Why You Stress Eat and What to Do About It

Stress eating or emotional eating are terms used interchangeably. Both refer to the same pattern of eating where people use food as a coping mechanism to be able to deal with stressful situations.

We all use emotional eating at one time or another in our lives. It becomes a problem when emotional eating is the go-to coping mechanism for difficult feelings, as opposed to building the tools to deal with the emotions that are coming up.

Emotional Connection to Food

Our relationship with food is emotional at its core. Access to food is part of our survival. When we were young we emotionally bonded with our mothers who were our primary source of food. 

Food is also a big part of our cultures and families. It makes sense that we feel nostalgic about food from our childhood, family recipes, or meals we have on certain holidays.

Not all food decisions are driven by positive emotions. If you’ve ever been through a significant break up (or suffered a loss) you know that your appetite is affected. This shows up in different ways. One day you might feel overwhelmed with emotion and not want to eat. The next you might be drawn to comfort food.

Negative emotions often create a feeling of emptiness or an emotional void. Often we turn to food as a way to fill that void and create a feeling of fullness so we can temporarily feel whole.

The danger here is that the physical fullness can’t fully replace the emotional void, which is why you might never quite feel satisfied when you’re eating out of emotion. 

One way to get past stress eating is to determine whether your hunger is being driven emotionally or from real physical sensations of hunger.

Emotional Hunger vs Physical Hunger

Emotional hunger can be powerful. It’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger if you don’t know what to pay attention to. Here are some ways you can tell the two apart:

Emotional hunger happens suddenly. It comes on quickly and feels urgent. Whereas physical hunger comes on gradually and doesn’t feel urgent (unless you haven’t eaten in a long time).

Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. It comes from your head and is more of an anxious thought or craving than a growling belly or a sensation in your stomach. One way to notice this is if you’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells as opposed to how hungry you feel.

Emotional hunger focuses on specific foods. You pass by a billboard for a fast food restaurant and suddenly have a craving. Or you scroll past a dessert picture on social media and suddenly you want to leave your house to go get chocolate. These are emotional cravings because they come on fast and specific. Physical hunger usually isn’t for anything specific, and your desire will be for real food as opposed to sweets and treats. 

Emotional hunger isn’t fulfilled, even once you’re full. When you keep eating past the point of being full, or you keep wanting to snack even after you’ve eaten these are signs that the hunger you’re responding to is emotional. Physical hunger doesn’t need to be stuffed to feel satisfied. You’ll get the sensation that you’re stomach is full and feel like you’ve had enough.

Emotional hunger often happens mindlessly. You sit down with a bag of chips and before you know it, it’s gone. Mindless eating is a sign that you’re trying to numb your emotions. When you eat to fulfill physical hunger, you’re more aware and intentional with what you’re doing.

Emotional hunger often leads to “eaters remorse.” When you feel guilty, ashamed, or regret after eating it’s a sign that you weren’t eating for nutritional reasons. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re giving your body what it needs. 

Reasons Behind Stress Eating

Stress eating is a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions that you otherwise don’t know how to deal with. Common emotions that lead to stress eating are: overwhelm, anger, fear, boredom, sadness, and loneliness. 

These emotions can be triggered by major life events or brought on by the hassles of daily life. The emotions are just the trigger. The challenge is to respond in a different way. 

The physical changes that go along with stress can also cause a person to overeat. Initially, stress will decrease your appetite but over time, high cortisol levels will increase your appetite which can lead to overeating. Elevated cortisol levels will also increase cravings for high-sugar and high-fat foods which the body uses more of when it’s under duress.

