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.
Learn the 5 steps needed to keep up your forward momentum without stress eating or burning out.
Cathartic – bringing about relief from strong emotions usually by expressing them (Merriam-Webster).
We are encouraged to “just get it out and you’ll feel better” which is true a lot of the time. Most of my clients feel relieved when they talk through pent-up feelings. It’s the feeling of a weight being lifted off their shoulders. And the result is feeling less stressed even if it’s for a little bit.
Sometimes an epiphany, spark, insight or whatever it is called will happen, but that is a rare event.
Simply understanding the why or when stress eating starts rarely stops it in the future and in fact your forward momentum without stress eating requires different skills.
The Stages of Change Model is a great framework to understand the process of change. Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska, conceptualized these changes based on their research about how people are able to move out of addiction. Many studies since have shown that the process is the same regardless of if it’s addiction, job, an organization, or stress eating.
Pre-contemplation – not ready or not aware that there’s a problem.
Contemplation – knowing there’s a problem and you want to do something about it but are not ready yet.
Determination – you make a plan on how to solve the problem.
Action – you take action on your plan to solve the problem.
Maintenance – you do what you need to do to maintain the solution.
Since you’re reading this article, my guess is that you’re most likely in the contemplation stage. You know there’s a problem. It’s getting to you and you want to change it, but you’re not sure how. Another thought might be that you don’t know if the solution will be any better than the current one, even when you know it’s not helpful. Lastly, you might not be ready to give the solution up yet no matter how much it pains you.
The next stage of determination is when you’re making the plan. Using the tools below to help you develop your plan to stop stress eating and burning out. Your hope is growing and you’re optimistic that life will be better without stress eating.
Action is the stage where you implement your plan and make adjustments as needed. As you move along in this stage, you’ll begin to experience relief from stress eating and the peace of Conscious Eating.
Below is a plan to help you move through these three middle stages of change. It is worth the effort to move through the stages, so you can live free from stress eating and prevent burnout.
Here is the 5-step process to work with your feelings and gain momentum without stress eating or burning out.
1. Get the feeling out.
This is where it’s all about catharsis. Get the feeling out of your head and on paper through journaling, in conversation with someone, in artwork, etc. Just get it outside of yourself so you can get a little distance from it living inside you.
Go outside and let yourself experience the feeling while you also get fresh air and a fresh perspective.
Focus on how you experience the feeling and any new insight you have about it.
Allow yourself time to understand the feeling as you experience it. The more you consciously experience the feeling the more awareness of what can help increases too.
2. Specifically identify the feeling.
The next step is to increase your knowledge of the feeling you’re experiencing.
What sense do you have of the feeling?
What does it feel like in your body?
Does the feeling increase anxiety, anger, impatience or something else?
This will help you figure out what you need to calm the feeling.
When you listen to what your mind, body and heart are communicating to you, you’ll have the info you need to move to the next step.
3. Specifically identify the surrounding feelings.
Take note of the smaller feelings, the feelings that pop up as you spin around the feeling that’s got your attention.
What other aspects of the feeling are you noticing? Sometimes it’s helpful to think of them as sub-feelings. Think of them in terms of percentages. It might be 10 percent of one feeling, 30 percent of another, 70 percent of a different one.
These feelings add to the quality of the main feeling you’re experiencing. They will help you understand more fully your relationship with yourself.
They also help you to define what you need from yourself, your body and others.
4. Specifically define what you need.
Now that you have a pretty good idea of the qualities of the feeling you’re experiencing and the smaller feelings that help to shape your experience.
Take a step back and look at the big picture –
What is it that you wish you could have to make it better?
Are there skills that could calm or soothes the feeling?
What will get you closer to your goal?
5. Now take a few minutes and think about a variety of choices you can make to move you closer to living your life more fully, more consciously.
This can even include “not yet.” It’s okay to take time for planning. The challenge is to increase your awareness of when you’re scared and procrastinating, so that you’ll also know when it’s time to take the leap and get moving.
Getting started is often the most difficult part of any journey. It takes the more energy to move from a standstill than taking one step after another. When you feel burned out it takes even more energy. Yet, when you make changes a bit at a time, it adds up and can change everything.
Most of the time people get overwhelmed by feelings because they’ve never knew that understanding your emotions is a skill that can be learned at any point in life. Gaining momentum without stress eating or burnout is a bit easier when you have a framework to manage your emotions. Today is the day that changes for you!
Struggling with stress eating may go something like this…
If I could…
…find the right way to eat, I won’t have cravings.
…gain some more willpower, I would be stronger and I could resist my urges.
…detox from addictive/sugary foods, I would be free.
…stick with something long enough for it to take.
… just get to the bottom of why I struggle with stress eating, I wouldn’t have a food problem.
What’s so wrong with this way of thinking?
These all seem like reasonable thoughts, if you buy into a diet mentality that focuses on food being the problem.
But, when we’re working on healing stress eating from the viewpoint of Conscious Eating, it’s a whole other world out there!
Fortunately, it’s a world of helpful information, growth oriented and focused on healing your relationship with yourself, food and your body.
Struggling with stress eating isn’t about food
The struggle with stress eating begins with a shift away from focusing on food. Instead, developing a richer awareness of your emotions, what to do with them and how to calm your mind and body is the pathway to long-term change so you don’t need stress eating anymore.
You probably have a pretty good idea about what “healthy” eating is. Since you’re reading this online, you have access to lots of great nutritional information from a variety of sources here and here.
The old way of thinking is that if you get the nutrition just right, you’ll have more control, but it doesn’t work like that. It’s an illusion that information instills motivation. The illusion leads to a belief that you’ll stop struggling with stress eating by changing what you eat.
Relationships are complicated
If it was this easy you would have accomplished this already. Relationships are complicated and your relationship with food and stress are both multi-layered. And, when you combine the two the layering is doubled!
The problem is that making sense of emotional experiences and translating them into language or feelings is sometimes complicated. But, when it’s difficult to quickly make sense of the feeling this is when struggling with stress eating happens. Stress eating is calming and when you can think of it as one way to calm yourself, it can help to relieve some of the shame, guilt or regret about it so that you can explore other ways to calm and feel better without mindlessly stress eating.
A lot of the time getting specific about how you feel is what helps. On the surface – ‘I’m mad or angry’ states how you feel. But, to prevent stress eating you’ll need to put a finer point on it like; ‘I’m feeling frustrated and disappointed that my thoughts and feelings aren’t being acknowledged and taken into account when a decision is made.’
That level of emotional awareness requires a different type of response than one that is simply ‘anger.’ It requires you to take some time for you to focus on your needs. When you assess what you need, take into consideration what the best choice, so your stress level decreases you probably won’t be thinking about food too much.
If your attention does shift to food, it could be for comfort, distraction, habit, etc. That’s okay since now you know what you need and you have the ability to choose to eat or not.
You can assess your hunger or fullness.
You can consciously assess if you want to eat and consider how you might feel and if it will help you. This is where you can freely choose if it’s wanted you want or if there’s something else that would feel better.
The good news is that these are all decisions you are consciously making, one feeling at a time.
This increased knowledge or awareness is at the heart of struggling with stress eating.
