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Ask the Expert: Why do I keep eating when stressed?

Q:  I find that whenever I get stressed or overwhelmed, all I want to do is eat – and I typically go for foods that aren’t the “best” for me.  (Hello pint of ice cream!)  Is there something I can do to help manage this?

A:  When you find yourself reaching for the chips or cookies when you’re stressed out, the first step is to take a 10-minute time-out.  Don’t eat anything for at least 10 minutes.  Take time to think about what you’re doing.  Ask yourself, “What am I really looking for?”  You probably want to feel calm or relaxed.  Food, especially carbohydrates, may calm you down in the short term, but you’ll probably wind up feeling just as stressed –and guilty, too—a couple hours after you eat. 

Ask yourself what you could do to directly address the underlying problem—the source of your stress.  For example, if you’re worried about a work deadline, stop procrastinating and take steps to start or complete the project.  If there isn’t anything you can do to address the stressful situation, try an activity that will relax you.  Deep breathing, exercising, meditating, or petting your dog or cat may help you calm down.  Talking to a friend or writing about your stress may help you feel better, too.  If there isn’t anything you can do to relax in the moment, try distracting yourself from your stress by doing a word puzzle, reading, or getting involved in a project that keeps your hands busy.  As a last resort, keep a lower-calorie food (such as reduced-fat popcorn) on hand if you do choose to eat when you’re stressed.

 

We have a great 3-day workshop here at H3 coming up at the end of September that focuses on giving you the tools and support needed to regain control of your eating.  You will have the opportunity to explore the many ways your emotions and everyday stressors can affect your relationship with food and learn a variety of mindful techniques that are key to overcoming these self-sabotaging eating patterns.  Visit our website to learn more.

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