Tips to Stop Emotionally Eating

The approach you use will depend on the reason for your emotional cravings. Here are some approaches to help you stop emotional eating:

  • Identify the feeling and respond to what it’s asking for. Our emotions are signs from the body that there’s a need to be filled. For example, if you’re lonely call a friend, if you’re angry write out your feelings or talk to someone so you feel heard. Learning to respond in these ways will help you deal with your feelings, as opposed to stuffing them down with food.
  • Take a time-out before giving in to a craving. When a craving strikes take 10 minutes to see if it will dissipate. Distract yourself by having a shower, cleaning the house, or going for a walk to take your mind off the craving. It might disappear or become less urgent.
  • Slow down. Eat mindfully. Being present with your food and paying attention to the flavour, texture, and sensation of the food in your mouth will help you slow down and enjoy the experience as opposed to mindlessly eating. A simple way to avoid shame after eating is to eat slowly and mindfully and be present in the process. When you respect your body in this way you’ll have a healthier outcome.
  • Adopt healthy stress management habits. Dealing with stress is a lifestyle approach. Ensure you’re getting proper rest, drinking enough water, relaxing regularly, and making time for fun and personal connection are good strategies to keep your stress levels down so you don’t end up with emotional cravings.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Learn from your setbacks. There’s no expectation for you to get it right every time. Learning to pay attention to your body and respond to your needs in a loving way is a process. Take it one day at a time.
  • Accept your emotions. Often difficult emotions are met with our own judgment or shame. The more you can accept and allow yourself to feel your emotions, the easier it will be to move through them without responding with food.

Want help with emotional eating?

For some of us, dealing with emotions can feel confronting. It can feel like a daunting task to overcome emotional eating without tools or support. If you find yourself turning to food as a coping mechanism, it might help to have support in changing your habits.

In the Eats & Asana program, we touch on mindful eating, making healthy food choices, and understanding cravings so you can break the cycle of emotional eating. 

You’ll also discover tools to manage stress and deal with emotions so you’ll be less inclined toward stress eating in the first place. 

Book your Body Love Breakthrough Call to learn more about the Eats & Asana program and how it can help you create a healthier relationship with your body and food.

References:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320935#triggers
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/emotional-eating
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20047342 

How to Stop Being Hard on Yourself

Ok my fellow ambitious achievers, let’s get real for a minute. Do you ever feel like all the striving to be better is actually weighing you down?

Aspiring to be a better version of yourself than you were yesterday can be motivating. But sometimes personal development can leave you feeling like you constantly need to improve. Which, instead of creating more possibilities for you, can make you self-critical because if you have all this improving to do, you mustn’t be very good to start with. Hmm…

What does being hard on yourself look like?

It shows up in different ways for each of us but some common ways to know you’re being hard on yourself are:

  • Thinking “I should have done that better”
  • Ruminating thought loops of what you could have said/done differently
  • Telling yourself you should or you have to
  • All or nothing thinking aimed at convincing you to do or be something that feels off to you
  • Expecting perfection (e.g. Thinking you should have the same skill level as someone with years of experience)

It can also show up as anxiety. Thinking about the past/future can build up anxious tension in the body because you want to do something about your thoughts but you can’t. It isn’t possible to do anything about what you’re thinking about (because it’s done, or hasn’t happened yet) so your energy has nowhere to go.

The people who are hardest on themselves are often the achievers who seem to have the most outward success. If you’re used to being praised for your skills it can be hard to accept that you won’t be awesome at everything right off the bat.

This can also be hard on the ego because you’re used to framing yourself as one of the best. It can be hard to wrap your mind around being a beginner without thought loops coming in that say you “should be better at this.”

But where do these ideas of who we are and how we should operate come from?

Examining Expectations

As we move through life we unconsciously set expectations for ourselves. Often not knowing where they originated from. We pick up ideas throughout our lives from things we see, from other people and from experiences we have, and we accept them as truth.

Evidence of expectations are thoughts like:

  • It should be done this way
  • A good Mother does x,y,z.
  • The house needs to be ____.

We associate these behaviours with who we want to be, or the life we want to have. Then try to work them like a math equation; If I do x I’ll have y outcome. But it doesn’t work that way.

We use these expectations to live up to the life we want and to compete with others. Sometimes we even compete with our past selves and create pressure to keep up with what we’ve always done.

