This month is Stress Awareness Month, and while stress awareness is always important, this year it seems particularly important. Stress is already a much more common and serious issue than you might think, and being stuck inside for the past year certainly hasn’t helped matters. For many, extended quarantine can lead to some really unhealthy behaviors. To name one, taking comfort in food during times of stress is normal, but regularly overeating can negatively impact your health and further increase stress levels. Learning to cope with stress and find healthy ways to work through emotionally difficult situations can be really helpful in developing a healthy lifestyle.
What is stress eating / emotional eating?
Stress eating, also known as emotional eating, is when you engage in the act of eating for reasons other than hunger. Perhaps you are eating because you are sad, stressed, or even lonely. It’s no secret that food has the power to soothe and distract us from certain feelings, so it’s very common to lean on food for support.
Why does it happen? What triggers stress eating?
Common signs of emotional eating include changing your eating habits during times of higher stress, eating when you’re not hungry, eating to avoid a stressful situation, eating to soothe feelings, and using food as a reward. There are specific triggers that often lead to these signs. Boredom is a common emotional eating trigger. If your day-to-day is mundane and unvaried, it’s a natural reaction to turn to food when in this state of boredom.
Social influences can also contribute to stress eating. When in a social situation, it’s really common to overeat because you don’t want to be the friend that sits out of the eating activity, even if you don’t really want the food. You feel an obligation to eat because those around you are eating and likely bonding over the food they’re consuming.
What can I do to combat stress eating?
1. Make a plan
Maintain a healthy, regular meal schedule and don’t restrict or deviate from the plan. Maintaining a regular eating pattern will help you avoid stress eating because you will be nourishing your body properly. Focusing on regularly fueling your body will lead to you feeling more satiated and having fewer stress-related cravings. Don’t restrict food in anticipation that you will stress eat later. Studies have found that when you restrict calories early in the day, you are much more likely to stress eat or overeat at night.
2. Live a little
One of the main triggers to stress eating is boredom, so spice up your days! Go for walks, plan workouts, do crafts, explore your hometown, play games, the list goes on. Find ways to make your days a bit more interesting. Physical activity is a great stress reliever, so instead of turning to food, get active! Regular exercise will help clear your head and give you new ways to cope with any stress you might be feeling.
3. Get support
You’re much more likely to give in to stress eating if you do not have a proper support network. Use your friends and family to give you support and hold you accountable. The people that love and care about you will be able to help you navigate stressful situations, and may be able to offer advice on ways to help you cope with your stress that do not involve food. Stress eating isn’t something to be ashamed of!