“I can’t believe he just broke up with me!” Anna is headed for the ice cream and about to engage in stress eating. This happens all the time. Holidays are no exception. In fact, they are more difficult because goodies and treats abound! This abundance of tempting foods makes it so much easier to stress eat!

Eating when stressed or when we need to relax or calm down is a bad habit. But we do it. And ice cream is the number one comfort food for both men and women. Comfort food is often high energy, sugary foods eaten during chronic stress that tells the brain to calm down. It relaxes you for the moment.

The problem with stress eating is that we feel guilty later and tend to gain weight. It is a habit most of us would like to break. Obviously, the main solution is to practice better ways to reduce stress. If you are working on better stress management, here are 7 tips to help break the association between stress and eating:

  1. Attend to signs of physical stress (e.g., irritability, poor concentration, lack of sleep, etc.,). If those physical signs are present, don’t eat. You are not really hungry. Food is not the solution. Instead, practice self-care when stressed–get enough sleep, exercise and talk out your problems with a trusted friend. Don’t turn to food.
  2. Have a number of ways to de-stress. Choose one when you have the urge to eat. Some people make a list and then force themselves to do one thing on the list instead of eat. For example, take a hot bath, listen to relaxing music, pray, engage in deep breathing, massage your shoulders or head, read a book, etc.
  3. Don’t skip meals. Unless you have been using intermittent fasting successfully, skipping meals makes it easier to binge or stress eat. For most people, skipping meals makes stress eating easy.
  4. Remove the source of stress when you can. Stress can be self-induced. Sometimes, the best strategy is to eliminate it by making a number of changes. Are there things you can do like say NO to more activity, resolve a relationship problem, handle your finances better, establish boundaries, etc.
  5. Don’t keep stress treats in your house. If food is available, in sight and only a cupboard away, the temptation will be more difficult to overcome. Eliminate the tempting foods. Don’t buy them or keep them out of sight.
  6. Press pause before you eat? Ask yourself, am I really hungry? Can I distract myself away from food? When you pause, the desire to eat will subside over a 15-20 minute period if it is stress based. But you have to be intentional about the pause. Use it and see if the craving subsides.
  7. If you are really stressed and want to eat, eat a small amount of a treat, not the whole thing. Researcher Linda Bacon found that you really only enjoy a few bites of food. After that, your taste buds lose their sensitivity to the chemicals in that food. So eat a few bites slowly and mindfully, and then put the rest away or share with someone else.
  8. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Be aware of the connection between stress and eating, determine to break the habit and know the Holy Spirit can help you with this.

Overall, the goal is to stop reaching for food out of emotional need. It’s a habit you break by pressing pause and becoming more intentional. You can do it!

Stress eating during the holidays

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