My client Kim is a great example. For years, she’s thrown elaborate family holiday parties that take days for her to prepare. She’s known for her beautiful table set ups and decorations. For the past 6 years, her holiday parties have become more elaborate as she tries to outdo herself from the year before.

In our coaching session, she admitted that she loves the holidays, but feels so much stress and pressure about preparing. She wants to make the holidays special for her kids and is worried that she’ll let them down. Or that if she stops trying to outdo herself that it’s a sign she’s getting older and losing her touch. She’s kept up the elaborate tradition because she feels pressured to, but it’s stopped feeling inspiring to her.

Kim’s example shows what many of us experience in one area or another. We set high expectations of ourselves and push ourselves to meet that standard with a story that we’ll be letting other people down if we don’t.

We created the rules and we mentally crack the whip telling ourselves it’s in service to the people we love. Yet when we’re really honest with ourselves, no one is holding us up to these expectations. It’s us.

Discovering Expectations

We hold tight to our standards because they’re the container we’ve built to measure our worth. Ideas like “if you don’t have dinner on the table by 6 pm every night, you’re not a good mother” are intertwined with our worth, so they’re difficult to let go of.

It’s not until we examine these beliefs and question their validity do we begin to have a chance to let go of them.

Here are three questions I use with my coaching clients. Ask yourself these in the moment when you’re feeling the should come on because of an expectation:

  1. Who says? (does this expectation come from you or someone else)
  2. If I let go of this expectation, will it hurt anybody?
  3. Can I see a stress-free reason to keep this rule?

The idea here is to examine your expectation to determine if you’re the one creating the standard. If it’s up to you, and it isn’t hurting anyone, you can relax your expectations and feel just as good about yourself.

Often high expectations are driven by the ego’s idea of who you are. But the ego isn’t who you are. The next time you’re feeling stressed about your own personal expectations, remember that no matter what you do or don’t achieve, you are whole and complete exactly the way you are.

Need some help breaking free from expectations? Book your Body Love Breakthrough Call to talk it out. You’ll leave with clarity around the root of your thought patterns and what to do about them.

7 Strategies to Stick to Your Healthy Habits Longterm

A lot of people love meal plans. Busy women come to me all the time and say “just give me a meal plan that will get me to my goal and I’ll do it.”

But if you’ve ever tried to follow a generic meal plan, you know it’s not that easy.

To be honest, I find generic meal plans to be a waste of time. That’s because a meal plan is a list of tiny habits over the course of a week.

Think about it – changing the way you eat might mean shopping for ingredients at a different store, buying things you’re not familiar with, cooking foods you’ve never had in your kitchen before. It might even mean getting up earlier to make breakfast before work, when you’re used to grabbing a coffee and banana on your way out the door. 

In order for you to stick to a healthy habit (in your diet or lifestyle), it needs to make sense in your life and be designed around what you’re currently doing.

A habit is an action you take. Routines are containers for healthy habits. 

When you’re looking to make a shift in your habits to get a different outcome, you’re really looking to create new routines to hold those habits in place. Suddenly we’re talking about shifting your schedule, to make one small habit change. It’s a bigger deal than you think. But it can be done. 

What Habit Change Really Is

In our minds, there is a 3 step pathway our actions follow: 

  1. Trigger – something triggers you. This is often a signal from your body (I’m hungry) or emotion you feel that leads you to take action.

  2. Action – what you do in response to the trigger. If you’re hungry you might reach for a snack. If you’re sad you might call a friend to talk.

  3. Reward – is the payoff you get from taking action. To put it simply the reward is the shift you make away from pain or toward pleasure. 

For example, you get hungry in the afternoon at work (trigger) and you usually reach for a coffee and a muffin (action) to make you feel a boost (reward). But now you’re focusing on weight loss and stabilizing your blood sugar throughout the day, so you want to change your action (step 2). 

Your new pathway might look like this:

You get hungry in the afternoon at work (trigger) so you drink a cup of water and pull hummus and veggies out and move away from your desk to eat and take a break (action). Now instead of feeling wired all afternoon from caffeine and sugar (previous reward), you feel calm, satisfied, and energized (new reward).

