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Stress and Emotional Eating

stress eating

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Suzie’s life took a significant turn three months ago when her father was diagnosed with both a heart condition and Parkinson’s disease. Suddenly, she found herself juggling the role of a part-time caregiver while dealing with her health challenges. Despite her growing responsibilities, Suzie noticed a troubling pattern emerging – cravings for salty chips, sweets, and candies. “Anything that can fill my mouth gives me a burst of energy,” she confided. However, a recent check-up revealed concerning news: pre-diabetes, high cholesterol, and a 12-pound weight gain.

Recognizing the Behavior Without Self-Judgment

The first step in effectively addressing emotional eating is recognizing it’s happening. For example, Suzie realized that her emotional state influenced her snacking habits. To break the cycle and make changes, we must accept the current habit without judging ourselves. Judging ourselves adds extra burden and doesn’t solve emotional issues or situations. It often leads us to feel guilty, shameful or experience other intense emotions.

Identifying Emotional Triggers

The second step is to identify the cause of the urge to eat. Suzie snacked before going to her dad’s doctor’s appointments, blood tests, and visits. She was anxious about the results, and she used food to cover up the uncomfortable feelings of fear and sadness. The caregiving felt overwhelming, and Suzie was pretending and covering up the stress. After understanding her eating triggers, Suzie acknowledged that she was emotionally eating – “I am taking care of dad, and it is hard to watch him getting weaker, and I can’t do anything to help him. I am scared. The anticipation of finding out the results added stress. The food relaxes me for a short moment, and my anxiety and worries did not go away.”

Finding Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Suzie learned to differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger. While emotional hunger feels sudden, intense, and fixated on specific comfort foods, physical hunger comes on gradually and can be satisfied by various nutritious options. Instead of turning to food, Suzie explored alternative coping mechanisms such as breathing exercises, spending time with loved ones, or engaging in activities she enjoyed.

Acceptance and Self-Compassion

Suzie embraced emotional eating as a natural response to stress and difficult emotions. Rather than judging herself harshly, she practiced self-compassion. She reminded herself that she was only human and facing challenging circumstances. Learning to accept and feel all different emotions, including the uncomfortable ones, is essential.

Finding Alternatives

With awareness and self-compassion, Suzie developed a plan to manage her emotional eating. She found healthier ways to cope with her emotions and made conscious choices about her food intake. Whenever she feels exhausted, she takes a bath or plays her music playlist on the phone. She performs physical movements to expand her energy to prepare for anxiety, like a brisk walk or following a 15-minute cardio exercise on the App.

Physical activity may help increase the production of endorphins in the brain, which trigger a positive feeling in the body.

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