When you develop the skills to calm your stress reactions you also interrupt the cycle of stress eating. And as you learn more about your internal reactions and how to calm them, you’ll be well on your way not struggling with stress eating anymore.
Emotional awareness is the antidote to struggling with emotional eating.
Emotions can feel overwhelming, but let’s break it down into more manageable parts.
How do you create the emotional space between yourself and food, so you can figure out what you need?
The key to emotional mastery is learning the skills for greater emotional awareness, so you reduce your stress and prevent any struggling with stress eating before it starts.
3 ways to change your relationship with stress and stop struggling with stress eating.
1. Reconnect with your sense of calm.
There’s a part of you, no matter how small or how long it’s been since you’ve experienced it, that can feel a sense of calm. At least once a day, create some space to be quite and notice how you feel when there isn’t anything pressing happening. The idea is to create a restful, calm sense of self.
Creating a restful place inside yourself is a process. No one is perfect and sometimes tapping into your calm place is easier than at other times.
Calming yourself is a skill that you can learn at any time in life and it gets easier with practice.
The goal is to give your mind and heart a little space so you can increase your emotional awareness.
2. Identify the feeling that most frequently leads to stress eating.
The next step is to identify the feeling or feelings you experience before struggling with stress eating.
When you begin the process of identifying your feelings you’ll most likely think of general feelings like, mad, sad, angry which is a good starting point.
Now that you’ve got the general feeling identified, you can spend a little time breaking it down into smaller parts. Maybe thinking about the feeling from different aspects of the feeling as you fine tune how you really feel.
One tool a lot of my coaching clients use is to look up alternative words in a thesaurus.
Use the thesaurus to increase your emotional vocabulary and try on, so to speak, some of the feelings. Look up the dictionary definition and see if it fits how you feel. You might even find different words as you do a little investigation into your feelings.
The more specific the feeling, the closer you get to taking care of your emotions and struggling with stress eating less.
This part of the process can be both a relief and fun too. It’s very freeing to know how to describe your feeling since it helps you to know what to do to feel better. It gives you direction for improving your relationship with yourself.
3. Develop your emotional mastery plan
Changing the way, you take care of yourself-from struggling with stress eating to identifying and managing your emotion is life changing. When you have options about how you respond to your emotions is true freedom that dissolves stress.
You are in control, not vague and confusing feelings that lead to stress eating. The result is that you’re back in control and struggling with stress eating isn’t an issue.
A plan for identifying your feelings can look like this:
Acknowledge that discomfort you feel.
Take a deep breath and give yourself some space. If it’s not an emergency, you don’t need to treat it like one, you have time.
Identify are you hungry, tired, thirsty? If it’s not physical then…
Identify what you’re feeling uncomfortable about – is it work, home, or your relationship with yourself?
What is the “big” overall feeling? This feeling could be the overall summary of how you’re feeling.
You can then break it down into smaller more nuanced feelings and see if something more specific fits.
Think about what you need and what type of self-care will help you move forward and take action for your well-being.
Ask yourself do you need to open up to more possibilities?
Is a conversation with someone needed?
Do you need to use a different set of skills when the feeling comes around again?
As you read this in protocol it’s a very linear step-by-step list. But as we know emotions aren’t that structured at all! They are messy and confusing and may feel very strong one instant and then morph into something else a few minutes later.
The process for identifying your feelings is often one of mulling things over time. You can come back to it when you realize another aspect later.
As you work on your emotional mastery your ability to name your emotions and calm them will get easier, faster and a lot less stressful.
There is no in-between, justifications or talking yourself into what ifs.
Maybe I like the color of my eyes, but my legs are too short. Or maybe I like the way my body moves, just not the muscles or the bit of jiggle. There isn’t room for a in between the lines sort of perspective.
Can you parse out your relationship with your body like that and still have a “healthy body image?”
It doesn’t happen much, but there really are all or nothing situations. The gray areas only serve to distract from how you truly feel. When the painful reality of how much body hate you endure on a daily basis, it’s time to make a real commitment to change.
Two Paths: hate or love.
Why do you hate your body?
The path of hate is an easy one. You can continue living with negative thoughts and feelings about your body and you’ll find a lot of company. It’s how we’re socialized, especially women, that there’s always something not quite good enough. In fact, it’s expected that you will join in the negative body talk. For many people, it’s a bonding experience to share your pain of dissatisfaction with your body.
If you tend toward stress eating is the usual fallback to soothe the pain – temporarily.
Self-deprecating humor about your body is a way of saying, ‘yep, we’re in the same boat, I don’t like myself either!’
Going along with the crowd
You can continue to agree with the millions of magazines, social media posts, radio and TV commercials, billboards and on and on, that tell you your body could be better. The way to cure body hate is through diet and exercise. It’s the logic that if you do this then you will love yourself and your life will magically fall into place, because you’ve reached some sort of physical acceptability.
Okay maybe they don’t say the last bit, but for lots of people, the message is loud and clear.
You might think, yes, if this celebrity spokesmodel can make it happen, then so can I! The plan they’re selling will finally get me you where you’re supposed to be.
Do this and you will receive lots of other good things in life.
Sometimes it’s even presented that you don’t deserve good things in your life, that you aren’t worthy if your body is less than some arbitrary definition of acceptable.
Many times these messages are followed by competing messages that show delicious looking foods that will bring fun and happiness into your life, so you follow the trigger and assure yourself once again that this is the last stress eating episode.
Mindset and body love
From a mindset perspective, this type of thinking falls into the fixed mindset category. You’re looking outside of yourself to change the way you feel. It makes sense if you haven’t experienced a different sort of self-relationship, how would you know a different way is possible?
Carol Dweck, a Stanford researcher who studies mindset has shown that people who have a growth mindset are better able to take risks, challenge their fixed mindset beliefs and are willing to identify fixed mindset triggers and learn from them. This means that when you approach life from a growth mindset you’re willing to evolve and incorporate new ways of being with yourself even when what you know doesn’t work and you’re not sure what will work.
When applied to transforming body hate into love it means that you need to willingly look clearly at your thoughts and feelings. As well as the conversations you have with yourself and others about body image, so you can identify triggers that keep you in a fixed state of hate.
You can also take action when you stop paying attention to information that doesn’t help and even when it’s uncomfortable, try a different way.
Just think of how much time and energy you’ve put into keeping things the same. Searching for an answer in something that worked for someone else instead of listening to yourself. Paying attention to your body, so that you receive the information you need to become who you need to be.
How to grow your body love
The path of love is much more difficult.
The path of love takes time.
The reward is transformation from the inside out – real lasting change.
What I can promise you is that if you take the path of love, you will –
doubt you’re on the correct road
These are all to be expected and welcomed because this is where change grows into new ways of being with yourself.
Transformational change results in a life shift that is nearly impossible to reverse.
The changes become part of who you are.
Why do we often take the path of hate when love is so much better?
The path of hate has many people you can join up with.
There’s a lot of advice and support to stay in the struggle and stay the same. Keep up the battle and live in discontent with your body because we’re all in this together. It’s familiar and the reinforcement you receive is all around.
