How to deal with stress eating (Part 2: 8 ways to address stress)

creativity food health imagination meditation stress cycle stress eating workout yoga Mar 03, 2023

Last week we started talking about stress eating and …. Go figure, it’s not about the eating! It’s about the stress. We talked about the stress cycle: the classic wild-animals-chasing us til we find safety in the village-kind, and now the modern mental burden and to-do lists following us everywhere.

Hey I’ll wait here if you haven’t checked it out yet: go listen to the podcast, and check out the blog for some fun visuals. I’m waiting…

OK, so let’s continue on.


Last week, I invited you to write about the stress. What came up? What are the situations where you find yourself stressing? Who are the people, God bless, who you find bring you more mental burden than joy?

Let’s talk about what you can do about that stress.

1. Identify it
Call it out for what it is. Name the stress: When you feel it, stop and identify it: I am feeling stressed right now. I feel pressure. I feel rushed. I feel anxious. Take a moment not trying to run away from the stress, but to stop and feel it.
Yes, I know it doesn't feel good. Our gut is to try to not focus on it, but that means we are just fighting the stress. Naming it, staying there with it gives it less umph, it starts taking away the power the stressful feeling has.
What does this do? It gives you an opportunity to observe what you are experiencing, and to notice you're not dying. We hate feeling stressed, we hate feeling pressure and restlessness, and so we turn very quickly to something else and often that is food or social media. When we divert to something else it doesn’t address the stress - in fact, it often creates more.
Taking a few moments to just let yourself feel the stress without trying to push it away gives you an opportunity to decrease the power that has in your life. To make it something that you can experience and not have to run to get away from it. Over time we can find that we don't need to make impulsive food decisions to avoid the stress, because it has less power.

2. Get curious about it
Why is this stressing me? What is the story about your mother-in-law, your health, your job, your task-list? Get curious… because it shifts the energy. Curiosity and stress/pressure don’t live in the same space. Shifting to curiosity gives you a break from the stress, to start asking questions that can help open you up to different possibilities. Oh… I’m stressed about my MIL because she always says the darnedest things… I’m stressed because I don’t want to hear what the doctor will say at the next visit. 

3. Identify where your control knobs are located
What is within your control? What is not? There are a lot of stressors out there: life is full of them. And most of them are outside of our control:
  - Other people,
  - What they say or do,
  - Timelines
  - Geopolitical, natural, systemic events...

What’s within my control? In truth, the importance that I give to each of these things that are not within my control. The story that I tell about it.

In the classic example of health: Can you control your health? What about your weight? Your kids’ weight?

** As long as we think that health, weight, and other people are within our control, we are going to be stressed, pressured, trying to do more, and fighting for control. We have been sold on this idea that we just have to work harder to be healthier, to find some healthy weight, to manage our kids’ activity and food and engagement.

What if: you didn’t carry the pressure of trying to control health, weight and family? What would be different if you knew everything is turning out exactly as it is meant to, without needing to control and stress about it?
I cannot stress this enough (no pun intended): I see so much stress about trying to control health and weight and appetite. We are stressing ourselves out over trying to control our own bodies. Our desire to control our bodies and our eating… leads us to stress more and then it becomes a vicious cycle of trying to avoid the stress and doing things that stress our bodies and brains even more.

 4. Run with it
Remember how the stressor, whether it’s a tiger or the to-do list, triggers physiologic changes in our bodies? Our heart starts pumping, our muscles tense up, we ready to boogie out of there to escape the stress.
Let’s use the physiology and/or diffuse it.
We can go for a run, walk, have a pillow fight or throw around weights at the gym: it’s using the physiology and releasing the energy to complete the stress cycle.

Alternatively, we can address the physiology and shift it. That’s what my beloved yoga and meditation do. With practice they can help with decreasing the stress hormones and heart rate, diffusing the stressful energy towards something else. What can it be for you?
There are alternative options to use or diffuse the stressed energy. They all have the effect of decreasing the physiologic load upon our bodies.
I invite you to experiment and see what works to take a break when you're feeling stressed. What physical activity or form of movement feels good to you? How about closing your eyes and breathing? What about putting on some headphones with your favorite music? 
Closing our eyes listening to our favorite music, stretching gentle movement, taking a walk, running or jumping these are things I can actually change the way that our bodies are responding to the stress in the first place. They can calm or they can actually offer a productive output for that increased heart rate and the adrenaline that is coursing through our veins due to the stress. It's giving yourself an outlet.
Another wonderful outlet to be able to complete that stress cycle is to tap into our imagination and creativity. Our bodies do not know the difference between a real threat and an imagined threat. That's why the to-do list is just as stressful as a tiger. To-do list is not actually chasing us like a tiger. Let's use this power of our imagination to our benefit (and start thinking about how this works for our kids and their active imaginations).
 We can dissipate stress with our imagination. Think way back to when you were slaying the dragon in your dreams. Even the simple imagination exercise of closing your eyes and picturing yourself running away can be so helpful because it's giving your brain the opportunity to envision completing the stress cycle: running away from the stress. Or you can write about it, sing about it, draw and paint.