But you’ll need to create a routine around prepping your snack the night before, and discipline around responding to your trigger in a new way. 

Now that you know the basic framework for how habits work, here are some strategies to stick to your health habits: 

  1. Know your reason why (and revisit it often)- you have a greater chance of success when you have a deep enough reason for making change and it’s connected to something you value.

  2. Choose a habit with confidence- to stick with a habit you need to pick habits that are worth sticking to. Part of that is understanding the actions you’re taking and how those will get you to your goal. Making sure your actions are sustainable over the long-term is part of setting yourself up for success here. It’s helpful to talk to a coach or health practitioner to help you get clear on the actions that will get you to your goal.

  3. Identify your pattern and create a new routine- using the three-part framework above identify your trigger and the action and reward that follow. Get clear on what new action you could use to achieve a reward that feels fulfilling to you.

  4. Ask for support- having allies in pursuit of a goal makes the process much more enjoyable. But if you don’t have someone who’s making a change along with you, don’t let that hold you back. You can enlist friends or family members to share your progress or talk about your wins along the way. 
  1. Track your actions and progress- what you measure you can control. When you track your progress you’ll be able to see the results you’re getting along the way. Remember that this is not about instant gratification, habit change is for the long-term, so celebrate the small wins along the way.

  2. Set up accountability- having accountability set up will help you stick to your actions. One of my clients uses dusting her house as an accountability task. She’d rather get up and head to the gym than dust her house, so this works well for her.

  3. Reward yourself – by telling yourself you’re doing a good job. A reward can also look like pairing a challenging task (say a 5k run) with something you enjoy (listening to your favourite podcast). This way you’re looking forward to some part of the activity you’re motivating yourself toward. Be careful not to reward yourself with something that will take you farther from your goal. The reward is more about acknowledging and celebrating your effort so you feel motivated to continue doing well.

These 7 strategies will support you in sticking to your health habits long-term. Sometimes the habits you need to change to get you to your goal are not what you think. This is good news for you if there’s a result you want because you might not have to give up your favourite things to get there. 

For example, wanting to lose 10 pounds doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stop drinking wine. There are likely ways to get you to your goal that doesn’t involve depriving yourself of the things you love if you have a proper strategy.

I help busy women find ways to reach their health goals and actually enjoy the process. Request a Body-Love Breakthrough Call with me to get clarity on your goal and a sustainable path to get you there.

How to Spot Emotional Eating and What To Do About It

Picture this: You hit the snooze button one too many times, had a last minute project thrown at you at work, and then sat in an hour of frustrating evening traffic.

Finally home, you breathe a sigh of relief, head into the kitchen, and decide you deserve a snack after the day you’ve had. Maybe you reach for a few crackers, then a bit of chocolate.

Before you know it, you’ve munched your way through the entire kitchen without eating a proper meal. You’re stuffed, ashamed, and wondering what the heck just happened?!

Sound familiar?

It’s called emotional eating, which is eating for any other reason besides actual physical hunger, fuel or nourishment.

3 Trademarks of Emotional Eating

  • Binging – usually on high-sugar and carbohydrate-rich comfort foods (i.e. junk food). How many people do you know who reach for carrots or broccoli when they’re upset?
  • Mindlessly eating – you’re not aware of what or how much you’re eating or how those foods are making your body feel. You’re usually mentally checked out while eating them.
  • Eating to numb, soothe, please, relax, or reward self, i.e. “I had a bad day and deserve it” kind of thinking. Eating during these times provides temporary relief, but often leaves you feeling worse than where you started.

I’ve had my own experiences with emotional eating. When I first started my business, I’d reward myself after a long day’s work by walking to my favourite coffee shop for a peanut butter cookie. Pretty soon one cookie turned into two, and before long I’d skip the walk and drive there to get my evening treat.