The old stories you tell yourself need somewhere to go. You need to stash the discomfort to get relief. All the better if you can put the blame outside of yourself. But the problem is that you’ll need to wait for society, your family, the media to change before you can feel better. Your power is stripped away.
Family Body Stories
Body stories are like other lore. They are passed down from your parents, teachers, coaches, culture and kids will either rebel or adopt these beliefs as their own.
Many studies have looked at family relationship patterns (here, here, here) and their influence on body image. What we know is that, especially in mother – daughter relationships the unhappier mom is with her body there are increased body image and eating problems in the child. Without intervention, this relationship pattern continues into adulthood and then gets passed down to the next generation.
The research has also shown that when the parents have a positive relationship with their bodies it provides insulation from body image issues and the diet messages that bombard us in daily life.
It’s a big culturally acceptable bath of yuck that, most women, at one point or another, will jump into and sadly never get out of.
Maybe you would like to change your weight, find an exercise plan you enjoy, make some changes to the way you eat and generally feel better in your own body. That’s great!
You can do any or all of those things and protect yourself from the influence of a fixed mindset, by focused on what you think and instead do what’s right for you.
Your body story influences your day-to-day life, so make it supportive!
Here are 3 ways to help you get started
The first step is to pay attention to the little things you say to yourself. The judgements and comments you make to others about your body and eating habits. Also, the silent judgments you make about others that you would be mortified if they found out. Kindness and compassion are a circle that when it’s freely given and received supports emotional well-being for all.
1. Challenge yourself with supportive questions
Is this what I want to say to myself and how does this affect me by giving voice to it?
Is this thought or feeling leading me to health and well-being?
Does this help me become who I need to be or does it keep me standing still?
It’s also helpful to have some supportive and compassionate statements at the ready. Don’t worry I’ve got you covered just below.
2. Reframe your story, every ‘because’ argument has at least two sides
You’re the one who decides which direction to go. Sometimes it seems that if it’s something you’ve always thought or heard for many years then it must be true.
But is it? People can change at any point in their lives. Sometimes it takes very little effort and other times it can seem like you’re moving with lead weights strapped to your ankles. Keep moving anyway.
When change happens slowly, allow yourself to acknowledge all of the tiny victories because they will add up to the change you want to happen.
When change happens quickly, remember all of the time, thought, planning and action you have put into making it a reality. Most overnight successes were years in the making.
Both fast and slow changes need to be honored – with an abundance of love.
When you feel better and your self-esteem is high, you’re more likely to make healthful decisions. Positive creates more positive. This is why the path of love, although more difficult to navigate at first becomes easier. You will experience more freedom and a greater sense of well-being in the process.
3. You can choose love over hate at any time
You can change your thoughts and they have the power to transform body hate.
Here are some alternative statements to get you started:
I hate my body.
Alternative: I’m nurturing a loving relationship with my body.
My ______ is too fat/thin.
Alternative: My body is just as it needs to be right now and I am evolving.
My ______ say’s I’m ______.
Alternative: I choose my relationship with my body and nurture myself with love.
I feel fat!
Alternative: I have many feelings and there’s more to feeling fat.
I can’t eat ______.
Alternative: I choose foods that nurture my mind, body and heart.
I need to work off those calories!
Alternative: I am integrating all food choices into my lifestyle and I move my body with peace.
My body doesn’t like me.
Alternative: I am getting to know another side of my relationship with my body and practicing self-compassion is part of it.
I feel gross like this.
Alternative: I am changing and sometimes I will feel uncomfortable and it will pass.
I’m just not attractive.
Alternative: I am growing in my appreciation of my beauty in all aspects of myself.
I wish I had ______.
Alternative: I have all that I need right now and know that I may change in the future.
I just don’t feel like myself anymore.
Alternative: I am focusing on being present and learning what I need to care for myself in new ways.
Use this list as a starting point to become more aware of your internal conversation. Use the awareness to shape statements to provide you with the information you need to support and trust yourself – that you can change your self-relationship and be comfortable in your own body.
We all want to eat healthy, live well and be our best selves. Unfortunately, stress eating can rob you of your best intentions. Fortunately, when you become a Conscious Eater, you learn how to experience and maintain freedom from stress eating.
something happens that triggers an uncomfortable emotion
you reach for the chocolate (or whatever you like) one more time to calm down
enjoying the deliciousness of it is soothing
you promise yourself it’s the last time and you’ll “be good”
feeling guilty about eating for emotional comfort
Sometimes it’s all of these emotions at the same time and that’s incredibly frustrating. The kicker is that it usually leads to even more stress in the long run.
When you need quick relief from the stress it’s not like it can wait – you need it as soon as possible!
At the same time, stress eating isn’t a solution that lasts and if you’re reading this article, I bet that you know it’s a cycle that repeats despite your best intentions.
I also bet that you know when you stop stress eating, you’ll feel in control and that’s a good thing. To be at peace with yourself, your body, your life and ultimately to make peace with food for good is the goal.
Another diet isn’t the answer because it’s how you’re using food that’s the real problem.
You’re probably at the point where you want more than feeling good about your body – you want to own your life!
When you feel in control of your life it’s motivating to keep going. Losing weight, joining a new gym, reading a great self-help book can be the spark, but when the sole focus is losing weight – that’s the definition of putting all of your eggs in one basket. The problem is that you either “fall off the wagon” or when you reach your goal the excitement wears off that’s when people revert back to the same eating and physical activity behaviors. What you’re left with—well, you—and that feeling of ‘what do I do now?’ How do I maintain without fearing the next stress eating episode is just around the corner.
You want, no you need real freedom from stress eating.
You know that a whole person perspective, one that integrates mind, body and heart, would be great. Afterall, you need to live with yourself and you want to be happy too.
Conscious Eating is way of living in relationship with yourself that lasts a lifetime.
You can live a long and happy life where you feel good in mind, body and heart while you experience freedom from stress eating.
What leads to lasting change is creating a relationship with yourself, based on trust and respect that you can take care of your emotional well-being.
You can stop stress eating and become a Conscious Eater.
Conscious Eating is listening to your heart in the present moment, free from judgement, with the knowledge that you can provide yourself with the nourishment you need for a fulfilling life.
Respect, kindness, and compassion are the hallmarks of Conscious Eating.
Each time you eat, you have an opportunity to pause, center yourself and come to the table for nourishment and well-being.
Conscious Eating frees you from the fear of missing out, which is often fueled by the anxiety that you must have what you want now for one of these reasons:
it may be gone soon
this is the last time
the diet starts tomorrow
Mindless eating can be like that.
controlling feelings that seem unmanageable
Stress eating is only focused on the food, without regard for your nutritional needs, preferences, or even if you want to eat.
It is impossible to Consciously Eat what you don’t want or like without experiencing a conflict because you’re out of alignment with yourself.
Conscious Eating is liberating.
Conscious Eating frees you from overfocusing on food and under focusing on your emotional well-being.
You can create the space you need to stop for a moment, give yourself time and identify your feelings.
What you are hungry for and what might be satisfying?
Conscious eating is a fundamental shift in your mindset about how you listen to yourself and take care of yourself.
Conscious Eating requires compassionate patience.
As you become a Conscious Eater, you’ll learn to nourish yourself in the full meaning of the word.
