How to cope with stress without turning to food

So you have read some posts and you are ready to overcome emotional eating, but you are still finding it difficult to stop using food when you are stressed?

I hear you.

In theory, emotional eating should be quite easy to fix – just make sure you are eating a balanced diet without restrictions and make sure you lower your stress.

But when it comes to stress and our emotions it is never quite that simple and in the moment they can be quite overpowering and if food is going to stop you feeling that way then chances are you are just going to eat it.

Identify the triggers and make a plan

This step is so important.

It’s one of those steps though that we tend to skip over.

Your life is stressful in general, you don’t need to pick out triggers because it’s just all of it – the kids stress you out, keeping up with your home stresses you out, trying to keep up with your house stresses you out.

It’s just stressful.

But here is the thing… If we are not identifying specific triggers then it is very difficult to find solutions to them and they will keep being triggers and keep you in the cycle of eating when you are stressed.

For example, which may or may not be based on my life….

let’s say one evening a week your husband works late and even though that night is a pretty typical and calm evening in your household and you are more than capable of doing it all on your own you end up emotionally eating random food that you don’t even want because you are just completely overwhelmed at all the things you have to do on your own e.g. make dinner, make packed lunch, help with homework, uniform ready for the morning, tidy up after dinner etc – it’s not anything that stressful really but it overwhelms you.

Being able to identify that that is one of the triggers for emotionally eating means that we can make a plan

  • I could get uniform ready during the day whilst the kids are in school
  • I could put food in the slow cooker in the morning so that I don’t have to try and cook dinner on top of everything else
  • I could make packed lunch for school during the day whilst the kids are in school

Just making a plan of what could be done to lessen the load on that evening already makes it less stressful.

Then once that is done, if I am still emotionally eating I can dig deeper and say ‘well what about this is causing this’ – and being this is based on a true story what I found was happening was that a lot of my ’emotional eating’ wasn’t actually emotional eating but it was because I was hungry – so now I either have a substantial balanced snack that will keep me going until James finishes work and I can eat with him or we will eat earlier in the evening and I keep the plate warm for James to eat later on.

Until the trigger gets identified and a plan gets made it’s hard to overcome it. And you might just notice that you are not emotionally eating but you are actually hungry like I did too.

Reduce stress over-all

There is always going to be things that make us completely stressed out and we end up turning to food because of them but that we can’t do anything about.

Another example from my life – A part of Anest’s condition is that getting anxious can make her really unwell – and a couple of years ago everytime it happened she would be violently and repeatedly sick for up to three days (once it was a week) and it was extremely hard – thankfully this has only happened a couple of times in the last year.

Despite our best efforts of trying to work out what is going on so we can fix it, it’s not something that can be fixed but it is something that can cause me to emotionally eat.

So what do we do then? If we can identify the trigger but not have a plan for it.

Firstly, for most things if you can identify it as a trigger get curious about what you can do to make that situation less stressful – I made sure I bought extra pyjamas so that we weren’t running out of clothes, I had a hospital list on my phone so that if we had to go to hospital I knew exactly what I needed in the bag, I had a list of articles of saved articles on my phone so that I had something to do whilst I was stuck on the sofa for days – little things that just made the stressful experience that little bit more manageable.

Secondly, there are other areas in life that are stressful too. You don’t just have one trigger typically.

What I found was that when I was reducing stress in other areas of stress when the sickness would start I felt like I could cope with it a lot better and didn’t need to turn to food.

When things just felt really stressful in ALL areas – it made coping so much harder.

So if you are in a situation where something is causing you to emotionally eat but it’s not something that you can actively change – reduce stress in other areas and that will definitely help.

cup of tea and book

Things you can do when you are stressed that aren’t food

Pick and choose what will help you from this list.

There will be things that will help you in some situations but just won’t be helpful at all in another.

When I was stuck under Anest on the settee for days it used to really frustrate me when I was googling how to cope without turning to food that all the things on these lists were things that were just not possible for me to do – like go for a walk or do some exercise or declutter something – which are really good ones by the way but there wasn’t many suggestions for those of us who were stuck under a child.

So choose what will suit you in your situation and just leave the rest.

  • Go for walk
  • Declutter a drawer or a cupboard
  • Text a friend
  • Write out how you are feeling on a note on your phone/on paper
  • Do some breathing exercises
  • Read a book
  • Read some articles on your phone on a topic that interests you
  • Do some exercise
  • Literally shake it off by shaking your body
  • Do some star jumps
  • Do some yoga or pilates
  • Do some crafting
  • Make a list
  • Phone a friend
  • Ask someone to help you
  • Meditate
  • Watch something funny
  • Watch a film or an episode of a series
  • Make a plan of how in the future you will make this less stressful
  • Take a shower
  • Take a bath
  • Paint your nails
  • Get out of the house or change your environment
  • Listen to music
  • Cry it out
  • Make yourself a cup of tea
  • Do something that will make your situation a bit less stressful
  • Make a list of things you would like to do – a bucket list perhaps
  • Scream into a pillow
  • Play a game on your phone
  • Play a video game
  • Do a crossword/sudoko type puzzle
  • Hug someone
  • Spend some time with your pet
  • Light a candle and just have a moment to yourself
  • Sit in silence for a few minutes

I hope you manage to find something on that list that will help.

If you feel like you still need more support, reach out to me and lets chat!

Beth x

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