Chances are you’ve fallen victim to stress eating, a common form of “emotional eating” before. You may have been up late cramming for an exam, or were having a hectic day at work, and found yourself making a few too many trips back and forth to the vending machine. If you think that’s legitimate “hunger”–well, you’re wrong. When the body encounters high levels of stress, cortisol in the body spikes, which can trigger cravings for salty and sweet foods. While it’s natural to gorge on too many cookies or Doritos from time to time, making this a habit will unavoidably pack on the pounds.
Read on for 5 of our favorite tricks for avoiding stress eating. We recommend trying out different methods to see what works best for your mind and body–and as always, let us know if you have any special tricks that work well for you.
1. Hunger Scale
The first step in stopping yourself from gorging on unnecessary calories during a stress-attack is to simply gain awareness. The more you realize what you are doing, and why, the more you’ll be able to stop. Our favorite method for gaining awareness is to follow the hunger scale, made famous by Bob Greene, trainer to Oprah Winfrey. This scale rates your hunger level with a score from 1-10 ranging from “weak and light-headed” to “stuffed,” and allows you to consciously determine whether or not you actually need the food you are contemplating eating, or if you just simply want it. Through this method, you are only supposed to eat when your hunger levels reach a 3–”uncomfortably hungry” or a 4–”slightly uncomfortable.” If you force yourself to become aware and recognize the cause of your desire to eat, you’ll be less likely to gorge on the bad stuff.
2. Write it Down
Another way to become more aware of what you’re eating is to journal. While it may sound a little over-zealous, writing down everything you eat for a week while taking note of why you ate what you did can help you identify your weaknesses and what causes you specifically to binge on unhealthy foods. Identifying the problem is half the battle.
3. Avoid Your Triggers
If you know you have a weakness for bread, or frozen yogurt, the best thing would be to banish them from your kitchen altogether, but if you must have these items around, you need to have a plan to prevent yourself from binging all at once. Put together an inspiration board of picture clippings based on what you want your body to look like paired with inspirational messages, and post it in the designated cabinet areas or on the fridge where your trigger foods sit. Or better yet–banish them from your kitchen altogether.
4. Focus on Emotions
Stress is not a pleasant feeling, which is why we often try to replace feelings of stress with yummy tasting food. But instead of using food as your medicine, think about other ways to raise your endorphin levels. Make a playlist on your computer filled with “happy” music that puts you in a better mood instantly, or bookmark a website with funny jokes or sayings that will knock that frown off your face (we like someecards.com and deepthoughtsbyjackhandy.com). If you feel the urge to down a whole chocolate bar, take a break from your stressful activity if you can and take a minute to indulge in these “happy activities” or do 15 minutes worth of exercise to release some tension and distract yourself from cravings.
5. Enlist a Friend
If you absolutely can not stop yourself from stuffing your face, at least try to do it with something healthier than sweets or potato chips! Allow yourself a handful of almonds, for example, or dip vegetables in hummus or fat free black bean dip. Enlisting a friend to help you make healthier choices is also a great way to avoid stress eating. According to behavioral economist and author of Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely, people are much more likely to follow through with goals if we feel obligated to someone else other than ourselves, so tell whoever you can about your plans to eat healthier, and chances are you’ll be more likely to follow through!