Nourishment: to provide with food and other things that are needed for health, growth, etc.
The goal is to truly enjoy your relationship with food and your body, without guilt, negative self-talk, excuses or shame.
Each meal is one moment in time.
Food has its proper place in your life, it is one aspect of life – sometimes it’s a big part and sometimes it’s a small part of it. Nonetheless, there are other equally meaningful parts of life.
Sometimes you will eat purely for fuel. You are hungry, busy, and just need to get some nutrition in your system to function well. Knowing when you need to be quick and efficient verses when you can savor your meal is part of Conscious Eating.
There is no such thing as a perfect eater!
Real life happens.
You may have days where there is one meeting after another and your energy needs are met through one energy bar after another or one cup of coffee too many.
You may have days where what’s available isn’t appealing and you need to take care for your body anyway and eat what’s available.
Sometimes we eat just for energy and that’s okay.
During times like these Conscious Eaters are kind and compassionate, knowing that they are making the best decisions they can at the time.
You can nourish yourself and have confidence that you will have many opportunities to enjoy the foods you love to eat.
You can get back to listening to your natural rhythms.
Becoming a Conscious Eater is often like getting back to nature. Eating more naturally, most of the time. It is like when you were little and you ate because you were hungry and stopped when you were full. Even when you had something delicious, like your favorite ice cream, you listened to your body and stopped when your body let you know it was enough.
And if this was not your experience growing up — maybe you never had the opportunity to listen to your body — you can learn how to listen now.
Conscious Eating is a skill that you can develop at any time in your life.
On the other hand, stress eating is a habit you can unlearn at any time too!
At some point in life, we all come to the realization that it’s not about weight or how you look in the mirror.
It is more about how you want to live with yourself.
Conscious Eating supports a relationship with yourself that is kind and compassionate in how you talk to yourself, how you feel about your body and your life.
It’s difficult to break free from body criticisms, stress eating or the diet mentality.
Whether it’s the conversations you have with others, television commercials, the latest magazine article, pop-up ads or books, the message is how easy it will be to follow this or that plan and lose weight. Your reward will be unending happiness because a perfect body is the key to the good life. It’s a seductive message, but it isn’t reality.
If a quick fix worked, we wouldn’t have so many new diets or so many diet “failures.”
The reward for becoming a Conscious Eater is experiencing the fullness of life.
Your life is yours to live right now-no longer being ruled by your feelings and led down the road of emotional eating one more time.
You honor your life every time you have the courage to risk listening to yourself.
There is a wealth of knowledge about good basic nutrition that’s easily accessed. Your challenge is to work within the parameters that fit for you. Respect any adjustments you may need to make given your specific health concerns.
This is a process of increasing awareness, making adjustments, and moving forward with new knowledge.
There is no one size fits all; there is only what best fits you.
Most of all, Conscious Eating is natural, kind, and filled with peaceful self-compassion.
Conscious Eating breaks diet habit and leads to a calmer, more reasonable, thoughtful relationship with food.
Often when women talk about, “my relationship with food” it comes from a position of power – the food being more powerful.
The diet mentality, (there are good foods/bad foods, healthy/unhealthy food, the need to count calories, fat, carbohydrates, gluten or whatever is the “baddy” of the moment), leaves your knowledge and wisdom about yourself out of the equation.
There is a seesaw back and forth, between knowing that you need to follow your own path versus the overwhelming messages that this plan or that diet will be “the one.” You never really reach a middle ground.
Consciously make decisions that are guided by your self-knowledge.
Struggle happens when you can’t integrate the latest diet fad into your life. “I start my diet on Monday,” it is just too much of a jolt to the system.
Making changes gradually over time and allowing yourself to adjust to change, step by step, is usually more successful.
Many women have been brought up with the cultural idea that feeling good about yourself and your body is not possible. You may have grown up believing that you are supposed to look a certain way or that there is one body type that is acceptable.
If your body does not match up well, how could you ever feel good, never mind accept yourself?
What is your energy level in relationship to your planned activities?
What type of fuel do you need now—food, motivation, inspiration, peace or something else?
What are your emotional needs?
Where is your heart leading you?
It can be difficult to thoughtfully answer these questions in the beginning.
Sometimes you are swept up by emotions, thoughts, and memories, and are unclear what will calm your anxieties and fears.
Longing for food can seem uncontrollable at times.
The way out is to allow yourself some space, a break, to figure out what you need and how to nurture yourself as you experience it.
Give yourself time and space to let the questions simmer. Give yourself the gift of thoughtfulness.
3 Basic Elements of Conscious Eating – Mind, Body and Heart
1. Mind – how your thoughts are shaped by your feelings
Most of us have the basic feelings down; mad, sad, happy. One of the great things about Conscious Eating is that you learn to be more specific in identifying your feelings.
With increased emotional awareness your emotional vocabulary grows and leads to more options on how to best work with them.
Rather than using food to calm or elevate your mood you have many choices available. For example, there are many ways to describe happiness. Joy, elation, glee, delight, well-being, merry. Each of these feelings have a different quality and are different experiences of happiness.
Increasing your repertoire or vocabulary of emotions gives you the opportunity to match the feeling with positive action.
You can work with the emotion and move your life in the direction you need.
Fulfillment, happiness, and peace in your relationship with food is possible, because now you are taking care of your emotional health in ways that directly address what is missing.
2. Body – How do you physically feel?
Conscious Eating naturally leads you to check in with your body, with kindness and compassion on a regular basis.
Conscious Eating allows you to also check in with your subtle hunger cues, your need for movement, flexibility, sleep.
Most importantly you respect the information your body communicates and follow through with your needs.
A healthy relationship is built on a foundation of trust and mutual respect.
Your relationship with your body’s hunger and satiety signals needs trust and respect too!
Conscious Eaters stop, listen, and take good care.
Allow yourself the time to check-in and wait for an answer. Remember, snap judgments lead you away from consciousness.
3. Heart – Quiet reflection
The gift of listening to your heart is one of the guiding elements of Conscious Eating.
This is where you will find the gentle strength of discernment.
With experience and practice you will come to know when a craving leads to, “I just want it,” rather with a thoughtful centered perspective. You can ask yourself, “am I using food, exercise, focusing on my weight, counting calories or macros to calm an uncomfortable feeling or do I really just have a craving?” This makes choosing what you want very easy.
The heart of Conscious Eating is a movement toward a better relationship with yourself. You know from your core what is best for you and freedom from stress eating is a big part of what you need.
The tug of war no longer exists. Instead, you’ll live your life with increasing peace and clarity.
Your needs are taken into account first and foremost, whether it is caring for your emotions, eating, quiet time, engaging in a physical activity you find nurturing or something even more fulfilling.
Deepening your relationship with yourself in a new way that brings you happiness happens all the time!
I hope that learning more about Conscious Eating and how it can bring more calm, happiness and peace into your life is helpful to you.
You start feeling better when you have a pleasurable experience.
But shame and guilt hits you like a ton of bricks and now you’re right back to feeling uncomfortable and the soothing you experienced starts to evaporate.
