I would bet that most people view stress as a negative. For my clients who struggle with stress eating that’s especially true.
The human mind has a funny way of making things worse. When you feel that it’s going to be hard to succeed, it usually is. I’ll show how your negative thoughts manifest and I’ll give you steps to deal with them to prevent the problem. For food not to be a coping tool, you need to change those thoughts from negative to neutral. Viewing them clearly as they are and looking forward towards your future goals is the answer.
A negative thought is not the same thing as a negative attitude.
Most of us have experienced our share of stressful events in our lives. These can be work related or personal. The stress that comes with these negative events are often labeled as being negative thoughts, but they are both.
Your mind can easily conjure up a scary image of what could happen if this or that happens, etc. This picture iis in your head and says; “if that’s true then I’m going to need something to eat.” And, that’s what makes it so difficult. It’s a coping mechanism.
1. How negative thoughts work.
So how does this work? How does the mind do that? Your mind creates a scenario that could occur if that negative thought were true. Let’s say you have been thinking negative thoughts about being fired from your job. Your could create a scenario in which you lose your home, you don’t have much money, and you become homeless. As soon as the thought comes to mind an image of what could happen appears and pressure bullds.
Your blood starts to leave your brain. It flows down to the rest of your body, kind of like you’re a living zombie. More likely you’re not a zombie. But when you can’t think clearly because stress is flooding the areas of the brain that are associated with stress. This is what it’s like when you are try to cope with stress by eating – you are not really thinking straight. Now it’s time for coping mechanism number two-food.
2. Food is security.
What’s the second coping mechanism that your mind uses to cope with stress? It uses food. When you think negative thoughts about being fired from your job, the connection with food leads a desire for food. You see your mind’s picture of what could happen to you and it leads you straight to comfort food. What happens then is that instead of thinking about the future, or the present, you’re focused on how much comfort food can fulfill those feelings or needs for security because of all this stress.
3. Food is distraction.
The third and final coping mechanism that your mind uses to cope with stress is to eat. That’s why we see that when people suffer from stress eating, they eat comfort food-because it calms them down and takes away the stress. But the problem with eating this way because it does not resolve the issue of stress any more than rubbing a sore knee does because you still have a sore knee, only now you’ve added food to your list. The issue remains.
Negative thoughts and stress eating solutions.
So, how do you make this not happen to you? Here are some helpful suggestions:
1. List your stressors.
Make a list of all your stressors. Once the list is complete, divide them into the ones that are within your control and the ones that are out of your control. If there are any items on the list that you feel are in your control, then write down how you would try to change these things if they were yours to change. Next to each item that’s out of your control write down what it could be if it were in your control. For example, If the only thing out of your control is the weather, then write down what you can do to prepare for this. But if it’s something else, like your boss is a micro-manager, then make a list of things you can change within your work environment to make it better.
2. List your negative thoughts.
Write down the negative thoughts that you have most often. Once these are written down, look at them and ask yourself what they truly mean. Is there a reason why you’re thinking this? Is it true?
Think of a time in the past when you faced similar stress and how you dealt with it. This will give you insight into what you’re thinking and why. Write down these things in your journal so that when negative thoughts come into your mind, you can look at it and ask yourself, “Is this true?”
3. Challenge your negative thoughts.
Finally, don’t let negative thoughts about something outside of your control go unchallenged. A positive way to deal with them is to challenge them and say to yourself, “if it were true then this would occur.” For example: “If I dropped dead tomorrow then all my friends would say they will miss me.” When this is truly true (and it might not always be) then the mind will believe it and do everything in its power to make sure that really happens.
So, remember, negative thoughts are not the same as negative attitudes. One is an attitude; one is a thought. But they are related to each other. So, if you have the attitude, “I’m negative all the time”, then that will lead you to think thoughts that are negative about things that may or may not be true. A habit of positive thinking will help you to avoid putting these negative thoughts into your mind which could lead you to harmful coping behaviors like comfort eating.