blog title graphic with pink modern flowers on a beige background that says, 5 steps to stop stress eating and binging

Stress eating and bingeing is pretzel logic.

When you eat well most of the time, but something stressful happens, and your mind immediately turns to eating, the twists and turns of rationalizing it are short-lived. When stress eating and bingeing take hold of you, the fallout is tinged with guilt, shame, and regret. The big question is, how do you get out of the cycle?

The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things.​

Blaise Pascal

Stress eating makes sense; it’s just not logical. Human emotions are connected to conscious and unconscious memories, thoughts and perceptions. You have an experience, and your thoughts shape how you describe it. The unconscious memories aren’t language-based but are emotional and give a “felt sense” or vibe about situations. Stress eating is often the fuel for calm at any cost that’s difficult to understand and put into words.

There’s a clash between what’s conscious (food choices that enhance health) and unconscious emotional stress (stress eating regardless of what you know) that can feel like a compulsion or addiction you’re powerless over.

Stress eating calms your brain in the short term. 

For many people, when stressed, eating often turns into a binge. Which ten results in feeling even more out of control. And then there’s even more guilt and shame to stress out about than the original stress that let you stress eating.

You might spiral from fries and a soda for lunch to cupcakes for an afternoon snack, a fancy coffee, or an energy drink mid-afternoon when the blood sugar crash hits hard and you’re getting sleepy.

Since you’re already “off the wagon,” the day worsens when you stop by your favorite fast-food place on the way home. You’ve hit the point of no return and it’s just you and food tonight.

Maybe tomorrow will be better.

The food coma is approaching fast.

When you add it all up, the guilt, shame, and disappointment in yourself can be overwhelming. The solution is – once again, to start a new diet to get back in control. This is the pretzel logic that leads right back to more stress eating!

When guilt, shame, and disappointment lead to counting calories, cutting out food groups, resistance, and feeling good about yourself, it will never happen!

Dieting doesn’t work that way.

But does it help you to stop stress eating and bingeing?

I would guess your answer is no; it just makes trying the same old solution worse without a different outcome.

You probably find that your feelings for yourself aren’t generous or kind. Sadness and frustration make it challenging to see other options.

For the people I work with, the feelings after stress eating can be more hurtful than eating the food.

Stress eating is like putting a band-aid on your car after an accident.

Even though an accident and care are needed, the band-aid will not fix the problem.

Counting calories is a way to set boundaries for yourself; no matter how much this solution makes things worse, it’s essential to acknowledge the goal. Boundaries can be helpful and kind when they are thoughtful and lead to better outcomes.

You want to feel more in control than the food controlling you.

How much of your day is spent tracking and making decisions about what you can or can’t eat based on the data collected on your phone app?

You can transform your relationship with food from external control (calorie counting/apps) to internal control (developing a trusting relationship with yourself and your body). Keep reading and I’ll teach you how!

The battle needs to shift from fighting with food for control to working with your needs and taking good care of yourself.

Battles are externally driven. The focus is on what you’re doing wrong and how you can wrestle control from the stress of eating and bingeing.

Taking care of your needs is a fundamental shift in the metaphor. It’s the thing that got you into this situation in the first place. Focusing on food to meet your emotional needs leads to emotional eating.

When you first stop dieting for control, it can seem like you’ll stop paying attention to your health, or you’ll thoughtlessly eat whatever, whenever, however.

But that’s not the way a healthy relationship with yourself works. A respectful relationship does not allow hurtful, destructive situations to continue in the name of love. That’s the opposite of health.

Loving limits develop from your awareness of what you need and support you in mind, body, and heart.

Transforming your relationship with yourself and food is a permanent fix. It’s one of those situations where you get to a point where it’s impossible not to listen with self-compassion and clarity about your needs anymore. That’s when stress eating and bingeing isn’t a problem anymore.

Here are five things to do instead of stress eating:

1. Track your feelings.

If you’re not ready to let go of tracking, write down what you’ve eaten and feeling instead of tracking calories. This will give you much more helpful information.

It’s the beginning point of developing a supportive relationship. Knowing what you think about what you’ve eaten and how you feel physically and emotionally after your meal or snack will give you information you can use the next time you think a similar way.

If you’re not ready to let go of tracking, write down what you’ve eaten and feeling instead of tracking calories. This will give you much more helpful information.

It’s the beginning point of developing a supportive relationship. Knowing what you think about what you’ve eaten and how you feel physically and emotionally after your meal or snack will give you information you can use the next time you think a similar way.

2. Stop making judgments.

A judgmental attitude leads to black-and-white thinking.

There’s a mini court of law in your head with a conviction and you’re the guilty party. Sentencing is quickly handed out. There is no appeals process.

The judgment is you’re mistaken, or the food you enjoyed is terrible, and dieting is good. It’s that fundamental. But life is filled with nuance and transforming judgment into curiosity leads to possibilities.

Curiosity gives you space to think about a situation from all sides, identify how you feel and determine what you need to do for yourself. It takes time and care and you’re more than worth the effort.

3. Plan your meals instead of leaving it up to whatever!

When you know what you will eat for each meal, you take the guesswork out of leaving your meals up to chance.

When you know what you’re having for lunch or dinner, you will feel more in control because you are making choices for yourself – the ultimate control.

Be sure to eat meals you enjoy and provide the nutrition your body needs to run well.

I can’t stress this enough: planning meals without some measure of pleasure will lead you to avoid them. Make sure you look forward to your meal by giving yourself a pause in the day to enjoy yourself (even better if you eat with someone interesting).

4. Make sure you get enough sleep.

Your body will look for quick energy when you drag through the day because you’re tired.

Your ability to make clear choices for yourself will be significantly diminished. You’ll find yourself making impulsive decisions you aren’t comfortable with in the long run.

The urge to count calories and feel back in control may be even stronger, and the cycle starts all over again.

Rest is essential to feeling good, having the mental and physical energy, and making choices to fuel your life.

5. Decide what type of relationship you want to have with your body.

It’s like learning to swim. Eventually, you let go of the wall and trust that you have learned how to tread water in the pool’s deep end.

You’re a little unsure, so you stay within arm’s reach. As your confidence grows, you move further away from the wall. It gets more accessible, but it’s also tiring.

You only have so much strength for one day. As you practice, you get stronger and more confident, and before you know it, you’re swimming like a mermaid! 

This is the same thing that happens when breaking free from stress eating. It’s difficult to trust yourself; as you do, the trust in yourself will grow, and you will find yourself redefining your relationship with food, your body, and yourself.

In sum, transforming your relationship with yourself is one of the most positive things you can do. You can learn to treat yourself with kindness and self-compassion while setting limits that are a natural extension of a conscious relationship with yourself.