Mindless stress eating may seem like it’s nothing more than getting a little relief from a stressful moment in life.
It’s like a taste of something delicious will take the bitterness out of life.
But, when it happens again and again and you feel guilty about it, it’s a recipe for shame and regret.
We all have basic needs, like a roof over our heads, money and of course at its most basic level, fuel for our bodies in the form of food.
Our more personally specific needs like love, companionship, a sense of purpose and belonging, a sense of feeling calm and at peace or knowing how to manage your emotions are just a few. These needs are more difficult to quickly identify how much you need and when – they’re a little more specific to the flexible.
Sometimes a need bubbles to the surface slowly over time.
At another time your impulses are strong and fully capture your attention, convincing you that changing the direction you’re headed in is a waste of time and energy.
Reaching for the candy dish while thinking about a stressful client meeting is a relieves the unpleasant feelings of frustration. But the stressful meeting is still there waiting for you to fix it, regardless of the sweet candy distraction.
Mindless stress eating can be a way to get your attention and be present, so you can make conscious choices that lead you where you want to be in your life.
What makes the biggest difference in stress eating? Giving yourself a bit of space to pay attention to what really matters, so you make choices that matter in your life.
5 unmet needs that lead to mindless stress eating and ideas to help.
1. Connection – be around people who are a positive influence
Creating this type of community, if you don’t already have it, is one of the most important ways to stop mindless stress eating.
Being on the path of changing your mindset, habits and learning to regulate your emotions so you work well with them, is easier when you’re around people who are also on a personal growth path too.
It’s energizing to have a conversation with another person who shares your interests, is open to learning and looks toward the future with hope.
How does this help stress eating when it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with food?
Maybe you’re into taking a photography class, joining a quilting guild, taking a painting course, going antiquing with a friend, joining a sailing club, taking a meditation course, or anything else you might be interested in that is creative, positive and growth-enhancing lowers overall stress and shift your focus.
Creating new connections and being around people who are forward thinking supports a growth mindset. Your brain needs something to do or it will default to doing what uses the least amount of energy – like going back to old ways of thinking. Giving your brain something to do that interests you creates new neural pathways that help you shift your thinking to what you really want.
2. Kindness and self-compassion
When mindless stress eating takes hold, the usual response is to criticize, find fault and withhold self-compassion. For high achieving women there’s a bias toward being tough and not giving in. Since you’re already disappointed or frustrated with yourself it can lead to even more stress eating.
The antidote is kindness and self-compassion. They both give you the opportunity to gain perspective, assess what worked and what didn’t so you can make adjustments and move forward with more useful self-knowledge.
Kindness and self-compassion give you the perspective you need to make the changes that lead to less stress.
3. Take a break from being busy
Everyone needs a break sometimes. This doesn’t mean that you need to wait until vacation time to get the space you need. Our attention is pulled in so many different directions that it’s often difficult to choose what you really want.
Sometimes unplugging helps to allow some breathing space, so you can see challenges as they are and avoid mindless stress eating altogether.
Slow down, consider what you need. Give yourself the gift of time so you can figure out what it is that you need. It’s an opportunity and you might be surprised at what you find.
4. Accept where you are while keeping your focus on your future.
Acceptance does not mean giving up on your goals. Acceptance means being right where you are now, while remaining thoughtful about your future. Thoughtfulness is one of the most effective ways to prevent mindless stress eating.
Acknowledge the work you’re doing and be aware of your need for rest. Allow yourself time to integrate the changes you’re making.
When you’re present, you’ll have the energy to focus and rebuild your enthusiasm for your next goal.
5. Transform your relationship with food.
Nourishment, how you eat to sustain your energy and satisfaction is the key ingredient to permanently stop mindless stress eating – it’s not what, but how.
A change in mindset can give you the calm you need to stop being led by impulse. It also stops the feelings of self-betrayal, body shame, overwhelm, and just plain not feeling good.
You can enjoy food, maintain healthful goals, feel good about what and how you eat, feel good about your body, respect your need for movement, honor physical activity, and grow your self-esteem. These are big promises and they are also completely achievable results. You can live the life you desire with less stress and a lot more calm, clarity and connection – the key ingredients to stop mindless stress eating.