Stress and Eating

iStock_000001673213SmallStress is the emotion people experience under prolonged emotional or mental pressure. It is produced by an imbalance between the demands on you and your resources for coping with those demands.

You are stressed if:

  • You feel over-burdened
  • You are tense, tearful, irritable or agitated much of the time
  •  You think you cannot cope with the demands on you

If you eat in response to stress it is probably because you have learned to associate eating with feeling calmer. But any amount of food will only numb the stressed feelings. The key to dealing with stress is to reduce the imbalance by reducing the external pressures on you or increasing the resources or coping strategies you have available.

Take a piece of paper and in one column list the all the resources you have available to you including help from other people or abilities or qualities you have within yourself. Resources also include the amount of money, energy and time you have available to you. In another column list the ways in which you could increase any of your existing resources or find new ones.

For example your list might look like this:

Existing resources                                            Potential new resources
friends                                                                    new sources of support (incl online)
hobbies                                                                  new interests
existing skills                                                          learning a new skill
social networking                                                  expert advice eg Citizens’ Advice
determination to overcome this                            new stress reduction technique

Building potential new resources is a valuable activity anyway, but if you are under stress it is particularly important. If stress is a significant problem for you, putting some energy in to building new resources will be helpful.

To deal with wanting to eat when stressed, when the feeling hits, you need to have already worked out what resource you will turn to in order to distract yourself from the urge to eat. Take some time when you are less stressed to think about what you could do to deal with the intense feelings instead of eating. You could text someone, clean something, turn on some music, surf the internet, cuddle a pet or a toy, write down your thoughts and so on. If you’re at work you can use one of the techniques in the free download on Anxiety available from the website as these techniques are relevant for stress as well as anxiety. You can experiment to find what works for you in this situation.

As you build your resources and learn to react to stress without eating, your perception of yourself is likely to shift towards recognising strengths you may not have been aware of. As this happens you may find that you can start to reduce the external stresses on you further by taking active steps to change your circumstances or developing the confidence to deal with (or distance yourself from) people who are causing you stress.

There will be times in anyone’s life when taking on the challenge of changing established habits would be particularly difficult, because of other major things happening at the time. So, if you are struggling to function reasonably well day to day, losing weight may be a step too far right now.
On the other hand, life is rarely smooth, and putting off losing weight could leave it permanently postponed. So, if despite other things going on, you are coping reasonably well day to day, embarking on weight loss is realistic. People on diets often give up dieting when faced with events that drive them to emotional eating and weight gain. With Appetite Retraining we know that emotional eating is a significant factor in weight gain and in problems with weight loss, so it is dealt with directly.

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