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How To Stop Stress Eating and Be More Mindful At Mealtimes?

Stop stress eating and be more mindful

Stop stress eating and be more mindful - (Image Credit: Shutterstock)

Story At-A-Glance
  • Ever wondered how to be more mindful of your eating habits?
  • Know the signs, symptoms, and causes of emotional eating.
  • There are simple tips and tricks on how to stop stress eating.
  • Stress eating is not a problem, to begin with.
  • Stress eating can be frustrating and a little weight might be gained along the way. But the real consequences come later down the line. Both physically and mentally, a stress eating disorder can take its toll on your body with a cascade of side effects such as depression, diabetes, and other types of chronic conditions.
  • Learn how to recognize the signs of stress eating disorder.
  • Understand the root cause of emotional eating.
  • Simple lifestyle changes can help you overcome stress eating.

Introduction

Stress eating disorder is a common problem that we can all face at one time or another, and there are certain reasons why this type of behavior becomes a habit. 

Stress and overeating can lead to weight gain and with that comes the risk that you’ll generate a chronic condition, which includes diabetes or heart disease. As we all know, reversing chronic illness can be a long and arduous journey, preventive lifestyle measures are much easier to implement.

Sometimes overeating might be due to a special event, like a wedding. It is when you don’t care much about what you eat. A situation like this happens to the best of us. It’s normal! We’re not perfect, and it doesn’t have to be that way because that’s not the point.

But fear not! In this article, we’re going to dive deep into every stress eating disorder and the causes of emotional eating. We will also go over some simple tips and tricks and lifestyle changes that can help kick this habit to the curve.

What Causes Stress Eating?

Stress Eating Causes
Few reasons cause you to overeat and below, we’re going to show you the primary causes of stress eating disorder.

  • Distraction. This is the most common reason for overeating. When you are distracted from eating, you’re not fully feeling food. To fully enjoy the food, pay attention to your hunger levels and what you need. This happens mostly when you’re watching TV while eating or using a phone, driving, rushing, ruminating thoughts in your mind, or doing some other tasks.

    As you become more mindful and remove distractions during mealtimes, you become more aware of the taste, appearance, smell, enjoyment of food, hunger, and bodily sensations before and after eating. To stop your stress-eating habit is to learn how to eat without being distracted, so you can just focus and tune into the feeling of satiety.

  • Emotional Eating. Another common cause is emotional eating. Many people experience feelings like boredom and stress regularly, and dealing with these feelings can be a struggle for some.

    It may seem like you have nothing to do at night except snack while watching TV, or the same emotional eating could manifest once you arrive home after a long and stressful day at the office, feeling the need to eat some comfort foods. Emotions like grief can also trigger emotional eating.

  • Situational or Environmental Triggers. Another factor that can trigger stress and overeating is your environment, which includes situations and places. A common example might be watching a movie and ordering popcorn, or eating one of the reception hall’s candies, or going out to eat.

    These situations or circumstances are so routine that they can be the hardest habits to break as we have to be mindful and bring our awareness back to the present moment to stop these actions.

    Remember to check and pay attention to whether you’re really hungry or whether external factors are directing you to eat. This can be a way on how to stop stress eating, although it can be challenging.

  • Having Foods that are Off-Limits. Food that you avoid can also be the cause of stress eating disorder. If you’ve been on a diet before, this might sound familiar. When you go out to eat or go to social gatherings on a diet, you will be given or will have created a list as long as your arm of foods to avoid.

    The perfect example of this behavior is “cheat meals” or “cheat days”. More often than not, this type of restrictive yo-yo dieting leads us to overindulge in certain foods because you don’t know when you’ll be able to eat it again as you’ve tagged it as “forbidden” in your mind.

  • Incomplete Meals. The nutrients in our body serve different purposes. Some of them tend to give us energy while the others are there to keep us satiated.

    If our diet always lacks adequate nutrients and cannot provide us with a feeling of fullness, our stress levels increase. A restrictive diet is not an effective method on how to stop stress eating. This happens when we maintain a diet devoid of healthy fats, fiber, and carbs.

Side Effects of a Stress Eating Disorder

Side Effects of a Stress Eating Disorder
After prolonged periods of stress and overeating, the body starts to manifest symptoms of discomfort. The symptoms can be nausea, vomiting, fatigue, gas, and feelings of mild guilt after eating too much food.

In the long term, the more food we eat, the more likely we will experience complications in the future. Stress and overeating can lead to excessive weight gain, disruption of hunger regulation, increased risk of disease, and negative relationships with food.

