Stressed Out About Stress Eating? Don't Do These Three Things

Do you have your stash of snacks hidden in the top left-hand drawer of your desk? Do you know that the code in the vending machine for pretzels and Peanut M&M’s are B6 and A4? Or, if you are lucky enough to have a home office, do you find yourself in front of the food pantry every day at 3pm?

Why you are stress eating at work.

More and more Americans are experiencing significant stress in the workplace. The Huffington Post published “Work Stress On The Rise: 8 In 10 Americans Are Stressed About Their Jobs, Survey Finds” in April 2013.  According to the Harvard Health Publication “Why Stress Causes People to Overeat”, when someone is under high levels of stress for long periods of time, their body produces a hormone called Cortisol. Cortisol is known to increase your appetite and your motivation to eat.

One way to look at stress in the body is to consider what happens when a seltzer bottle is shaken. Fizz and bubbles build and the cap is difficult to twist off without seltzer spraying out. Similarly, stress often feels like that same tension and pressure. In the human body, this is very uncomfortable. The natural response to relieve discomfort is to want to let out that tension. Depending on the food chosen, eating can relieve this tension by creating a distraction, a relaxation response and/or a short term increase of energy.

But eating when stressed never resolves the actual causes of the stress or it’s symptoms; it just hides them.

Ready to make a change?

Stress eating not only has an impact on your waist line, it can also erode your confidence and limit your ability to build the momentum you need for optimal health. Lori, a coaching client of mine, hated herself when she kept reaching for the bowl filled with miniature chocolates in the kitchenette in her office. Sure, her boss was driving her crazy and had incredibly high and unrealistic expectations. But more importantly, Lori was distracting herself from what the real issues were. Eating chocolate allowed her to avoid them. Her self esteem also plummeted when her belly felt so stuffed. On days like those, Lori often chose to come home from work and sit in front of the TV. Her yoga mat and walking shoes stayed in her downstairs closet.

Think about it this way.

There are two components to stress eating. The stress you are feeling at work on a day to day basis and the choices you are making around food. In order to stop stress eating, it’s important to shift the way you think and your actions in both of these areas.

Don’t work harder and faster.

When the to-do list is a mile long and deadlines are coming fast and furious, you may automatically want to put your head down and plow through it. You may be thinking that you will feel less stressed when you’ve finally finished this one project. But you know how it goes. Once you complete one milestone, the next one is there waiting for you. To stop stress eating, you must manage your stress daily. You have to take yourself off the gerbil wheel that will have you running endlessly and perpetually stressed out. I encourage all of my coaching clients to make it a habit of doing 3 core daily practices. These practices reduce stress, improve how you feel and offer a clearer connection to yourself and your purpose. My core daily practices include meditating for at least 10 minutes, practicing yoga or running, and journal writing. The practices don’t need to take much time but the key is that they are done daily. Choose your core daily practices, practice them consistently and you will be on your way to reducing stress in all areas of your life.

Don’t avoid the candy bowl.

I’m suspecting that you have tried to avoid the candy bowl in the past and it hasn’t worked. You’ve tossed out or given away your snack stash, tried to avoid the vending machine and even did your best to decline the birthday cake and bagels sitting in the kitchen. Trying to avoid something doesn’t work permanently and easily because of a simple law of energy. Energy increases where you place your attention and focus. When you spend time thinking about the candy bowl (even trying to avoiding it), you are creating more energy around it.  To be successful avoiding the candy bowl, you need to put your energy onto what you do want. Pivot your attention from the candy bowl toward other habits that will help you feel better and less stressed. Focus on drinking more water, walking outside at lunch time or taking some deep breaths throughout the day.  Do that and you will forget all about the candy bowl.

Don’t eat on the fly.

In a former office of mine, Katie, our office manager, kept a full bowl of M&M’s on her desk. She was very sweet and I know she meant well. To get to the main conference room, we had to walk by her desk (and the M&M’s). Many of my coworkers (and I included) would scoop a handful and eat these M&M’s on our way to or from a meeting. Eating mindlessly can lead to overeating. Stress eating can be significantly reduced when you pay attention to what you are eating. When you are eating, do it with all of your attention. Don’t eat and walk, eat and text or eat and work. Just sit and eat.

Life can be hectic, fast paced and even stressful. And your health and vitality doesn’t have to be compromised. Stress eating isn’t the underlying cause, it’s the symptom. Stop stress eating by taking time for yourself daily, focusing on nurturing the right habits, and bringing more mindfulness in your life. When you do, your relationship with the vending machine will be a thing of the past.

Sound simple? It is, but there is so much more. If you want to know more for yourself and incorporate these guidelines in your life, contact me to set up a free exploratory conversation.