What happens next? A lot of clients say it’s something like this:
You already ate the food, so you –
restrict your food intake
promise that next time you will resist
focus on more willpower
you go back down the path of mindlessness stress or emotional eating
justify your discomfort by telling yourself you might as well enjoy it while you can
feel hopeless that you’ll ever be in control of food
There are a lot of reasons stress or emotional eating cycle repeats over and over.
The reason with the biggest impact is that you feel near immediate relief in the moment.
There’s a whole lot of brain chemical reasons why people feel a sense of control and relief after eating. Regardless of how long the relief lasts, using stress or emotional eating brings relief from uncomfortable feelings.
The desire to create and maintain a calm state is a powerful drive. When emotional reactivity is high, stress or emotional eating is one of the quickest legal ways to get calm.
Over the past few decades, the intersection of psychology and neuroscience have shown us that our emotions, how we as feel, think, manage, and understand our experiences, is in large part based in learning how to cope and manage different states of being.
What’s important about this is that we have the opportunity to learn new skills at point in our lives.
The bottom line is that you can learn how to become a Conscious Eater even after years, decades even – of stress or emotional eating or dieting.
Mind, body and heart peace.
When emotions are vague, people tend to generalize them and think in broad brush strokes: “I feel bad or depressed, or sad, or mad, etc.”
This is a good start and you can develop a more refined, specific emotional vocabulary to help you even more.
It’s in our human nature seek feeling good as much as possible, so when uncomfortable feelings surface you probably want to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
Spending time pondering the subtleties of sadness isn’t something most people tend to do without some sort of highly motivating factor to do it.
Emotional self-awareness requires you to be specific.
Becoming a Conscious Eater helps you increase your emotional vocabulary, so that you are more aware of what you feel. When this happens you more options for calming and soothing yourself, without needing food to do the job for you.
While I can’t promise that this is an easy task, what I can tell you is that just like learning anything new, with intentional practice you’ll become more skillful.
Vague feelings lead to no specific action plan and lead to stress or emotional eating.
So, why all this talk about the specifics of feelings? Getting specific about the feeling provides you with a broader range of options so you can feel better sooner.
Here’s an example:
Say you’re at work and there’s a project you’re leading, the deadline is near and it’s not going well. You’ve racked your brain to come up with solutions, but it’s just not happening. So, you decide to summon up courage and talk with your boss about it. You want to receive some guidance on how to move forward.
Bad news: your boss is tense and busy with an emergency. Furthermore, she tells you that she expects you to handle it on your own and is confident that if you just spent a little more time on it, you’ll figure out what you need to do. She wraps up by telling you she has a conference call in 2 minutes and, with a tone clearly sending the message, ‘don’t come back with this problem – just give me your best work in the morning.’
Has this ever happened to you?
I imagine we all have experienced some version of this at least once in life!
Notice the feelings you might have felt as you read the example.
Frustration at the inability to get the project done without a fresh perspective.
Which can lead to anxiety about not knowing and needing to ask for help.
Which can lead to feeling vulnerable that your boss will judge your work performance as poor and that you’re not a valuable employee.
Your boss’s response can lead to anger.
You asked for help, she’s your boss, it’s part of her job and she’s not doing it!
The anger, if left unexplored, can get stuck. You could become focused on your boss’s incompetence, her dislike of you, and her plan to set you up for failure, etc.
The mind can go to very dark places when we get stuck in fear!
Even if this all this negativity happens to be true—there are difficult bosses out there—you can still remain curious about the variety of feelings you experience and then decide if the feelings become problematic for you.
The emotionally curious part of you, the part who desires to be more conscious and intentional in life, may have a conversation with yourself like this:
I made myself vulnerable and asked for help when I needed it. Now I feel dismissed that my work isn’t important, maybe even taken to old familiar feeling – I am not important.
I’m disappointed because I really like my boss and look up to her as a role model and now, my heart is broken a little.
Maybe she’s not the superwoman I wanted her to be.
I feel even less able to do my best work, maybe I’m not as invested and excited as I once was. Maybe I’ll just go to lunch early, have my favorite food to console myself.
But wait, no, maybe the problem she’s dealing with really is more urgent at this moment than the project due tomorrow. After all it is an emergency! I know that she doesn’t have time until the problem is solved.
She put her faith in me and tried to be encouraging but didn’t have the time or capacity in the moment.
Hmm, taking into account all of the feelings I’ve just processed, maybe what I can do is give her what I have, make notes on what needs to be refined and we can talk after the problem is resolved and she catches her breath.
Maybe I can take a deep breath too, take a walk outside and get some fresh air. It’s a nice day and that will help.
I need to practice patience. Have a nourishing lunch, then get a game plan together, so that I’m prepared as much as I can be at this point in my work.
When you get more specific about your feelings you have more options.
With time and practice you can get to the heart of the matter more quickly.
There is a simplicity in directly addressing the nuance of feeling which helps guide you in how to care for the feeling.
What if part of the problem with emotional eating isn’t really the food, but rather not being clear about the feeling or what to do with it?
What if you separate out the food from the feeling in a way that gives you more information about the feelings and possibilities for taking care of yourself, without focusing on food?
The assumption we’re working with is – you need to fuel your body and fullness-satiety is a need. Nobody can work very well with their feelings if your body needs fuel. Get something to eat and check in with yourself. Nourish your body at the beginning signs of hunger.
The two systems – feeling and nourishment – are interrelated; we can’t truly separate them altogether, but we can separate them enough to find some clarity. They require different questions and most often different answers.
Let food be food and emotions be emotions.
How to identify the nuance of feelings and prevent stress or emotional eating.
Feelings identification process.
There are three basic emotions that most people start from: anxiety, anger, and sadness.
If you think about the intensity of the emotion, like a little anticipatory anxiety when you’re at week two of a new job. Just a little, enough to keep you on your toes, versus intense anxiety when you’re about to give a pitch to a venture capital team for several million dollars. Intensity of emotion about an unknown situation like your first day on the job can be consuming.
If you lump these experiences into one, as if they are the same, you short-change the relationship you have with yourself.
Lots of people do this every day.
In the attempt to get past difficult emotions, you may dismiss them as if they are nothing and in return you miss the possibility to care for yourself in a truly meaningful way.
How to apply “feelings identification” to decrease stress or emotional eating.
Depending on your experience with a particular emotion and the intensity you experience of it you’ll need options. A variety of coping skills to work your way through the emotional experience helps a lot. You can get to the other side of your emotions faster and that’s what builds emotional awareness.
Think of this like any new skill you learn. Riding a bike at first is shaky and usually involves losing your balance and falling off and trying again. With each round of trial and error you learn more. Your mind and body become experienced in bike riding and you know more about how to stay balanced.
They are necessary steps, which help you learn what not to do, so you learn what works – faster.
If you try a coping skill that doesn’t fit the emotion, meaning, it doesn’t help decrease the intensity it’s okay. Try the next idea – it may be the one that helps! To make it easier and hopefully faster, I have a process for you to try.
Treat yourself well. It may take time to figure out what you need.
You will make mistakes along the way and that’s okay; you are learning.
You are getting to know yourself in a different way that leads to good things.
Getting unstuck is the best reward.
