Of the dozens of women I’ve interviewed and coached, there is one problem that comes up repeatedly in their journey towards becoming fit, more balanced, and in love with how their bodies look and feel.
That problem is none other than stress and emotional eating.
If you’re reading this and thinking “Yup, I’ve fallen victim to a stress-eating attack (or two or three)”, rest assured you’re not alone. At least 40% of people increase their food intake when they experience stress whether at work, at home, or in other situations.
Stress-eating is silent, insidious and comes on strong often with little to no warning. It’s thwarting the healthy lifestyle dreams of countless busy women who are working hard to take care of themselves while maintaining a career, running a business, having relationships and making a difference in the world.
What many women don’t realize is that this stress-eating problem can be way more destructive than it seems on the surface.
Here are five ways that stress-eating might be leading you down the path to ruin:
1- You’ll Gain Weight
This might seem like an obvious one, but if your stress levels or emotional distress are driving you to consume large quantities of fat and sugar-laden delicacies, it’s going to reflect on the scale sooner or later.
A study in Finland showed that BMI was highest in people who were driven to eat as a result of being stressed out. This group had a tendency to reach for the fattiest and most sugar-laden foods they could get their hands on (think sausages, hamburgers, chocolate, pizza and other typical comfort foods).
It’s also been found that emotional eaters are more likely to overeat under stress (rather than undereat), making it much easier to pack on the pounds.
You might not think that stress has a huge influence on your weight, but succumbing to your stress will surely sabotage your weight loss goals if you’re trying to stay fit and healthy. The good news is, it’s totally possible to break free from your stress-eating habits if you commit to the process.
2- You’ll Be Antisocial
There’s nothing like craving an entire pizza to make you want some alone time. For many people, binge-eating due to stress or an emotional upheaval causes feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment, especially when it comes to eating in public or social settings.
Secretive and isolating behaviour is a tell-tale sign of a binge-eating problem that could be brought on by stress.
So all that hiding out and covering up you’re doing to fill that emotional void with food?
It’s preventing you from cultivating and maintaining rich relationships that will probably do more to soothe your stress than a pint of ice-cream ever could.
3- You’ll be even more stressed
If you’re trying to be healthier by staying on top of your exercise and eating well, a stress-induced moment of weakness might make you feel like you’ve fallen behind, sending you on a rollercoaster ride of negativity.
Enter thoughts of defeat and irreparable failure:
Oh no, I’ve messed up again! Ugh, why can’t I just get it together?
How will I explain this to my personal trainer?
I won’t hit my goal weight on time to fit into that dress!
I’ll never make it through this 30-day challenge.
The panic that sets in as a result of falling off the wagon can trigger yet another stress reaction. Which may lead to even more emotional eating.
I’m sure you can see where this is going.
Eating well is just a part of achieving a whole and balanced lifestyle– a lifestyle that includes an effective stress-management plan. If your battle with stress-eating is adding even more stress to your life, it’s time to get focused on addressing it.
4- You might develop an eating disorder
This is a serious one.
Because stress-eating/emotional eating is typically followed by feelings of guilt and self-loathing, it’s easy to fall into a mindset that goes something like this:
“Oh no, I just ate way too many carbs…I’ll have to run an extra mile tomorrow to burn that off”.
“That chocolate was so good…but so fattening. If I skip dinner, it will all even out.”
Feeling like you need to restrict your food intake or exercise in response to what you’ve eaten instead of seeing food as a fuel for your next workout (and to keep your body functioning) is a recipe for what could turn into disordered eating.
The binge/purge or binge/restrict mindset is characterized by a sense of panic post-binge and the need to “get rid of” or compensate somehow for any food you’ve just consumed.
Be careful how you talk to yourself about your body and the food you eat. And, if you start to notice these patterns of thinking in yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out and get some help.
5- Your general willpower will plummet
According to PhD Susan Bartell, PhD and award winning psychologist, your willpower is the strongest when you’re already feeling good about your body image and health.
The cruel irony is that many women eat emotionally under stress in order to feel better and distract themselves from negative feelings.
But if you do this, you’re likely to end up feeling much worse about yourself, which can have an adverse effect on your ability to exercise willpower.
And guess what?
This can derail much more than your healthy eating habits.
You might find it much easier to hit snooze for the third time, skip your workout or say things to your colleagues or loved ones that you’ll likely regret.
It’s clear that your level of discipline about what (and how much) you consume can be surprisingly beneficial (or detrimental) to many other areas of your life.
In the age of leaning in and #girlbossing, professional women are under more pressure than ever to succeed. We have to prove ourselves in our work, businesses, and personal lives — all while staying fit, healthy and clinically sane. It’s easy for stress-eating to become a force that takes control when you have a full schedule and are constantly meeting external demands while trying to live up to internal expectations.