Why You Stress Eat, And How To Stop (Part 2: Solutions)

Hey Folks,

In last weeks blog we looked at how your body responds to a stressful events in ways that lead you to have food cravings. We also discussed why the stress response can make you more impulsive, and cause you to lose touch with your long term goals like fat loss.

Lastly we explained the hormones that regulate your appetite, and how in a state of chronic stress they become dysfunctional which leaves you feeling hungrier and less satisfied after meals.

Today we’re covering the top 5 strategies you can in your everyday life to better manage your nutrition during stressful times.  

1.) Face What’s Stressing You Out, Instead Of Trying To Distract With Food:

If you’re stressed about something rather than trying to suppress those feelings with food, you need to address the actual source of stress that causing the urge to overeat.

Honestly if you can do this on a more consistent basis when you’re feeling stressed you won’t really need the other tips in the this blog because you’ll be addressing the root of the problem.

Far too often when people feel stressed it’s because they know there’s something in life they need to be taking action on, but aren’t.

I recently dealt with this when I switched the business model for my nutrition practice. It seemed like such a big change with so much to do that I let it  stress me out instead of taking action.

To deal with the stress I set a date, and came up with an action game plan of mini tasks I had to get done on a weekly basis to have the new business model in place by my deadline.

Commit to taking one small action that will get you closer to solving what’s stressing you out. Taking action alleviates stress and fear because you’re too busy with solving the problem to worry about it.

2.) Don’t Keep Trigger Food In The House:

As we spoke about in the last blog when you’re in a stressed state you’re more likely to have diminished willpower and  be impulsive.

This impulsive behavior especially applies when it comes to stress eating,  which is why if it’s in the house, and you’re tempted... you’ll eat it.

The easy fix is to identify the foods you have a history of overeating when you’re stressed, or that you have a hard time controlling your intake of and not keep them in the house.

I’ve mentioned it before, but that trigger food for me is peanut butter. I can use a spoon or a bag of plantain chips and tear through half a jar of peanut butter with ease.

My solution is that I don’t buy it all that often, especially if I’m dieting or cutting any kind of weight. I’ll also use the powdered peanut butter instead of regular as it has the flavor i love with far fewer calories.

3.) Journaling (HALTS):

For my clients who deal with significant food cravings I’ll have them carry a food journal in their bag. When they feel tempted I ask them to set a 5 minute timer and do a journal session before making any decisions.

The HALTS acronym is something I learned from my friend and mentor Luka. It stands for Hungry-Angry-Lonely-Tired-Stressed. This helps the journaler identify what emotion is causing their food craving.

I like my clients to identify which HALTS emotion is driving them to want to emotionally eat before they start the journaling process.

This way they can connect the emotion with the craving, and realize that it’s an emotional hunger, not a physical one.

For some folks the act of writing down what’s on their mind, and what emotions they’re feeling is cathartic for them. It helps you to  recognize and relieve stress rather than ignore or suppress it with food.

4.) Call A Friend and Make Plans:

When people stress eat, they’re looking for a form of comfort and a way to alleviate the negative feelings they’re experiencing.  

By connecting with someone you care about  over the phone or meeting up and grabbing dinner this can help to squelch the stress you’re feeling, and replace it with comfort.

Just make sure it’s not someone who stresses you out on a regular basis!

This also serves as a good distraction in the moment and will hopefully provide some belly laughs or a good conversation.

5.) Interrupt The Pattern:

The more you engage in specific habits, especially ones that trigger the reward center in your brain the more difficult they become to break.

There is a theory is neuroscience named Hebb’s Law  which is paraphrased by saying the neurons that fire together wire together.

This means the more you teach the brain that when A happens then B is the result your brain makes that connection much stronger, almost like a shortcut.

This makes it easy to understand that if you’ve engaged in stress eating for many years it can be a difficult habit to break, but it’s possible!

To break out of this vicious cycle you have to interrupt the pattern and through practice teach your brain that when you experience stress, eating hyper palatable foods is no longer the response.

In the beginning this can be uncomfortable and it’s going to take practice.

The next time you feel like you’re going to eat due to stress break that pattern.

Splash cold water in your face , go outside for a walk, get in your car and go for drive, take your journal to a nearby park and write for five minutes.

If you need help or want to chat about a specific issue you’re dealing with email me evolvent.pdx@gmail.com so we can troubleshoot your problem.


Alex “ Take A Deep Breath” McMahon