
Avoid making drastic changes to your diet at the same time that you’re working to overcome stress eating.
Radical diet changes (especially those that involve eliminating entire food groups or cutting calories super low) are a stressor on the body. This, in turn, will likely cause you to feel more stressed and anxious, which may cause you to end up wanting to eat even more.
Meditating can work wonders for people who struggle with stress eating.
Meditation helps you to feel more present and makes it easier for you to improve your impulse control. By doing this, you’ll be less inclined to give in to cravings when you’re stressed and will be able to turn to other, healthier coping mechanisms instead.
Meditation can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Remember, though, that you don’t have to dive in first with a 20-minute meditation session.
Start with a short guided meditation or set a timer for five minutes and sit quietly until it goes off. You don’t have to make it complicated.
Stop Stress Eating for Good
If you want to avoid the health risks that accompany a habit of stress eating, be sure to keep these tips in mind.
It will likely take time for you to overcome this bad habit altogether. However, if you remember this advice, you’ll eventually be able to stop stress eating and move forward with healthier habits and a better relationship to food.
Do you want to learn more about managing stress in a healthy way? If so, check out some of our other Health and Fitness articles today.