What started out as a fun habit and a little treat for myself soon became the highlight of my evening, and I’d be moody if I didn’t get to reward myself with my favourite cookie. Sometimes I’d even want to skip dinner and just have cookies instead. That’s when I knew I had to take a step back and reevaluate this habit.

Looking back, it wasn’t so much about the cookie as it was a chance for me to check out and relax. When I set better boundaries around my time and allowed myself to designate my evenings to personal time I stopped feeling like I needed to mark “my time” with a treat and the habit was easy to break.

The trouble with emotional eating is it overrides your body’s natural hunger cycle and can promote things like:

  • weight gain
  • an increase in your risk for inflammation and chronic disease
  • create an unhealthy relationship between you and food
  • lead to more dangerous types of disordered eating

What Triggers Emotional Eating?

Even though it’s called “emotional eating” because people often reach for food to cope with their feelings, there are a lot of other non-hunger reasons that can prompt you to eat.

Some common non-hunger reasons include:

  • Uncomfortable emotions, like anger, guilt, fear, and sadness
  • Stress
  • Boredom
  • Need to feel pleasure and/or comfort

Six Tips to Help You Get a Handle on Emotional Eating

If any of those scenarios sound familiar, know that you’re not alone. Emotional eating affects a lot of people at one point in their lives.

Here are six great tips to stop emotional eating in its tracks:

1. Have a non-food outlet to process uncomfortable feelings

  • Try journaling, exercising, or talking to a trusted friend or coach

2. Manage stress

  • Exercise, meditation, deep breathing, getting enough sleep, and not taking on more than you can realistically handle can help decrease stress levels.

3. Recognize boredom

  • Call a friend, take a walk, pick up a book, or tackle a DIY project or hobby you’ll enjoy when you know boredom is likely to strike.

4. Practice self-care

  • Set aside time to take care of your needs. Tune in to your body to notice if you need to rest, move, stretch, or have some fun, then follow your body’s lead.

5. Practice mindful eating

  • Avoid distractions at meals. Your focus should be on the food in front of you.
  • Eat slowly, chew, and savour each bite. This helps give your body time to receive the signal from your brain when it’s full.
  • Stop eating when you feel full.

6. Eat a balanced diet

  • The majority of your diet should be nutrient-dense whole foods.
  • Allow for occasional treats and indulgences so you don’t feel deprived.
  • Include protein, fibre, and healthy fat at each meal to promote satiety.

BONUS: Reward yourself with something other than food. Often we use food as the focal point for celebrations, but this can be problematic if you’re prone to emotional eating. Instead focus on a fun activity, connecting with someone you care about, or doing something you enjoy, which will take the focus off food.


RECIPE:

These energy balls feel like an indulgent snack, but are made from whole food ingredients and contain a bit of protein, healthy fat, and fibre to help you feel satisfied.

Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Energy Balls

Ingredients

1 cup natural almond butter (or other natural nut butter)

½ cup coconut flour

½ cup ground flax seeds

¼ cup hemp hearts

½ cup dark chocolate chips

¼ cup maple syrup

Pinch of sea salt

How to prepare

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, stirring until smooth. If mixture is too thick, add 1 Tbsp. of water at a time to help the mixture come together.

2. Scoop 1 tablespoon of the mixture and use your hands to roll into a ball. Repeat with remaining mixture.

3. Store energy balls in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week.


REFERENCES:

Study: Current Diabetes Reports, 2018 — Causes of Emotional Eating and Matched Treatment of Obesity

Study: Journal of Health Psychology, 2015 — Boredom proneness and emotion regulation predict emotional eating

Healthline: Mindful Eating 101 – A Beginner’s Guide

Two Overlooked Factors That Affect Your Waistline

When it comes to your overall health it’s no secret that exercise and sleep are huge factors. But did you know they both have a significant impact on your waistline?

Well, you know that exercise will help you burn off some extra calories and boost your metabolism. But sleep is also essential for your overall health and well-being, and can impact your weight.

Better to skimp on sleep and get up early to work out?

Or better to sleep in and skip the gym for another day?