I hope that you find that developing your emotional vocabulary leads you down the path to Conscious Eating!
What happens when you solve stress or emotional eating is that burnout, overwhelm and feeling stressed also decrease dramatically. You’re able to use your newly developed self-awareness to take care of your needs. You’ll have the time and energy to pursue what you need and live a personally fulfilling life you love. And after all – it’s that what it’s all about?
Conscious eating is one of the fastest ways to overcome stress eating.
Conscious Eating gives you the skills to transform your relationship with food and eating so you’re in control.
When you learn emotional mastery tools, they’re transferable to many challenges in life, not only to overcome stress eating.
Conscious Eating isn’t a diet. It’s being present and intentional about what you eat, how your body feels and what your mind needs for satisfaction.
As you make choices for long term shifts in the way you relate to yourself and your body, you’ll also learn how to be more patient and compassionate too.
Keep in mind that this is a mindset-transformational shift in your relationship with yourself.
It’s a big and we’ll take it one step at a time.
Mindset is the way you think about things, or your ‘frame of mind’ and the way in which your thoughts shape your actions. It’s more than simply differentiating between a pessimistic (glass half empty) or optimistic (glass half full) point of view.
Conscious Eating is a mindset change toward mindful growth in how you think, feel and relate to yourself.
This isn’t a ‘think differently and your behavior will change’ approach to stress eating.
It is working with yourself toward a goal or value or belief—whatever word fits best for you—and knowing that you can create what you need to achieve your goal and live in harmony with your values.
A mindset shift is takes into account your full experience as a person in making change, mind, body and heart so you can overcome stress eating for good!
Becoming a Conscious Eater is learning to reshape how you care for yourself.
Conscious Eating is forward thinking and growth enhancing. You are learning to do things differently. Learning how to stop, listen, identify and live with compassion and kindness for you!
The most time-consuming part of change is when you’re preparing to make a change, but you’re not quite ready yet.
Small changes over time, bit by bit, adjusting to the newness, and continuing to move forward is effective. Being mindful of what’s working and what’s not and then making adjustments. Use the experience, both good and challenging, to help you know which way to go.
When you’re able to use your time to learn about what you want it is worth the investment of your time and energy.
The good news is that when you stop, identify your needs, and listen to yourself, with kindness and compassion, you are much further along in the process to overcome stress eating for good.
4 Conscious Eating skills to overcome stress eating.
An easy way to remember this process is SILK; Stop, Identify, Listen, and do all of this with Kindness in your heart. Here’s the framework for it to happen –
SILK – Stop
Being consumed with food, telling yourself that you will be ‘good’ or ‘healthy’ or you’ll eat clean, only takes you further away from your goal. It puts so much responsibility in manipulating food that it’s difficult to focus on your goals and values.
This surface level attention keeps the focus on food rather than your relationship with it. It’s manipulating the food in an attempt to have a better relationship with yourself.
This feeds the problem.
The way out is risk to shift your focus to your relationship with you and away from the food.
When you stop, you give yourself the space to consider other options that when you overcome stress eating.
The opportunity you open yourself to is growth. This is where a shift in mindset takes hold for your well-being – when you give yourself time and space to make conscious choices.
Are the food rules you live with something like this; ‘I can’t eat ______, ______is bad, ______ leads to ______ health issue, etc.?
Have you repeated some version of this statement to yourself so many times that you accept them as fact? If you eat one of the forbidden foods, do you experience shame and guilt?
Your challenge is to ask yourself if you are physically hungry and if so, what is my body asking me for right now?
The next question to ask yourself is – what do I emotionally need right now?
It may be that you don’t need food at all. You may need sleep, rest, friendship, love, space, quiet, movement, etc.
And finally, ask yourself what do I need for you mind, body and heart to feel content?
You might not be very confident in your answers at the beginning. That’s OK!
Remember, this is a process of moving away from someone else’s ideals and moving toward your own self-knowledge for your unique relationship with yourself.
SILK – Identify
One of the first questions I ask the people I work with is, what are your needs? I would guess that 99 percent of the time they know that I’m not asking about food and shelter or even to change their body or behaviors in some way.
I know this because more often than not, they will look me in the eye and tears will well up with the knowledge that there is something missing.
There is a deep longing for growth that has stalled in the quest for a different body, as if that’s a guarantee of happiness.
When you stop, take a breath and allow yourself to clearly look at your life and know that it’s not totally about your body then you have a realistic opportunity to overcome stress eating.
One of the most convenient times to do this is while eating.
Do only one thing while eating.
It is extremely difficult to mindlessly stress eat if eating is your only activity.
Practice being in the present moment and notice where your mind leads you.
It takes practice to sit with yourself while eating, especially when eating is your way of escaping discomfort.
If you’re reading a book, watching TV or working, it is nearly impossible to feel your emotions, hunger or fullness cues, or identify what you truly need in life.
Your attention is soaked up by the action in the story or the problem being solved.
You’re not in the present; you’re on autopilot.
As you become more comfortable with identifying what you need, you will also get clear on which foods you enjoy, how your body responds and what works best for you.
SILK – Listen
Growth requires intentional change and the way to get there is to increase your awareness of your negative self-talk and the thoughts and feelings you experience; outwardly silent, yet inwardly booming, crashing like a giant wave on your hope, motivation, and faith in yourself.
This means leaving negative self-talk, criticism and blame out of the equation.
The fight is over, a truce is called and the peace talks are happening.
The peace process is a little more complicated, takes more patience and you can do it.
Nutrition and exercise are important, but without a shift in your emotional awareness, you’ll be right back at the start, sooner than the current diet fad ends.
Tomorrow is tomorrow. Future cares have future cures. And we must mind today.
Being present is clearly assessing where you are at this moment and includes both the positive, fulfilling parts of yourself that you like as well as the draining aspects of your life that you need to either limit or use as an opportunity for growth or both.
This only thing you need to do is be here today. When you’re present you make moment to moment choices that all add up to big changes in your relationship with food.
Think about today and what you need right now. Shift your focus away from immediate gratification and get closer to the core of what your heart desires most. Sometimes asking yourself a question helps – do I really want to eat the chocolate bar or am I looking for a break from stress? It’s easy to grab the chocolate bar that tastes delicious and results in your brain being flooded with feel good brain chemicals. The challenge is to focus on what you really need for your well-being and your relationship with food.
Most people who struggle with emotional or stress eating, body image, chronic dieting, developed an automatic reaction to food. What’s important to remember is that this is a brain-based behavior and it can change. What it is not is a lack of willpower or mental toughness. It’s a learned behavior and you can learn different behaviors that are more in alignment with what you want in your life.
If you want to get off the diet merry-go-round of chronic stress eating an effective strategy is allowing yourself to accept the challenge of being present right now. You can learn how to become a mindful and conscious eater and change your relationship with food.
Follow your own guidelines
He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.
Are you in command of your present self when you’re thinking about your future self?
The only way to ‘obey’ yourself is to listen to your own wisdom and ‘command’ your body with the clarity, kindness and compassion you need to move forward. Listen to your own good advice it’s the way to change your relationship with food.
A plan based on your unique needs and clarity about what needs to change is a good starting point for lasting change.
