We’re actually hard-wired to eat when we’re under stress. This comes from the brain’s evolutionary process, from a time when fight-or-flight was a necessary daily survival skill (think Cave-People). The energy gained from the extra food calories could help the body react and survive.
Our brains still have that old wiring that unconsciously tells us to eat when we feel stress. And every time you go for that candy or chips (or fill-in-the-blank with your stress-food of choice), you reinforce that wiring.
Are you hungry or stressed?
If you think about having your morning cup of coffee and you say to yourself“Oh, I really need my grande, double, no-whip latte today!” that thought can trigger bodily sensations of wanting or craving. It can trigger physical sensations of hunger or even cause your mouth to water. At that point it’s hard to distinguish…does the body really want the latte or has the mind created the wanting?
Practice the Pause
Ever find yourself staring inside refrigerator when you’re not even hungry? Sometimes we eat when we aren’t really physically hungry because we are in need of something else, such as comfort, distraction, reward or a break from boredom.
The key is to interrupt the unconscious “Think-Eat” pattern so you can determine if food is actually what is needed in the moment.
To distinguish between stress-induced cravings and true hunger, you have to“Practice the Pause.” After the thought “I want something to eat” and before reaching for food…..
PAUSE. Take a few belly breaths.
Become aware of your body…notice whether you are experiencing physical signs of hunger, such as growling stomach, low energy, dizziness, or difficulty concentrating.
Become aware of your thoughts and emotions…notice whether you are upset about anything. Are you anxious, scared, mad, guilty, sad, or stressed?
Interrupt Old Patterns
To break the pattern of stress-related eating, you need to interrupt it:
- Change your environment: move out of the kitchen, move to another room or area of the house or office, or go outside and breathe some fresh air.
- Change your physiology: belly breathe for 2 minutes, drink a full glass of water, do jumping jacks, or wash your face.
- Change your mind: here’s where the real work is and where the real change can happen. Start by writing down all the thoughts in your mind at that moment. With persistence, and perhaps assistance, you’ll discover which thoughts and emotions are triggers. You will need to do this in order to make lasting changes in your eating habits.