Posts Tagged ‘stress relief’

The 5 Steps to Stop Stress Eating

Katharyn knew she was eating because of stress, but she wasn’t able to stop herself from going through her cabinets and eating one thing after another until she was sick to her stomach. She is not alone. Most adults are overeating at night, and the primary reason is stress. Are you one of them?

Stress is now such a big part of everyone’s life, and the more we put up with, the less we notice how stressed we are. As a result, you might not even realize that what is driving you to overeat, crave sweets and carbohydrates, or turn to food when you aren’t even hungry is chronic stress. You may be under yet another tight deadline, feeling overwhelmed, dealing with negative people, making do with less, anxious or concerned about things outside your control, or trying to do too much each day. And that is for starters. Extreme levels of stress are no longer determined by whether there are major upheavals in your life, but by the cumulating daily stressors that add up without being defused.

Once Katharyn was able to review what was happening earlier in the day from a neutral perspective, she could see very clearly the causes of her stress and that she felt deserving of a reward when she got home. That need to be rewarded for putting up with the stress is often how the overeating starts. It is easy to justify pacifying yourself with food when you have been put upon or had to tolerate an unpleasant situation. And once the eating starts, the food becomes a way to avoid thinking about what happened and to further repress the emotions of the day. Very often stress eating becomes emotional eating, where food becomes the coping mechanism and a way to avoid dealing with how the stress makes you feel or your unmet needs.

There are 5 simple steps to stop stress eating, which Katharyn used to stop bingeing when she got home after a long and often challenging day.

1. Become Aware of When You Do Stress Eating
One of the things Katharyn realized is she wasn’t fully aware of what or how much she was eating on the nights she snacked until she couldn’t eat any more. She couldn’t even remember what she had eaten, if she had enjoyed any of it, or when she started to feel full. It was a blur and a way to zone out and forget her problems.

If you aren’t aware of what you are doing at the time you are doing it, you have no ability to stop or make a different choice. Instead you are on autopilot and out of control. So the first step is to actually notice you are eating unhealthy foods, too much food, and getting full. Once you can really see this, you can also start to look at what happened during the day, which is driving you to eat this way. And you can start to notice how you feel physically after a night of eating poorly.

2. Don’t Judge Yourself
The point of gaining more awareness is not to harshly judge yourself. When you feel judged, you will actually eat more to push down those feelings. There are good reasons for why you are stress eating, and the only way to really identify and understand those reasons is to be objective and have some compassion for yourself. By standing back and being a neutral observer, you are more willing to get curious and start to see what triggers you to eat.

3. Observe Your Eating Patterns
With that curiosity, you can begin to see your patterns. You will begin to notice when you eat because you feel stressed, and if you pick different types of foods or beverages for different types of stressful events. Maybe you turn to soda at work when you are irritated or frustrated, but you turn to sugary foods when you feel let down or unable to do as you planned. Maybe you automatically want a drink after work to deal with your anger or frustration, or maybe you get home and binge out of habit and exhaustion.

4. Get Specific about What Triggers Your Choices
The more you observe without judgment, the more you can see exactly what is triggering you to turn to food or a beverage. It may not always be because of stress. There are 8 possible reasons for being out of control with food and drinking, and stress can be a factor but not always the full cause. For example, one common reason for overeating or making unhealthy choices is being mindless, and stress can keep your mind so busy that you don’t pay any attention to what you are eating or drinking until you have overdone it. Another reason is having unconscious beliefs, like you deserve a reward for working hard or having to put up with things. When you feel stressed, you may also be eating or drinking something unhealthy to reward yourself. A third common reason is distracting yourself from how you feel by eating or drinking something, which is classic emotional eating.

When you stop to really see what you are thinking or feeling, you can start to see what is actually triggering your food or drink choices, and you can also begin to notice if those choices leave you feeling all that great after you have had them. Most likely, you feel worse not better. You also probably haven’t solved the real issues that are making you feel stressed.

5. Create Strategies to Deal with the Stress Differently
Now that you are more aware of all the different things that are driving your choices, you can start to think of strategies to reduce the stress and get your needs met without using food or beverages as the crutch.

Katharyn realized that she needed to take breaks during the day, so she could get some down time and make sure she got balanced snacks and meals to boost her energy levels. She also noticed that if she remained calm when things were hectic, instead of snapping at people when they snapped at her, that everything seemed easier to manage. And she could see that a better reward when she got home was a cup of tea and playtime with her dogs, followed by a nice dinner and the promise of some time to read. When she did these things, she reduced the stress at work and at home, and she got more sleep and felt better able to handle whatever she had to deal with in her day. As a result, she no longer binged when she got home.

Just How Stressed Are You – Do You Know?

If you are like most people, you don’t think you are dealing with all that much stress, but think again. Nearly all of us are under a tremendous amount of stress, but we take it in stride because we are so used to the daily pressures, rapid pace, and packed schedules that make up our lives.

How you mentally and emotionally respond to stress directly affects your actual level of stress. Those that let things roll off their backs, don’t try to be all things to all people, and know that you win some and you lose some have less stress than those that aim for perfection, take things personally or have to win at all costs. Consider how you perceive and then respond to stressful events in your life, such as when your day isn’t going the way you planned it, things aren’t going your way, or you are running late for an appointment.

What takes the greatest toll on our health, attitudes and emotions is chronic stress – as opposed to acute stress that only occurs in emergency situations. The day in and day out chronic stress that eats away at us leads to chronic pain, emotional eating, fatigue, insomnia, ulcers, weight gain and a host of other physical symptoms. Worse, it leads to feeling helpless, overwhelmed, agitated, out of control and moody. You just aren’t the person you want to be, which potentially leads to depression, anger and overreaction.