When you’re present and have guidelines in place that work best for you, then you can make choices with clarity. You can identify what you need and incorporate it into your everyday life. What you’ll build is confidence that you’re on the path of greater self-awareness and fulfillment stress eating doesn’t have a chance!
You will get to a place where things make sense and the difficulties you experience from living with another person’s guidelines, for their food relationship is impossible. You need to listen to your mind, body and heart and do what’s right for you.
It’s easier to notice opportunities when you’re focused on what’s working rather than struggling with what doesn’t work.
You’re able to see things clearly as they are and your path forward, to is less a complicated relationship with food.
Even when the path is unpredictable, when clarity is your guide, you can adjust and stay on course.
Practice more of what works and stop doing what holds you back.
Don’t skip the messy middle
Welcome the present moment as if you had invited it. It is all we ever have so we might as well work with it rather than struggling against it. We might as well make it our friend and teacher rather than our enemy.
When thinking about your relationship with food, it’s easy to get lured into focusing on the end result, like you need to –
stop stress eating
stop criticizing your body
feel more comfortable
When you’re feeling stressed out and desperate for change, it’s natural to look at someone else’s plan. A lot of the time it’s great to not reinvent the wheel. But when a new client starts coaching with me and they’ve followed someone else’s plan they usually get stuck overfocusing on the end result.
When you skip over the middle part of change, you lose all of the stuff you need to learn. The middle part of the process is where your hard work creates the change.
Step-by-step small changes is what creates transformation. The middle part isn’t something that can be skipped over – it’s essential.
This phase is rich with opportunities for self-knowledge to achieve fulfillment in your life. The middle is the ‘how to change’ part of the process of changing your relationship with food. The best part is that you can use the process as a guide whenever you need it.
Even as we live with the knowledge that each day might be our last, we don’t want to believe it.
It’s difficult your experience of living in the body you have isn’t pleasant, yet it’s essential. As you grow in acceptance make sure you sprinkle in a lot of the positive thoughts and feelings. Positive thoughts have the tendency to multiply and nourish your desire for change.
When you build your future by accepting where you are right now while focusing on gaining more self-knowledge, you’re well on your way to getting your needs met and changing your relationship with food.
Transformation cannot be built on someone else’s truths for their life.
Transformation can only occur as you get to know who you are and where you’re going.
Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced.
Getting where you’re going is faster with clarity.
Clarity helps you identify what you need to do right now that is in alignment with your goals.
With clarity wishing and hoping for change melts into the act of doing only what you need to do to get to where you want to be.
Clarity gives you the opportunity to take a deep breath. When you exhale feel the weight of expectations and the pressure to conform to other’s expectations lift.
The way to make your plan work is to work on the fundamentals. Be present, follow guidelines that work for you, start from where you are today and accept yourself with clarity. This is a foundation you can build a new relationship with food and your body.
There really are only 5 things you need to do to stop stress eating.
It might sound too easy, but the 5 steps take time and patience – there are no shortcuts and perfectionism only slow your progress. If you can commit to the belief that life can be less stressful and even harmonious you can learn the 5 steps and stop stress eating.
The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.
You know stress eating is more than calming anxiety. There’s something more – you need to live your life with peace, fulfillment and health.
If you take the steps below, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a conscious eater. The time and energy you spent planning, eating, worrying about what you ate, regretting you gave into the habit again, doesn’t happen and that’s one of the best freedoms of all.
Choose what you eat wisely so that you’re getting both the physical nourishment your body needs and the satisfaction your mind and heart need too. Take care of your whole person. Without enjoyment there won’t be satisfaction, which can lead to stress eating later.
Sometimes you will eat purely for fuel. We all lead busy lives and sometimes food is merely a means to an end — putting more fuel in the engine so you can keep going. Food is also an important way people experience pleasure. If what you eat isn’t pleasurable on some level, most of the time, you will be left wanting, unsatisfied.
At least once a day, eat for fuel as well as for the experience of pleasure.
2. Be present
The point of power is always in the present moment.
Louise L. Hay
Do just one thing while eating.
When you’re driving, watching a show, working on the computer, playing a game on your phone, reading, etc. you’re unable to really be aware of what you’re eating, if you enjoy it, if you’re hungry for food, when you’ve had enough – there are a lot of decisions!
Distraction is one way of disconnecting from stress eating and the feelings of guilt or shame about what you’re eating, how you’re eating it, how you feel about your body and yourself.
Distracted eating is a statement about your relationship with yourself. The way to step is through self-compassion and honoring your need and desire for nourishment and stop stress eating.
Mindful eating is one tool you can use to pay attention in the moment to the taste, texture, aroma, colors, etc. of the food you’re eating.
When you eat mindfully, you can make assessments about your relationship with food and how you respect your body.
3. Identify your feelings
The best way out is always through.
Calm anxiety before eating, rather than eating to calm anxiety. Easier said than done, right?
This can be tricky since hunger makes anxiety worse. Anxiety can also be one of the early signs of hunger. It gets complicated very quickly!
Our ancestors needed to be on the lookout for food, they might have been a little edgy about it, so when it was available, they would find it and eat. Although food is abundant, when hunger is ignored this early survival mechanism kicks in and you may become a little edgy too.
Help yourself to slow down. Do your best anxiety-reducing techniques, a few deep breaths, a little calming yoga, a short mindfulness meditation, 2–5 minutes or so, and then eat a balanced meal or snack. The food will wait.
Anxiety or worry is one of the most frequent feelings that leads to stress eating. Eating is something to do, it takes your mind off of the issue and depending on the food, your brain will be stimulated to release calming brain chemicals.
The way through this is to identify the feeling, pinpoint its cause as best you can and take one simple step toward your future free from stress eating.
Sometimes this means making an action plan and other times it means reassuring yourself and creating a peaceful environment when you’ve done all you can.
Increase your awareness of the feelings you experience most often. Emotional awareness is your own personal guide to stop stress eating and prevent it from happening too.
When you know what’s going on inside, you have options for better self-care.
Stress eating is no longer a distraction from what’s really bothering you, you know and you have a choice in how you manage yourself.
4. Leave morality out of your food choices
Having a healthy relationship with food means you are not morally superior or inferior based on your eating choices.
How many times have you heard, usually at dessert time, “we’re being so bad tonight?”
What if we accepted that our bodies enjoy pleasurable experiences like eating good food?
Acceptance in the fullest sense means honoring your desire for pleasurable experiences with food, non-judgmentally.
When you accept that you’re an eater who enjoys eating you’ll also accept that at times you need fuel. You can accept when fuel is primary and enjoyment second since you can trust yourself that there are times when you’ll eat purely for pleasure too.
Eating for fuel only.
You have a big meeting at two o’clock and it’s important to have a balanced lunch at noon, so you’re fueled, thinking clearly and on your game. Your priority is reviewing your notes and getting fuel. That’s okay some of the time.
Eating just for pleasure.
Think about birthday cake or special foods you only have at holiday celebrations. These foods and the ritual of eating them symbolize the importance of the moment, your family traditions and culture.
Foods have different nutritional value, not different moral value. Eat well and enjoy.
