2020 proved to be one of the most stressful years in recent memory. Many individuals developed habits to cope with all of the uncertainty, ranging from positive activities such as regularly exercising or picking up new cooking skills, to maladaptive behaviors such as binge drinking or binge eating.
At Central Athlete, our clients come to us with several different goals; however, some common ones are to lose body fat and to create a healthy, sustainable relationship with food. An incredibly common roadblock that most of our clients, and people in general, encounter on their health and fitness journey is emotional/stress eating.
Nutrition is the biggest driver for success when it comes to body composition changes, which is why someone can be doing everything else “perfectly” and still not see the changes they desire. They can be 100% compliant to their training, log a daily walk in the sun, sleep 7-9 hours a night, and drink half their body weight in ounces of water each day but they still may never see their body look the way they want it to.
In this weeks’ article, we’ll discuss how to identify the root cause of most people’s stress eating and how to kick it to the curb for good.
While in the moment, stress eating may feel like a very emotional experience, it’s simply a behavior. It’s a “solution” that doesn’t actually fix a problem. It isn’t until we understand what causes this behavior that we can effectively address it.
In order to find these behavior cues, individuals need to become more aware of what’s going on right before, and even hours before, a stress eating event occurs.
Let’s say someone devours an entire sleeve of cookies around 4:00 PM. It’s fairly likely that something happened not only at 3:45, but other little things piled up throughout the day as well. What were they doing all day? Who were they with? What were they reading or listening to? By consciously trying to become more aware of one’s surroundings and all the external stimuli one may encounter on a daily basis, it’s easier to understand what might lead to stress eating.
Once this awareness has been created, one can then implement solutions to help prevent a stress eating event from occurring. For example, an individual investigates the events leading up to their last three stress eating episodes. They realize that the common theme amongst each episode was how busy their workday was. On days where this individual had a busier day of work than average, they elected to stress eat and binge on junk food whenever they got home to attempt to relieve the stress of the day.
Potential interventions to this could be:
- Implementing destressing practices before and after long workdays are over (Ex: 5-10 minute guided meditation on the commute to/from work)
- Going on a 10-minute walk once home to decompress from the stress and the events of the day
- Playing with their pet/child once they get home to help destress
- Talking with their partner or friends about their day to destress and to decompress
- Journaling their thoughts/emotions whenever they get cravings on longer workdays to help them better understand why these cravings arrive in the first place
Now, it is also very important to understand that the methods described above are not foolproof. Expecting one’s stress eating to completely go away by simply recognizing one’s triggers for it is unrealistic. Just because we know what causes it, doesn’t mean it won’t still happen. However, it’s the first step.
It is important to remember that our behaviors around food do not define us as a person. There’s nothing inherently wrong or right about stress eating. It’s a maladaptive solution to a problem, and it’s worked in some way or another, otherwise, individuals wouldn’t do it. By having a judgment-free viewpoint on this behavior, we can remove the potential for emotions of shame and guilt to come into play. These emotions lead to negative feedback loops (I’m stressed so I ate -> Stress eating is bad so I feel guilty about it -> I feel stressed about my guilt, so I’m going to stress eat more) that only make it more challenging to solve the problems that one may be trying to address.
Remove emotional and moral judgments from your decisions and behaviors around food, and develop a more self-compassionate perspective. Building awareness is step one, and while it may be a simple step, simplicity does not equal ease. Understand that each health and fitness journey is unique. Getting down on oneself every single time a ‘bad’ decision is made will leave one hopeless, and with an absence of progress.
Instead, understand that human beings are unique, complex, and habitual organisms and that change takes time and consistency.
In conclusion, stress eating is simply a maladaptive solution to a problem. As coaches at Central Athlete, our job is to help our clients create more supportive behaviors and habits that support their goals, rather than work against them. If you struggle with stress eating or other maladaptive habits, check out our FREE Stress Eating/Overeating Worksheet, or, schedule a FREE strategy session with a Central Athlete coach today, and get started on the journey to becoming the person you want to be!