Stress. In today’s million-mile-a-minute, go-go-go society, it’s everywhere. The ever hectic hustle and bustle that faces American men and women alike on a daily basis knows no limits.
There’s pressure to be productive both on the job and off, at work and at home. There are even cultural expectations stressing the importance of meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices. How is anyone supposed to relax when stress is literally behind every corner and around every turn?
Finding strategies to help cope with the constant anxieties of modern life can be a challenge. Many Americans look for relief in a variety of ways. Some are healthy, and others are not. Unfortunately, it appears the majority of the tactics utilized today fall into the latter of the two categories. From drug use to alcohol abuse, excessive spending to withdrawing socially, it is not uncommon for individuals to seek comfort in habits that pose more harm than help.
One particularly poor choice for combatting stress is that of stress eating. While the immediate relief associated with indulging in an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream might feel good in the moment, it’s hardly a healthy way to blow off some steam.
Whether it’s overeating or just opting for unhealthy alternatives to nutritious, wholesome meals, more and more food choices are suffering at the hands of high stress levels. In fact, nearly forty percent of adults reportedly overate or chose less than ideal foods in the last month as a result of stress. Nearly 30% attest to eating as a way to manage stress.
In light of such statistics, and the near certainty that our anxieties aren’t going anywhere, it’s about time we put an end to emotional eating.
Here are five effective strategies to help you stop the habit of stress eating.
1. Wait Five Minutes
My dad used to tell me that the only way he was able to quit smoking was to utilize the five-minute rule. Set a timer for five minutes at the onset of an urge to eat. Try an alternate activity. When the timer goes off, if you still cannot resist the temptation, you can indulge.
This trick also works wonders with stress eating. A short five-minute window allows you to step outside an immediate urge or trigger and enables you to engage in another activity that’s (hopefully) more productive and effective. If the five minutes pass and you’re still stuck in your craving, you can eat, but you’ll at least have done so knowing it wasn’t an immediate reaction.
2. Indulge Elsewhere
Sure, scarfing down a super-sized bacon burger feels good in the moment, but so does a warm bath or a nice relaxing massage, without the guilt-ridden after effects. Try trading in one “guilty pleasure” for another to starve off stress-induced hunger cues.
There are plenty of ways to make yourself feel better that won’t cause you regret in the long run. Whether it’s watching your favorite show or an impromptu dance party in your pajamas. Find something that feels good and that isn’t inspired by your stomach.
3. Seek Support
Remember, you are not alone. We all face pressures and obligations, commitments and expectations that leave us more anxious and wound up than we’d like. Enlist the aid of a family member or friend to talk it out with.
They probably can’t solve any of your stressful situations, but there’s ample relief available in merely having someone to talk to. Alternately, you can also seek out additional support in the form of therapy or emotional eating support groups aimed at improving an individual’s relationship with food.
4. Identify Your Emotions
Are you hungry or are you upset? Is that a stomachache or heartache? Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between physical and emotional sensations in the body. We often misinterpret signs sent from our bodies based on how we feel, and as a result, act in ways that counter our current state.
Learning how to properly judge the different signs sent from your unique body take time, but it all begins with a little introspection. Instead of acting on impulse or habitual response, take a brief moment to question what you’re feeling.
5. Have Patience and Compassion
Always remember to be patient with yourself, especially as you learn how to cope with life’s ups and down’s in an appropriate and healthy manner. You’ll inevitably make mistakes, whether that’s in coping with stress or in relationships or in work. The key is learning from your efforts and practicing compassion.
If you beat yourself up for having a cookie instead of a carrot, you’ll only exacerbate your anxiety levels and cater to a defeatist attitude that will ultimately keep you from succeeding at a healthier relationship with food in the future. You are human, so don’t expect yourself to be anything but.