How to Break the Pattern of Stress-Induced Munching

During a stressful situation it's natural to feel pulled toward something that distracts you and makes you feel better fast — and often that something is food.

Eating can become an automatic, unconscious response to anything that throws you out of balance, be it boredom, overwhelm, tension or anxiety.

Becoming mindful eater helps you to break that vicious automatic stress eating cycle. 

Here is how:

Recognize your stress signs.

Stress doesn’t always look stressful. You might not always recognize when you are under stress, and it's hard to interrupt something if you don't know you're in the middle of it. Learn to recognize your stress signs, which might include headaches, rapid breathing, or munching when you're not hungry.
Evaluate your hunger.

Often we don't distinguish between physical hunger and stress driven cravings.

First of all, take a few deep breaths as you begin to check in with your belly. 

  • Are there sensations of physical hunger?
  • How hungry are you?
  • What are you hungry for?
  • Is there a particular type of food you’d like to have?
  • You might want food. You might be thirsty. You might be hungry for something entirely different than food (eg. walking, stretching, deeper breaths). 
Listen to what your body is telling you. Rate your physical hunger on a scale of 0 to 10, with 1 being famished and 10 very full.  

General rule: eat when you’re hungry or decide what you will do if you’re not hungry (your options as I teach in 8-week mindful eating program -- eat anyway, redirect your attention or meet your true needs – address stress that made you to crave that food). 

You are in charge – so if you decide to eat anyway – try the healthiest option of food that doesn’t give you a sense of deprivation.
Enjoy your food.

If you decide to eat even you are not physically hungry try to enjoy your food.
  • What does it look like? Notice the colors of the food.
  • Does it look appealing?
  • What does it smell like?
Ask yourself if this is the food you really want.

If you're just mindlessly stuffing food down, you're not enjoying its tastes, textures, and smells, which is how we derive comfort from food in the first place. The more you savor your food, the fewer bites you'll need to get the comfort you seek.

Slow Down

Slowing down while you are eating reduces your stress reaction (activation of sympathetic nervous system) and activates parasympathetic nervous system.

It can help you enjoy your food more fully. Slowing down also helps you be aware of when you’re getting full and to notice when the body has had enough. 

Simple methods to help you slow down include putting down your fork or spoon between bites, pausing and taking a breath between bites, and chewing your food completely. 

You will be satisfied with less food. Slowing down increases your metabolism, and helps your digestive system to metabolize and absorb the food, so you get the most nutritional value of the food you eat.   

Learn form past experiences  

Maybe during your last stress-induced binge you devoured half-dozen doughnuts — and the guilt you felt afterward only added to your stress.

This time, take steps to maintain portion control: Pick up a single doughnut at the bakery instead of a dozen. And then enjoy it mindfully.

Don’t ignore your cravings

Denying that those cookies are calling your name will only strengthen your desire to have one, but acknowledging your craving creates choice: Do you want to have one cookie now, or wait until the urge is so overpowering that you inhale an entire sleeve of cookies?

Recognizing that you have choices puts you in charge, not the stress craving.

Want to learn how to be in charge vs. out of control stress eater?

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