Stress is a red flag that you aren’t taking care of yourself. So the important thing is to recognize the extent to which you are under stress. On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being no stress, the average person will say they are at a 3, but in fact many of them are really at a 6, 7 or 8. Chronic stress isn’t just caused by the obvious medical conditions, loss of a loved one, change of job, or financial worries. It is also caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices and psychological factors, such as repressed feelings, conflicting priorities, and the way we choose to interpret our situations. Where do you think you really are on the scale? Are you taking good enough care of yourself?

You can start by evaluating your daily routine and lifestyle choices that can create or minimize your stress levels. In the morning are you racing out the door, skipping breakfast, getting caught up in emails, or dealing with anxiety about your upcoming day? Or do you wake up refreshed with enough time to enjoy a balanced breakfast and take some time to relax, exercise and prepare for the day? The way you start your day will impact your level of stress.

During the day, consider if you are taking on too much, getting enough time to eat, easily irritated or feeling out of control. These factors will also add to stress. Is there a way to get grounded, be more relaxed about delays or changes in your schedule, say no to things you really can’t take on or aren’t your responsibility, and make sure your needs are getting met?

In the evening, are you overeating or bingeing, frustrated or upset with what happened during the day, having a few drinks and going to bed late? These, too, add to your stress level. Is there a way to make some time for exercise, visiting with friends, enjoying time with your family, eating a balanced meal and taking some time for yourself?

If you don’t see anyway to make changes in your daily routine that will minimize your stress, then start with a few simple things that will help your body cope with stress better. Stress depletes our bodies of key vitamins, so add a multivitamin each day. Eat breakfast and try to eat whenever you get hungry, so the lack of food isn’t a cause of stress. Choose to relax and take time for yourself if you are delayed in traffic, in a long line or at an appointment. You can daydream, enjoy the scenery, read, listen to music or meditate when you find yourself waiting and feeling irritated. You have choices, even when it doesn’t seem that way.

This month look at what is causing you stress and consider ways to reduce it. Then notice how good that feels.

1 Simple Tip to Take Stress Out of the Holidays

Is your calendar full of to-dos, events, parties or travel plans? Any one of these added to your typical weekly schedule is enough to increase your stress level. Oddly enough, many people don’t perceive they are dealing with all that much stress. On a scale of 0 (no stress) to 10 (high stress), what is your level of stress?

You may think you know, but most of us regularly underestimate our stress levels. That is because we adapt to our conditions and gauge chronic stress as a relative measure of what becomes our norm. Chronic stress is an on going, continuous state of stress that comes from putting up with things, overworking, never feeling in control or caught up, worrying and seeing the glass as half empty, not making time for yourself, not taking care of yourself, not sleeping enough, not eating properly and not exercising. You may be dealing with a number of things listed here and taking it all in stride.

Despite how well you think you handle stress, your body may not be handling it quite as well. Symptoms of high stress are frequent illnesses, back problems, anxiety, ulcers, insomnia, headaches, irritable bowel, moodiness, fibromyalgia, over eating, abdominal weight gain or feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control – to name a few. Are you experiencing a combination of these symptoms?

Everyone responds to stress differently. It is not the stressful situation that determines your level of stress. It is the way you perceive it and how you decide to handle it. One of the determining factors is your beliefs. You are driven most by what you believe you must do and how you must do it.

Consider how you might handle the following holiday situation. You are a gift short for a family member and you are out of time to go shopping and get it mailed out. Do you… get angry with yourself, get upset about the situation, feel badly and embarrassed, worry, or feel you have to make up for it by doing something extravagant. Or do you… send it over night mail, order something on line and have it sent directly, choose a local gift that can be delivered the next day, or explain the gift will be a day late. Did you even realize you have options?

Feeling you have to get everything done by a certain date and done just right is a belief that sets the stage for chronic stress. If you don’t succeed in reaching your goals and end up feeling angry, upset or worried, you will further increase your level of stress. Instead you can choose to let go of doing it all and having everything perfect and take a moment to consider your options and what really matters.

What really does matter to you, your family and friends? Is it perfect presents, decorations and food? Or is it having time to visit, enjoying one another, sharing in the celebrations, laughing with loved ones and enjoying the holidays? I have struggled with this issue in the past, and I have finally learned to let go of the things that aren’t all that important. One of my favorite books that gives me needed perspective is Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it is all small stuff by Richard Carlson. This makes a great stocking stuffer or gift in a pinch.

Have You Discovered Zumba Yet?

I just discovered Zumba. It’s the Latin dance fitness program, created by a Miami-based dancer and choreographer a few years ago. You can get DVDs for it or you can probably find a local class. There are more than 25,000 instructors around the world, and a friend of mine found one in my own town.

Even though I am not a dancer and usually struggle to catch on or keep up with any choreography, I surprised myself and was able to follow along fairly well my first time there. I’ve been back a few times since, and even though the dances change a lot, I am finding there are a base series of steps used in each class. I’m now starting to get it.

What has been the bigger adjustment is wearing the recommended dance sneakers, which have a plastic sole instead of a rubber one. The plastic makes it easier to turn and twist on the balls of your feet, yet that can also make it harder to keep your feet from slipping a little too much. Of course that is what your core is for. Needless to say, this is fabulous cardio and core exercise that feels a lot more like great fun.


Alice Greene
Healthy Lifestyle Success Coach

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