Y’all, this year was the worst. The year 2016 has personally done a huge number on my stress level, as well as my snack intake (thanks, Donald Trump). Now, don’t get me wrong – there is absolutely nothing wrong with indulging in your favorite snack when you’re feeling super bummed out and anxious. There’s nothing wrong with loving junk food, either! But there is something wrong with constantly stress eating to fill some sort of void. If you’re like me, you might be an emotional eater. And after the last few months we’ve had, you might be in dire need of some tips on how to stop stress eating. It’s not just about losing weight – it’s about learning healthier ways to deal with anxiety. For me, personally, starting 2017 off right is about getting rid of the garbage fire that was 2016, and that starts with getting rid of my stress eating habit.
I totally get that this is much easier said than done. For most of us, our relationship with food is more complicated than simply telling yourself to stop. That’s fine, to a point. But it could be a sign that you have some disordered eating that needs to be addressed. A lot of us stress eat because it’s easier to finish a pint of ice cream than it is to confront our emotions. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but eating a bag of chips doesn’t count as treating yourself if you do it every single time you feel sad, anxious, exhausted, or excited. The line between actual hunger and emotional eating is a thin one, but once you learn how to navigate it, you’ll probably binge a lot less. To get you there, let’s start with these tips on how to stop stress eating right now. It’s the best way to get healthier for the new year!
Learn To Tell The Difference Between Hunger and EmotionOne version of hunger has to do with your digestive system. It's not there when you're full and it comes on gradually. The other version that you think is hunger comes on suddenly, has more to do with your brain than anything else, and can easily turn into a neverending black hole of sugary, salty goodness. One is satiated by eating any form of food and is more flexible in its desires, and the other one sounds and looks a lot like "I very speficially need nachos because REASONS." As you can tell, one is emotional eating and the other one comes from actually being hungry. Telling the difference is the first step to quitting emotional eating in the first place. Otherwise, it feels like you're on a diet or denying yourself food for arbitrary reasons. How do you know the difference? Well, think about it: when was the last time you ate? How much have you eaten that day? Should you be hungry? Examine your emotions. One thing a lot of people find helpful is to keep a food diary. They write down each time they eat throughout the day along with their mood when eating. After a week or so, you can begin to see more of a pattern. Source: iStock
Use The Broccoli TestI just learned about the broccoli test and I love it. Basically, whenever you feel some sort of craving, you ask yourself if you would eat a bunch of raw broccoli. The answer for some of you might be, "actually never, broccoli is gross af," which is fair. But, the point of the test is to get honest about if you're actually hungry because your body needs food or if you're hungry because you're going through something emotional. Maybe your personal broccoli test looks like "Would I eat dinner/a salad/an apple instead of this?" or whatever "healthy food" looks like to you, but it's a good tool to have if you want to stop yourself before you binge.Source: iStock
Attempt To Destress FirstTake care of your emotional needs first, whatever that means to you, without using food. Then, after you feel better, if you still want that snack - go for it. Oftentimes, we emotionally eat because the resolution is not immediately resolvable. The situation is way too big and exists outside of yourself so the only thing that makes you feel immediately better is to have some comfort food. Sometimes it's not resolvable at all. So then, take care of yourself only. What can you do just for you to feel better and don't use food. Most of the time, your craving will go away too once you're on the path to resolving your feelings. Really let yourself go through it instead of putting a bandaid on it with food.Source: iStock
Stock Up For Your Next BingeSometimes when you get weirdly specific cravings, it's because your body is missing some key nutrients. So, instead of stocking up on your go-to foods, you can prep by having nutrient-dense food on deck. I know most of you probably don't do your own grocery shopping, so you might need to talk to your parents about maybe not buying potato chips because you'll eat the entire bag during finals week. Don't volunteer to take home leftover birthday cake if you're going to paw through it with your hands when you're feeling low. Know what your food triggers are and restock your pantry accordingly.Source: iStock
Take Stock Of Your Emotional TriggersWhat makes you go hard on snacks? Is it depression, anxiety, exhaustion, or excitement? Once you know what gets you going, you can prepare to take better care of yourself once you experience that emotion or go through that circumstance again - maybe you're set off by pulling all-nighters and staying up late studying. If the situation is avoidable, you can divert your emotional attention. If it's something that happens frequently, you can come up with preplanned ways for you to feel okay so that you don't have to immediately make a b-line for your fridge when you experience these feelings.Source: iStock
Down A Giant Glass Of WaterWhen you're stressed or experiencing other high-stakes emotions, you forget to do some life basics like rest, breathe, and even hydrate. Yup. Sometimes when you're looking around for something really salty or really sweet, think about the last time you had some water. Not soda, iced tea, or coffee - WATER. It's the thing that's going to hydrate you the most. Is the answer was more than a few hours ago, find some water and down at least a few full glasses of it. When your body is actually dehydrated and going through some extreme emotions, your brain might tell you that you're hungry when you're actually thirsty. Who knew?Source: iStock
Give In, But Really Savor ItI know I just told you to stop emotional eating, but if you find yourself mid-binge or you need need need that ice cream - fine. Really. Do it. There's no use shaming yourself if you're there since shame is probably a component of what got you here in the first place, right? Instead of making it about your emotions, focus this indulgence on how bomb that ice cream is instead of how good it's making you feel. Really go hard on sensorally enjoying the food. You'll stop when it gets boring or you get your fill of that food instead of, y'know... when you feel un-sad again, which may be for a while.Source: iStock
Do you stress eat? Are you also working on stopping? What do you crave? Let us know in the comments!
You can follow the author, Aliee Chan, on Twitter.