How to Stop Stress Eating

The most common way to overcome stress eating and break the cycle is to avoid the foods and distractions that are triggering the habit in the first place.

Most importantly, this type of habitual emotional eating can cause a lot of guilt, shame, and even sadness and depression. These feelings can make people feel out of control and separate themselves from friends, family, or experiences, leading to even further stress eating, which is harmful to health. Over time, unresolved eating habits may lead to more serious disorders.

It is important to have empathy for oneself when analyzing and discussing the underlying problem, the cause of stress eating disorder, or the use of food as the primary emotional coping mechanism.

1. Check-in with Your Hunger Cues

We need to pay attention to our cues when we are trying to rebalance our metabolism. A simple scale method can help. Each time you feel hungry, assess it on a scale from 1 as full to 10 as very hungry. Ask yourself the following prompts:

“Have I drunk enough water today?” 
“Am I thirsty and dehydrated?”
“Am I hungry or just bored?”
“Have I been triggered by something emotionally and wanting to escape?”

This approach will help you regulate your body and understand whether you are hungry or if external factors are influencing your hunger.

2. Practice Eating without Distraction

The second tip is to eat without distraction, which is the second main cause of overeating after stress. This simple trick and some changes in dinner time habits can make all the difference. Like mentioned before, try to avoid mobile phone TV and other gadgets that will distract you from your food during mealtimes.

Eliminating distractions will help you fully prepare the food you want to eat, help you enjoy the food, and read your hunger cues during meals. Most importantly, it can act as a practical way of how to stop stress eating.

3. Keep a Reflective Food Journal

Reflective Food Journal
The third tip is to keep a reflective food diary. If you think this is a problem in your life, then a food diary can help you determine why this is happening and give you a deeper understanding of your eating habits and lead you to overcome stress eating.

4. Avoid eating from containers

Make sure that you avoid eating food from containers because you will likely eat much more than your normal routine, such as you eat the chips from the bag or other things from the packets. 

If you eat the food from the plate, which is divided into different portions, you won’t be consuming many calories. Use measuring tools to train your eyes to understand the appearance of natural parts of different types of food. Instead of eating from it, take it straight out of the package and put it in a bowl. The right portion size can help you determine the recommended amount of food, which is a good way to avoid stress and overeating.

5. Watch your alcohol intake

Although drinking one or two glasses of wine or your preferred drink with a meal will not have much effect, having too many can increase hunger.

recent study found that students who drink four or five cups of alcohol tend to eat much more than students who are drinking two to three cups. Reducing alcohol consumption may be a strategy to overcome stress eating.

6. Plan ahead

One of the easiest ways on how to stop stress eating is to make a plan! Meal prep is your friend.

Those last-minute binge-buys and hunger-ridden shopping splurges are the exact situations meal prepping will help you avoid. Plus, sitting down at the end of each week and planning your meals and shopping list is a great little exercise that will heighten your awareness of food consumption.

7. Ditch the diet mentality

In the long-term, modern diets may not help your stress eating disorder. Short-term diet restrictions may cause rapid weight loss, but they’re usually not sustainable.

Instead, long-term lifestyle changes should be made to promote health. This is the best way to establish a balanced relationship with food and overcome stress eating.

8. Eat healthy fats

Eat healthy fats

Although foods high in fat often lead to weight gain and overeating, choosing foods high in healthy fats can help you reduce your food intake. Several studies[1] have shown compared to people who eat diets high in carbohydrates and low in fat, adults who eat high-fat and low-carb diets have better satiety 3-4 hours after eating a meal and lose weight over time.

9. Get help if needed

The other main cause of emotional eating is a binge-eating disorder, which can be highly detrimental to people’s mental health. This means that individuals with BED may need treatment from a team of medical experts to overcome it.

A feature of BED[2] is that even though you’re not hungry, you continue to eat large amounts of food quickly until you feel unwell. After binge eating, a person may feel ashamed or guilty. It affects millions of people around the world and is a common stress eating disorder.

10. Practice mindful eating

Eating slowly, taking a bite, chewing well, being aware of your senses, and appreciating food are simple mindfulness exercises that can be incorporated into everyday life.

Conclusion

There you have it! Although it may seem like a lot, small changes will go a long way when it comes to kicking this habit to the curb. Also, remember to be kind to yourself. Changes don’t happen overnight, but the fact that you’re here and reading this post is the first step. Understand that this is a habit that many of us fall into countless times throughout our lives. Eating too much can lead to weight gain and with that, there is the risk of chronic illness in the long run. 

Take small steps today that will help you regain control over your eating habits once again!

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