In my last post, I described the many ways that stress can sabotage your weight loss goals— including:
- hormone imbalances that stress can trigger
- psychological effects of stress that can heavily influence your food cravings, and
- the vicious cycle that both of the above create.
You’ve learned all about the vicious cycle of weight gain and emotional dysfunction that stress-eating can trigger.
Now it’s time to take action and break the cycle.
I’m painfully aware of what it’s like to struggle with stress and emotional eating. It’s not uncommon for the busy woman — the entrepreneur, the go-getter, the millennial up and comer — you’re stressed out a lot of the time. You’re under a ton of pressure either from others or yourself and sometimes it’s just easier to grab that junk food or that donut in the break room because you didn’t have time to make a healthy breakfast.
If you want to quit stress-eating, it’s important to shift your mindset from the get-go to understand that food is not the solution to your anxiety problems. The solution lies in the choices that you make.
With that in mind, here are three actionable ways to break your stress eating habits.
1) Plan ahead
There is no shortage of unhealthy food, and that’s not going to change anytime soon! Especially if you work in an office or an environment where there’s always candy, there’s always snacks— chocolate, donuts, pizza— whatever it is. But just because something is in front of you, doesn’t mean you have to eat it. What you eat, what you put in your body is 100% under your control.
Just think about that.
You are 100% in control of what you consume.
If you can understand that and create an emotional detachment from those foods, and plan ahead. In the book of Daniel, the Hebrews had been taken captive in Babylon. If you’re at all familiar with Bible stories, you may know that the Hebrews followed a lot of dietary rules and were not permitted to eat certain foods. When the Hebrews were captured and taken to Babylon, there were four particular young men who had to undergo training to work in this foreign kingdom. When it came down to mealtime, they purposed in their hearts that they would not partake of the king’s meat, which was forbidden according to the Hebrew law.
When these guys went into the king’s banquet hall, they knew there was gonna be a spread. Do you think they showed up and said “uhhhh well I guess I’ll kind of decide in the moment and hope that I’ll be able to make a rational decision when I’m hungry and under pressure”?
No. They committed to the plan before the temptation arose.
Take this lesson to heart—decide ahead of time that you are going to make the choice to be good to your body instead of having food control you.
Now, you might be thinking, “How the heck do I plan ahead?”
I’m so glad you asked!
There’s one simple trick that works for me every time.
I think I was a senior in university the first time I got into meal prepping. I was always the girl that would just grab the coffee and bagel before class. I didn’t really have great breakfasts, I ate out a lot and spent a lot of money on food when I didn’t really need to. When I started meal prepping, it changed my life!
I started off small— cutting up some fruit and packaging it up nicely into little containers every few days. I would just grab one and throw it in my bag on my way to class ensuring that I had something healthy to eat even if I didn’t have a full breakfast that morning. I also worked part time on campus so if there were donuts or other decadent unhealthy treats in the office, I was prepared with an alternative to keep me on track. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a treat once in awhile, but there is a definite distinction between knowing when you are allowing yourself to do that and when that impulse is controlling you.
If you’re reaching for that deep-fried goodie or slice of cake in an attempt to numb a feeling or soothe something that’s not right within you, get honest with yourself. Decide that you will not be at the mercy of your emotions, but you will make the choice to do what’s right for your body.
2) Identify your triggers
If you’ve recognized that certain situations cause a ton of anxiety and you know that you’re going to want to stuff your face to alleviate those feelings, make sure you have a plan in place before those situations arise. Make sure you know what those triggers are so that you can be mentally prepared to respond in a way that doesn’t involve consuming unhealthy food.
Identifying your triggers can help provide insight into the root of the problem. For example, if you’re about to give a presentation in a meeting at work and it’s stressing you out, take a few seconds to think about why you’re feeling that way in the first place. Are you afraid that people are going to think you are ignorant? Do you think that no one will care about what you have to say? Are you worried that you will forget your points? Once you start to address those individual fears, you’ll notice that you will have greater courage – which is not the absence of fear, but feeling the fear and choosing to push through that, recognizing the value of doing it anyway.
The breakthroughs you experience through practicing this exercise will make your stress cravings start to disappear because your new found confidence will remove your compulsion to rely on food as a shield. When you have that stress craving, write it down in your journal, record a video, text your coach. Whatever you need to do to verbalize that, do it so you can work through it!
Whatever you need to do to verbalize that, do it so you can work through it!
3) Create an If/then Strategy
I love the if/then strategy because it is the easiest thing you can do for yourself for a quick win. It works like this:
If X then Y
Once you identify your trigger, plug that trigger into the formula after “if” and then come up with a solution to plug in after “then”. Let’s use the presentation example again. If you know that presenting gives you anxiety, your if/then strategy will look a bit like this:
IF I’m getting nervous and stressed because of this presentation THEN I will take a minute to breathe, quickly jot down my feelings and then grab a healthy snack or a glass of water.
Often when we get overwhelmed with these feelings, it’s because in the moment we feel out of control, powerless, and vulnerable and we panic. It feels like there’s no way out so we compensate with food. Having this strategy in place gives you peace of mind, knowing you have a backup plan in case of a stress-eating emergency.
Remember you will only see changes if you’re consistent and commit to the process. Have a purpose, identify your triggers, and make a plan! If you practice these three things, I promise you’ll start seeing changes in your mindset, you’ll be more mindful, you’ll think through things better, and you’ll start to see those destructive habits go away.
You’ll be free from stress-eating in no time.