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. We need exercise to sleep better but we also need sleep to exercise. And when it comes to weight management, we need both.

So let’s take a closer look at how exercise and sleep affect each other and which one takes the lead when it comes to managing your weight.

The Exercise & Sleep Connection

If you’re looking to get a better night’s sleep, it’s time to lace up those running shoes.

A study by the National Sleep Foundation found a 65% improvement in sleep quality for participants who performed 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week.

That means that something as simple as a brisk walk for 30 minutes, 5 times a week can help you feel more rested and refreshed.

Want Muscle? Get More Sleep!

If you want to see big results from your workouts, you’ve gotta catch some zzz’s!

Sleep is crucial when it comes to exercise recovery…and recovery is where the post-workout magic happens!

As we rest, our body is busy repairing the microscopic muscle tears from our last weight training session. As these muscles repair, they come back bigger and stronger; increasing your strength and boosting your metabolism.

If you’re not seeing the results you’d like from your gym sessions, the answer may be an earlier bedtime. Make sure that you’re getting adequate sleep to help your body repair and recover.

Sleep Tips:

Here are a few strategies to help you get the most out of your night’s sleep:

  • Dim the lights in your home 30 minutes or more before going to bed. This helps promote melatonin production (a sleep hormone) so it’s easier for you to fall asleep when you go to bed.
  • Sleep in total darkness. Avoid leaving the curtains open or a night light on. Even a small amount of light can affect your body’s ability to sleep soundly.
  • Aim to be in bed by 10 pm. Getting an early start to your night’s sleep ensures you get some quality rest before midnight. Studies have shown this is important for proper hormone balancing – and balanced hormones mean easier weight management.

Does lack of sleep affect gym performance?

If you’re still thinking of hitting that 6 am spin class after a late night out, you may want to reconsider.

An ACSM study showed that sleep deprived participants had a slower response time and fatigued much quicker than when they were well rested.

The study participants also reported a higher RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) and were more likely to quit their workout early.

The conclusion? This doesn’t mean that you should skip activity altogether on those groggy days. Instead consider a lower intensity activity such as walking or yoga and leave the high intensity training for days when you’re well rested.

Sleep vs Train: which one will help you button your jeans?

When it comes to weight management, both exercise and sleep are important. But if you had to focus on one thing only, it turns out sleep trumps exercise.

One study compared weight loss efforts of sleep deprived adults versus those who were fully rested. The sleep deprived group rested for only 5.5 hours while the fully rested group got a full  8.5 hrs of shut-eye.

The results? Those with limited sleep lost less body fat and more lean muscle mass.

So can you forget about exercise?

Well, no.

Exercise still has tremendous health benefits so you don’t want to quit altogether. You may need to temporarily reduce the intensity of your workouts if you’re not getting adequate rest.

Once your sleep game is strong, you can resume those higher intensity workouts and have energy to spare.

Having trouble winding down at night?

Add some sleep hormones to your diet!

In fact, did you know that it has been suggested that foods that contain naturally occurring Melatonin (dubbed the “sleep hormone”) may be a better alternative than over-the-counter supplements?

This Sleepy Time Cherry Smoothie Recipe below is made with tart cherry juice – an ingredient that contains Melatonin, and has been proven to help you sleep better. Plus, it just happens to taste pretty great too!


RECIPE:

Sleepy Time Cherry Smoothie

2 oz of pure tart cherry juice, unsweetened

1 cup of coconut milk or almond milk

½ banana (frozen adds a bit more texture)

¼ tsp cinnamon

2-3 ice cubes

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Sip and enjoy a better night’s sleep!

Tip: If you’re using this smoothie as a post-workout, you might want to add some protein powder to help with muscle recovery.


REFERENCES

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/study-physical-activity-impacts-overall-quality-sleep
https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2013/12000/Does_Central_Fatigue_Explain_Reduced_Cycling_after.5.aspx
http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/746253/insufficient-sleep-diet-obesity
https://sleepjunkies.com/tips/can-cherries-enhance-sleep-quality/