5. Seek connection instead of stress eating
Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow. It’s a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them — we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Stress eating can be the motivator for reconnecting with someone, a memory, thought or feeling.
If you’re craving a specific food, ask yourself, is it the memory or person you want to connect with?
Is the food a way to make it happen or would you get your needs met by a conversation, planning a visit, making dinner plans with a friend or family member?
Stress eating is the pathway to the relationship you want to experience. The problem is that the stress eating can’t help you connect in the way you want or need to connect either with others or yourself.
Increasing your awareness of stress eating and the feelings that led you there is the way to move toward what you need. Awareness can help you refocus from the food obsession to the relationship and you can get your needs met.
These five actions will move you so much further down the road to what you want, so that you can stop stress eating than any diet ever could. You have the answers you need right inside you. My hope is that the tools above will help you discover them!
Weighing yourself is one of the worst ways to feel good about yourself or get a handle on stress eating.
If you ever stress eat weighing yourself usually leads to negative thoughts or opinions that prevent you from feeling good about your body, boundaries and confidence.
This is your body, your greatest gift, pregnant with wisdom you do not hear, grief you thought was forgotten, and joy you have never known.
The facts about daily weighing yourself and stress eating.
A study in 2015 tracked participants over 10 years and showed that self-weighing is associated with increased weight concerns and depression. The study also showed a decrease in body satisfaction and self-esteem over those 10 years, especially for the women in the study.
If you stress eat, weighing yourself can be one of the most effective ways to feel really bad about yourself.
Daily weighing can lead to increased stress eating rather than actually decreasing it.
Ironically a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ scale number can both trigger overeating—whether it’s a congratulatory eating party or a consolation party.
A lot of people find the external verification of daily weighing helpful in some respects. Some research has shown that it can be helpful. Daily weighing with email support was helpful in weight loss in this study. Another study by the same group in 2014, showed no ill psychological effects of daily weighing
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love data. I like to see the data for lots of things especially when making decisions. It helps me to understand if the assumptions about a particular thing are actually true.
In terms of health behaviors, it helps to find out if what people say they do matches up with what they actually do. This gives me a better idea of how to be helpful to my clients.
But, when the data is “bad” – it’s not accurate or misleading, it doesn’t help with anything. In fact, this type of information can have very serious consequences. One piece of “bad” data is the importance we give to the number on scale. It only gives you information about mass. What it can’t do is give you information on the health of your body systems like heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, bone density, etc.
And yet, so many thoughts and feelings are assumed, usually negatively, from this one piece of data that you have in your control – weighing yourself.
If you stress eat, the scale is not your friend!
There’s no real reason to weigh yourself at home. It can’t tell you anything about the nutrient density of the food you eat and the effects of what you eat on your body. And it certainly doesn’t tell you anything positive about your relationship with your body especially – instead it usually creates more stress!
Yet, these are all things that you might unconsciously hope that it would do.
If the scale is down, you feel great about yourself. But when it’s up and especially if it’s a big number, your mood plummets, your motivation for self-care fades and self-compassion is nowhere in sight.
You will have the opportunity to get to know yourself in different ways like…
What kind of movement energizes you.
What kind of movement you enjoy.
What type of food gives you the energy you need.
What type of food feels good in your body.
What type of attitude or thought process moves you toward your goals.
What type of conversations you find fulfilling.
The list goes on and on. Mainly, when you are aware of your internal needs, hopes and desires you gain the ability to actually get what you want in life. And this has nothing to do with the weighing yourself!
People always ask me, ‘You have so much confidence. Where did that come from?’ It came from me. One day I decided that I was beautiful, and so I carried out my life as if I was a beautiful girl … It doesn’t have anything to do with how the world perceives you. What matters is what you see. Your body is your temple, it’s your home, and you must decorate it.
Move away from external validation and toward internal validation
If you want a better relationship with yourself you will need to shift from external validation – waiting for other’s approval to feel good. Instead, internal validation is trusting yourself to do what you need for your own well-being and acknowledging the benefits you receive in the process. This is the way out of stress eating, negative body image and low self-esteem.
How is feedback different from external validation?
External information is helpful in some situations. Say, when your boss gives you feedback on a presentation. You need to know what worked, what didn’t work, if you said too many “um’s,” if you covered all the required material, etc.
It’s also helpful to get feedback from a loved one or good friend about the outfit you plan to wear for the presentation. Does it fit the tone of the presentation, the audience, the lighting/stage, etc. It’s helpful to get a double check and when you value the others perspective about a specific situation.
The stereotypical question, “do I look fat in this” is usually about so much more than appearance. Do you accept me regardless of any judgements I might have about my size or are you judging me too?
Since the question is usually isn’t about appearance, if talked about how you feel would it be more helpful to you?
I’m nervous about meeting new people at the party.
I’m not comfortable in this outfit.
I don’t want to give this presentation.
I need reassurance/encouragement that it will be okay.
Becoming more connected with what you’re feeling and experiencing helps you live a more authenticity and guide you in the direction you want your life to go.
3 Questions to ask yourself before getting on the scale.
What do you want to receive from the scale?
If you really need the data from the scale for medication or some other medical reason, then is it possible to let go of weighing yourself at home and only weigh yourself at your doctor’s office?
Can you relieve yourself from this stress?
If there isn’t a medical reason to weigh yourself outside the doctor’s office, what do you think the scale will tell you?
a good person
out of control
Maybe you have other ways to assess how you’re doing. One of them is to pay closer attention to how you feel in your body. If you start or regularly engage in physical activity, can you use increased skill level, speed, distance/duration, feeling more fit/comfortable for feedback instead of weighing yourself?
Maybe this shift in mindset gives you the opportunity to have a positive conversation with yourself. Part of getting out of stress eating is bringing your emotions more fully into your awareness so you can use them to support yourself. This is something that you can’t get from weighing yourself.
When you have a clear picture of your life, it’s really challenging to feel totally bad about yourself. There’s a point where it takes more effort to feel bad than good. For many of my clients when they try it the effort becomes so ludicrous that they realize what’s happening, smile and remind themselves that they don’t need that anymore! They’re further down the road of growth than they knew.
Why do you own a scale?
Most people say that they need it, “to check my weight.” But, if you gained or lost weight would you know by the way your clothes fit? Remember, the scale can only measure mass and nothing else.
Is there something more meaningful to you? Could you receive validation from work – a job well done, volunteering – giving back to the community, faith – connection with your values, friendship – being present, etc. Do these areas give you a better sense of who you are as a human being?
Are there other ways to “measure” or assess if you’re getting what you need?
Your needs cannot be quantified by data and weighing yourself – that’s all it is!
It’s fairly impossible to say, “I only need 20 percent of love today” or “right now I need 100 percent compassion.” By living an intentional life and developing your well-being skills you’ll find that, after a difficult day self-compassion gives you so much more comfort than getting on the scale or stress eating does.
Self-compassion helps you to understand where you are, what you need and the confidence to move forward.
My second to the last question – how much does the scale pull you out of living an intentional life and drops you back into a disconnected relationship with yourself where stress eating is the norm? It’s a big question.
What I know is that a healthy relationship with yourself and with those in your life can be a nest of love and in the end isn’t that one of things you truly want?