As I’ve written in previous posts, the connection between stress and how we eat, or what influences our eating is huge. Nutrition is obviously important, but the reasons for why we decide to consume food (whether it is hunger, celebration, or emotionally-driven eating) is equally important. For me, I know during times of stress, food can be comforting. As someone who is trying to practice what I preach, the keys to stopping emotionally-driven eating involve some work but the payoff is worth it. Food journaling has been shown to not only help people become more aware to the specific foods and amounts one is consuming, but it also helps diminish emotional or stress-eating, which is something we’ve probably all done from time to time.
I’ve always been a fan of food journaling, but it’s only been recently that I’ve paid more attention to the reasons why and how I eat, rather than what. If you have a basic knowledge of nutrition and you’re maintaining a healthy weight, chances are, nutritionally- you’re doing something right, but you may be struggling with turning to food at inappropriate times. The first piece of advice I would give to anyone who feels that they use food during times of stress, would be to buy a notebook and write down when you feel stressed. You may be so anxious or stressed-out that you don’t even realize it or can’t even pinpoint a specific stressor, but it’s important to let your mind be free and write it all down. No one else has to read your words, so using a free flowing writing style is A-ok in my book. Next, write down why you think food can help you. Be completely honest with yourself. If you’ve already eaten, and you’re doing a post-meal/snack/binge “confession”, write down what you think led to your eating indiscretion. There is absolutely no shame, despite what your brain might tell you. The key here is to not place blame on yourself. Chances are, food has been your go-to stress-relief for a while, so being nonjudgmental towards yourself in a situation that may have produced guilt in the past is really important.
After you’ve written down your feelings about the food and eating, it’s now time to examine better ways to handle a stressful situation next time. One way to stop a stress-induced-eating episode is to keep your food journal with you at all times and right before you’re about to eat, remind yourself to write down how you’re feeling. Ask yourself, “will food solve this problem in the long-run?”. Although food might provide some immediate comfort and distraction, the answer is probably no, food is not the solution (unless you are actually hungry, then please, do eat something!). Being able to identify healthier ways to deal with stress is a baby step onto real, serious change, so even pausing and writing in a food journal shows great progress. Creating an eating plan for the next day may sound like a good idea, but if you feel that may add additional stress to your life, keeping the focus off food is better. Instead, resolve to pause before eating, take a walk when stressed, or practice meditation. Even sitting for 2 minutes before deciding to use food during stress may help calm your head and change your mind.
Journaling and mindfulness are two ways to get in touch with the factors that lead you to eat, but if you’re facing a problem that you just can’t seem to fix and food is the only solution you can think of, it’s important to get help. Confiding in a friend, social worker, psychologist, or other person you can trust can help you deal with the issues at hand, and may help you find solutions to your problems and also guide you towards diminishing problematic behavior such as stress-eating.
Since I’ve decided to make my blog a little more personal in certain posts, I was actually inspired to write this because I have found much help with the use of a food journal and even on days when I do have a food faux pas (that’s my code for “stress eating episode”!), the use of a journal has helped me immensely. Today in particular I was feeling stressed out due to an issue unrelated to food or school, or anything related to this blog, and I came home and ate a sandwich. Afterwards, I continued to eat some snacks, and then I started to feel uncomfortably full. I took my food journal, and wrote down what I felt, and I wrote an entire page of what was plaguing me throughout the day. It made me realize how important it is to examine my thoughts as they’re occurring, or simply not give into cognitive distortions that my mind is telling me (if you haven’t guessed, yes, I was a psych major). Even though I did eat more than I was hungry for and even though I did happen to give into my stress, it’s great to be able to realize that I can face an issue simply by writing down my thoughts. Sometimes we have to go through a process, whether it seems imperfect in the moment, to be able to realize that we may have the answers within ourselves. Allowing a screw-up to happen is okay, if we’re able to grow from it (and we’re not hurting anyone else in the process. Luckily eating a few extra snacks is not terribly destructive). My final piece of advice is to allow yourself to feel, experience, observe, and write without judgment and see how far you can go!