Nikki, our operations manager, asked me recently to write on stress eating. She’s in the hot-seat in a major new venture we’re working on, and both she and I have been under considerable stress.
So I agreed—it’s an important topic.
I probably can handle more stressors than the average person and seem to thrive in a space of 95-99% capacity and a significant amount of pressure. But there’s always a “too much,” and I’m pretty sure every human being on the planet has gotten into that “red zone.” When I reach that threshold, with stress, where I tip over into “I’m not happy, and I’m not coping well,” my reaction is to NOT eat much.
The reason is, I’m not enjoying the food anyway, since my stomach is tied in knots! So I eat functionally. In these periods of my life, I eat the healthiest. The only food I eat is just to meet caloric needs, so it’s vegetable juices and green smoothies and the like. I usually drop several pounds below my normal weight.
(In periods of my life when I was overweight, it was because I was bored and NOT stressed! A mixed blessing.)
You may be very different than this. I’d love to know what you do, to check yourself, from eating bad foods just because you’re stressed out?
The most helpful thing I’ve come across is a book on “mindful eating” I read many years ago. I think it was called Intuitive Eating. And I didn’t finish it, because it was one of the those books where, 50 pages in, I was like, “Yeah, I got it. I don’t need to read the whole book.”
But the authors taught a method of checking in with yourself. Getting very purposeful about eating. In other words, stopping every few bites to ask yourself a few questions:
“Am I hungry?”
“Do I really want this?”
“Why am I eating right now?” If the answer is not “because I’m hungry,” then ask yourself, “Am I feeling emotional right now and eating to make those feelings go away? If so, is there something else I could be doing to help myself out of this situation?”
It’s important to always stay “in choice,” giving yourself permission to eat whatever you want. That way, when you opt out, you can do it with your chin up:
“I can if I want to, but I choose not to!”
Then it feels like living a purposeful life, rather than denying yourself. Repeatedly denying oneself generally leads to binging later, creating a cycle of sabotage.
Then, if you’re not sure if you are hungry and REALLY want more, wait five minutes to see if you have another serving, or whether you choose the dessert.
Almost every time I require myself to wait five minutes, at the end of it, I don’t even want the dessert, or to eat more of the food.
The book reminded us to plug into the fact that satiety, or the feeling of being “satisfied,” comes 5 or 10 minutes after you stop eating. So, let it catch up. Stop eating sooner, and check in with yourself. If you wait, giving yourself permission to have more in 5 minutes if you still want to, you’ll end up eating less.
Now these ideas aren’t mine, nor are they about choosing whole foods, which is my biggest agenda. (The authors’ premise is, there are no bad foods, but you have to eat them only minimally. I disagree with that, of course. I think living in the “real world,” we all eat things that aren’t good for us, to a greater or lesser extent, but there are certainly bad foods!)
Until reading that book, I was not very mindful about my eating. Now I stop and check myself more regularly. I also try to not eat anything while working at my computer, unless it’s something super-healthy like my quart of green smoothie. If I eat at my computer, I’ll overeat, being consumed in the email I’m writing or topic I’m researching! Suddenly I’ll notice I ate twice as much as I intended to! (I learned this one the hard way.)
The “mindful eating” principles are good, and they’ve helped me significantly. Consequently, my weight is in check and my health is better.