If there’s a common reoccurring theme among us moms when it comes to nutrition it’s that is many of us (myself included) tend to be stress or emotional eaters. It’s easy to understand why with all that we’ve got going on as a busy mom -especially when we are caring for a new baby (cue the endless cycle of no sleep and around the clock feedings). Trying to juggle the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of our loved ones as well as ourselves is no easy task. And when you add on to this that most of us moms are sleep deprived, are trying to do accomplish WAY TOO MUCH in a single day, and can’t even take 5 minutes to use the bathroom (let alone have any kind of free time to ourselves), it’s no wonder that most of us will have a tendency to seek solace through food.
The desire to eat is a natural response of your body to persistent stress. When stress hits, it triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which can stimulate your appetite and amp up your hunger levels. Add to this a lack of sleep or a constant state of fatigue, and you’ve got a recipe disaster!! There have been many times when it’s been a long and stressful day, and all I want to do is hide in my closet for a little peace and quiet and drown my sorrows in jar of peanut butter, a bag of chocolates, and a few glasses of white wine!! Sound familiar?!?! I know -I hear ya, Mama!!
So if you know you are an emotional eater, we will talk about a few tactics to help keep it at bay. But first -how do you know if you are an emotional eater? Well -let’s go over that –
Signs You Are An Emotional/Stress-Eater:
- You eat more when you’re feeling stressed.
- You eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full.
- You eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.).
- You reward yourself with food.
- You regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself.
- Food makes you feel safe.
- You feel powerless, guilty, or out of control around food.
- You don’t want other people to know what you really eat.
- You aren’t exactly best friends with your body (meaning you always look for ways to tear yourself apart)
Now, if you do know that you are an emotional/stress-eater, let’s talk about those tactics I said we would touch on earlier. But first things first. Take a deep breath, Mama! Know that everything is okay in this very moment, and that you CAN make a change for the better with some honest work on yourself and your mindset and relationship with yourself and with food. It’s not something that will happen overnight. Nor should it be. We want success for the long haul -not just the here and now.
Actions Steps to Help You Curb Your Emotional/Stress Eating:
- First & foremost -know your stress triggers â€“ Only YOU know what triggers will push you to the edge and cause you start emotional eating. So if you’re not sure what these are, then take some time to do a little bit of investigative work on yourself. Ask yourself this question: What causes me to flip on the stress switch and start emotional eating? Write down your answers. It’s amazing what you can discover about yourself when you put your thoughts to paper! Once you know your answers, then the next step is to write down HOW you are going to make a conscious effort to avoid these stressors in the first place. Again, writing it down will help you to map ideas out in your head, figure out a more solid game plan, and hold yourself more accountable to making a change.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself â€“ A lot of change all at once can create even more stress for many people. So start small if you need to and decide on ONE action step to start out with from your list of action steps to curb emotional eating. Once you’ve gotten the hang of your first step, and it seems to happen automatically for you, then move onto the next plan of action you will take in reducing your stress triggers. Another thing to consider is taking control of your schedule and learning to PRIORITIZE or DELEGATE! Us moms feel like we need to do everything in a day or we haven’t been productive enough, but that’s just not a realistic way to go about life. Choose just a few things for the day that require your immediate attention, are going to move you forward, and thatmake the biggest impact on your never ending â€œto-doâ€ list. Remember, we are capable of doing ANYTHING, just not EVERYTHING, and not ALL at once!
- Get enough sleep -whenever you can â€“ I know, I know -I can hear you laughing at me for this one, but it is the honest truth. The less sleep you acquire, the more tired, run down, cranky, stressed out, and oftentimes hungry you will feel. A lack of sleep will raise your cortisol levels and trigger you to want to eat more frequently. This is especially hard for new moms to get a handle on with a new baby at home; but do your best to catch up on your sleep where you can find windows of time. The daily operations of running a house can wait when you are caring for a newborn. The main priority for you is to rest as much as you can and to enjoy that new baby! There will be time when you are feeling more up to it to tend to the laundry, make meals for the family, clean and organize the house, etc. This is because your body feels the need to compensate for the lack of energy by triggering your need for food. Bottom line: make sleep a priority on your daily schedule. Set a bedtime routine for yourself every night that is going to help wind you down and fall asleep more easily at night.
- Find other NON-FOOD related ways to calm yourself â€“ The first thing to ask yourself when you find yourself reaching for food is this: â€œAm I eating because I am truly hungry, or am I grabbing for this food to help calm me down?â€ Listen to your body and pay attention to the actual physical signs and sensations of hunger (stomach rumbling or growling). It’s okay to let yourself eat when you are actually hungry. That way you will know when it’s really time to eat or if you are just eating to mentally or emotionally satisfy yourself. Now am I saying to never enjoy food? NOT AT ALL! Enjoying food and drink is a part of life, but using it as a means to stabilize your mental and emotional mood swings is a dangerous and slippery slope. You don’t ALWAYS have to turn to food or drink to help calm you down. You can CHOOSE other activities to get the job down like meditating, taking a walk, doing some stretching or Yoga, getting a workout in, journaling, reading, going for a massage, taking a bubble bath, or whatever non-food activity that works for you to help mellow you out. Another important thing is to build these calming activities into your daily schedule. Making them a non-negotiable in your daily life will help to keep your stress levels down over all. And let’s face it -you deserve it!
- Surround yourself with positive people â€“ It’s VERY easy to fall victim to stress eating when you are surrounded by people that bring you down instead of make you feel supported and uplifted. It may not be easy to avoid these people because they may happen to be your immediate family members. That said, you should always try to surround yourself with friends or other family members that have a â€œbrighterâ€ outlook on life. Those who are always able to see the positive things in life. Spending time with these types of people will help to â€œlightenâ€ your mood and make you less likely to stress-eat.
- Call a family member or friend you can trust â€“ Sometimes when you are stuck in a bind and you feel yourself heading towards polishing off that gallon of ice cream, you just need to act fast and pick up the good ole’ phone to call a family member or friend. Sometimes you need someone else to help you deal with the stress and tell you that everything will be okay. Reaching out to a family member or friend can be an easy and convenient option, and it can also help you to strengthen your relationships with these important people.
- Stock up on yummy and healthy treats for a better snacking option â€“ Look -I get it, sometimes you just want to enjoy a little bit of food to make you feel better. If eating will bring you the most comfort in the heat of the moment, then make sure that when you decide to grab a bite, you have healthy snacking options within easy reach. You want foods that can take the edge off, but that will also be wholesome and nourishing. I’m not one to spend hours in the kitchen prepping food, but after having children, I now see the value in taking at least a little bit of time to prep some healthier options to keep my nutrition on track.
- Allow yourself some grace and compassion. â€“Life is a STEADY stream of ebbs and flows, and you WILL NEVER BE 100% perfect -and that is okay! When you do â€œslipâ€ from time to time and find yourself surrounded by empty bags of chips, empty bottles of wine, or empty bags of chocolate, know that you DID NOT fail and you are always one opportunity away from righting your ship again. Don’t make matters worse and stress out about it even more. Just try to do better the next time. Stay on top of where your thoughts and emotions are, and prepare yourself to deal with them the next time in a way that doesn’t involve food. Go back to your list of action steps, and pick the one that is going to be the easiest for you to start again.
Do you stress-eat? What do you do to avoid it? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.