Stress eating, also called emotional eating or comfort eating, is a powerful urge used by a lot of people as a prop to help them get through periods of high stress. But it is an unhealthy stress reflex, which can cause untold damage to your health unless you control it. But it is just not that simple.
If you are looking to use willpower alone to stop your stress eating, it is likely that you will have a tough time at best and at worst, fail altogether. For most people, using willpower alone does not work because the comfort eating is meeting a more basic human need than just the need for calories. In stressful times, we all need reassurance, soothing, comfort and even escapism or distraction.
And it is these needs that the emotional eating meets.
This means that to overcome stress eating, you not only need to resist the urge to snack inappropriately, but you also need to substitute something else to meet those unmet basic needs. Unless you do, then the powerful urge that keeps driving you to eat under stress will not go away.
So how do you do it?
Comfort eating is a learned behavior probably developed in childhood when all our problems were solved by a hug from a loving parent and a cookie to cheer us up. So whenever you are tempted to snack, stop and ask yourself whether you are really hungry. Listen to your body. If you are not hungry, it is probable that you are stress eating, so try to figure out what emotion is driving you to eat.
Keep a food diary and note everything you eat, when you eat it and the circumstances immediately beforehand, such as what had happened (row with a spouse, build up to big client presentation, party) and how you felt about it. After a while, probably no more than a few weeks, you will be able to spot a trend emerging.
Maybe you only eat when you are angry or sad following a fight with a loved one, which may point to lack of self esteem issues. Or maybe you only comfort eat under presentation pressures at work, in which case a course on public speaking and presentation skills might be beneficial.
Whatever it is, you need to identify and address the underlying stressors if you are to stand any chance of overcoming comfort eating.
Stress eating is not the answer to any question and it can lead to very serious health issues including morbid obesity and depression. Start tackling stress eating today. But be realistic. Your habit has been well established for years so it will not go away overnight. So if you do succumb, and eat rather more than you actually need, forgive yourself and move on.