These are all just options that you can try. You get to experiment and see what works for you. It's like having a toolbox that you can go and grab one of the techniques and just try it on in the moment.

The power of creativity and play are so important along with the power of imagination because they give us the opportunity to explore other possibilities for this reality

These are taking the physiology and energy of the stress and either diffusing or directing it in another way. Using your body in movement, creativity, calm music can all have lasting beneficial effects.

Question: What about eating? Hey, it's not that eating is bad. In fact, sometimes it’s exactly what we need. It's just that when we are stressed we are just trying to survive and get away from the stress. Perhaps we grabbed something impulsively because we just want to feel better but it doesn't make us feel better in the long run. There is no right or wrong way to eat, including when stressed. This is all offering options to become aware of what’s going on, and not shaming eating and finding alternative ways to address stress for now and the long-term.

5. Drop it and experiment
Ask yourself, What can I let go of? I know. This sounds crazy. Like please, I’m just trying to keep juggling these balls and keep everything going. So much of what we do right now is because we think we have to. We have to read and respond to all the emails, cart kids all over the place, stay up late at night to clean up, and get up early again in the AM. I have noticed… the stress that I feel is when I tell myself I HAVE to do it, a certain way, within a certain timeframe. It all creates PRESSURE. My stress is more of a pressure, and that isn’t necessarily from all the things, but how I’m telling myself I have to do it.
What if you just decided to let go of one thing?
Feels icky, doesn’t it? That doesn’t mean it’s because it’s wrong. The icky feeling is because it’s NEW. And uncertain.

But the only way that you will know what will happen is if you try. And keep trying.

 Quit giving yourself crap about the stress
The worst stressor is stressing about stress. My to-do list gets longer when I start stressing about how long the list is. I turn a blind eye to email when I’m overwhelmed - and it builds up more (the stress and the email).

7. Sleep it off
I do not want to overlook sleep deficiency and its impact on our stress burden. I was at an event last night where I spoke with adults from my community about stress and mental health and what is it that is stressing them. And more often than not, I heard about a lack of sleep. Having so much to do that they only got about four hours of sleep each night. We're finding that the only quiet time to themselves is that night after the kids have finally going to sleep, and then staying up doing things to only get four hours of sleep. We have bought into the collective belief that sleep is not important, and that sleep can wait until after we do anything and everything. 

My friend, wrong. 
Our bodies need sleep. 
Stress is magnified when we do not get the sleep that we need. The stress cycle is all based in our brains and neurobiology and what is happening as we are trying to escape the threats. If we do not permit our brains the time to get regenerative, healing rest, function decreases overtime. We are not as effective. How to-do list becomes longer. It takes longer to complete things. We find that we have more procrastination and perfectionism. We see things and more black or white thinking. Our brains need sleep.

What happens when you get tired but you still have something to do? Reach for the chips too? I found in my practice that so many of us turn to food we are actually tired. So ask yourself, what do I need? The impulse is to reach for the food or the electronics to escape the discomfort of the stress. 

Which brings me to the last part:

8. Ask yourself, what do I need right now?
Taking that little moment pause to even ask yourself the question is so powerful. It gives you the opportunity to make a decision. It's no longer an impulse to go and grab the food or the social media account. It becomes a practice of noticing what you are experiencing, asking what you need, and making the decision of how you want to meet that need. Do you need to make a meal? To let go of trying to control something outside of your control? To take a break, punch some pillows, or stretch? Or in the wise words of Samuel L. Jackson, “Go the F to Sleep.”


As parents, we get to understand our stressors and how to deal with it, so we can then help our kids (oh you betcha that's what's coming in Part 3, next week!).

Calling all Healthcare Professionals: I'm so glad you're here, to benefit yourself, your family, and your patients. The CE experience for this Podcast is powered by CMEfy - click here to reflect and earn credits:



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