Updated: May 2
So many of us can feel drawn to turn to food for comfort when the world goes sideways. Whether it's reaching for a bag of chips, a carton of ice cream, or a box of chocolate cookies when you're feeling frustrated, stressed, or overwhelmed, when emotions are running high, it can feel like the easiest solution.
The problem is that the quick fix of sugar and carbs is momentary and will literally leave you feeling worse once that food high settles, which it inevitably does.
And the truth is no matter how loudly your body screams, “FEED ME THE CHOCOLATE!” you know that emotionally eating or binge eating will only leave you feeling sluggish, defeated, and miserable later.
So why do we do it?
It's both evolutionary and physiological. Stress causes your body to automatically increase respiration, blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and the blood flow to your muscles. Your whole body goes into “fight-or-flight response.” And that triggers a release of a hormone called cortisol, which increases your appetite.
Your body knows you need energy to deal with all the B.S. causing you to stress out and it’s “helping” by keeping you fueled for the fight. Unfortunately, all that stress you feel also suppresses your production of ghrelin, which helps keep your appetite in check. So now you're starving, stressed, and pretty much off the leash when it comes to food. And your brain craves energy-dense foods high in calories, carbs, fat, and sugar because they provide the quickest boost... not the apple or carrots. Thanks a lot nature.
So what can we do about it?
Legitimately, EVERYONE has their own basket of crap to deal with on the daily --- finances, jobs, relationships, health issues; life is brimming with a never-ending series of triggers. The good news is we are also powerful human beings, smart enough to know what’s happening in our heads and inside our bodies, and we're capable of making better choices. If you want to become your healthiest and happiest self, then you have to be willing to make different decisions in the moment that empower you to honor your goals and take care of yourself.
Here are six powerful ways to keep a bad day from driving you to the pantry, fridge or freezer:
1. Get outside. One of the quickest and best ways I know to circumvent an emotional eat is to get outside. Go for a walk, a run, a bike ride. Sit on your balcony or porch with a good book and a cold glass of water. Breathe in the fresh air, soak up some nature, and let your surroundings relieve your stress, naturally, instead of driving you to eat. There are no calories in the grass, trees, or sand. Moving away from the kitchen is the key.
2. Attack a clutter project. Close your eyes and pick one annoying pile of clutter that irritates you every time you see it. Grab a trash bag and a box and go after it. It could be as small as a drawer or as big as a whole closet. Maybe it's a week’s worth of unfolded laundry or messy shelves in the garage. Time is precious and we're often too overwhelmed to keep up with the little stuff. Then the little stuff starts feeling insurmountable. So clean it up! Organize it. Toss it. Give it away. The satisfaction you'll get from removing the clutter will keep your mind and hands too busy for snacks while naturally relieving stress.
3. Visit a friend. Stress can keep you isolated. Think of the friends you haven't seen in a bit and make a quick date for a short walk or a cup of coffee, arrange for a FaceTime or Zoom call. Getting together with people you love automatically changes your attitude and your perspective. My friends make me laugh and always know just what to say to pull me out of a funk. Perspective is important to me, so when I chat with a friend I can be assured of some great perspective, quick thinking solutions and a few laughs. I can’t tell you how much better that solution feels than eating. Friendship and love trumps food. Every time.
4. Run some errands. Make a list of three tasks that you’ve been putting off. Now grab your keys and hit the road. Once you're out of the house, you won’t have access to the food that was calling your name. Plus, you’ll enjoy a de-stressing session while making your life a little bit easier by tackling your weekly meal prep grocery shopping, returning those library books, or getting a full tank of gas. And that’s what I call a win-win!
5. Write it out. When you're in the eye of the storm it can feel challenging to know where the stress is even coming from. Journaling is a great way to raise awareness by writing out your thought and feelings. You'll begin to see the root cause of the stress so you can start to identify what you need most in that moment. Maybe it's a safe space to dump fears, worry and frustration. Maybe it's realizing what is in and outside of your control so you can let something go. Maybe it's honoring a healthy boundary. It's much easier to see the solution when you're able to identify the problem.
6. Change your sheets. Okay, here’s one that might seem a little odd but hear me out. Fresh sheets feels like a new beginning. They smell good. They feel good. And I don’t know about you, but I sleep better on fresh sheets. I wake up feeling refreshed, renewed and recharged. The simple act of stripping the bed and putting on clean sheets says, “That’s over and I’m ready to start fresh!” Plus, if you flip the mattress you get a little strength training in. Clever am I right? That's what I call that “multi-tasking minutes.”
Bottom line: what all six of these techniques have in common is that they stop you from stuffing your face and get your mind and body moving. Action is distraction my friend. And you deserve to feel like the rockstar you are by making choices that better serve you and stop the emotional eating game. When stress drives you toward the pantry, fridge, or freezer and you feel like you're going to drown yourself in sugar and salt, you can fight back by making an active and conscious choice. And these are just six suggestions. There are all kinds of ways to shift your focus, from bathing your dog to planting a garden. The goal is to pause long enough to feel in control, because when you feel in control, you act in control. And that's one important key to reduce emotional eating.
Are you tired of starting over every Monday, hopping from diet to diet, wondering if you'll ever get it "right" so that you can lose the weight and become the best version of you? I’ve got you friend! Come join me inside my FREE women’s-only Facebook community: Eat Better with Coach Mindy. It's for busy women like you who are ready to lose weight, gain energy, get healthy and fit -- without restrictive diets or punishing food rules.