Anxiety and Overeating
40 million people in the US are experiencing anxiety right now. Are you one of them?
Only 37% of those seek treatment for it like medication or talk therapy. That leaves a lot of people to try to manage it on their own.
Those who suffer may
Be moody and irritable
Have an increased heart rate, blood pressure and even chest discomfort
Experience an upset stomach
Feel like isolating and avoiding people
Find it difficult to concentrate or do other things
To cope, some choose healthy ways like meditation, prayer, journaling or exercise. Yet others choose alcohol, drugs, gaming, watching porn or another unhealthy method.
The people I help often use food to help cope with their anxiety.
Many don’t even realize it. What does this look like?
Obsessing over food more than usual.
Eating constantly. Snacking all day. Feeling you can’t stop.
Letting yourself eat something you normally wouldn’t and then feeling guilty, shame or regret.
Eating until you are miserably uncomfortable.
Anxiety is the fear of the future and what is going to happen.
Naturally, we spend time trying to figure out how we can control the outcome or struggling with the fact that it is out of our control. Anxiety happens to us all. It can be acute – lasting a few hours or it can be chronic, lasting for years.
The first step in stopping the bad habit of using food as a coping mechanism for anxiety is to recognize what you are doing.
Instead of feeling out of control and crazy because you can’t stop eating the bag of candy, recognize that it is natural for us to try to
Or comfort ourselves when we feel anxious.
This is not just my opinion. Research validates it. You’ve developed a bad habit of using food to cope. And my guess is you have realized that food does a pretty good job. That’s why you keep doing it. Doesn’t sound that crazy to me. Does it to you?
The problem is that if we do this regularly we suffer the side effects of overeating which include the physical and also the mental. We may become obese, develop diabetes or suffer from heart disease. We may feel weak and out of control around food. We may feel guilt, shame and regret that hurts our self-esteem. Unmanaged anxiety can spiral into depression.
So how do you begin to change?
The key is to increase your emotional intelligence so that you are equipped to handle anxiety without using food or any other unhealthy mechanism as a distractor or comforter. You’ve got to handle what comes your way by identifying, processing and acting appropriately. Next time you feel anxious try this:
De-escalate the emotion.
When the feelings aren’t as intense, you can think more clearly and have more control over your food choices. How do you de-escalate? Pause and ask yourself if you are seeing the situation clearly. Are you
Assuming the worst when there is a real possibility it will not come to fruition?
In denial of the facts?
Making the situation a bigger deal than it needs to be?
Predicting what will happen when you don’t really know?
Being realistic when you answer these questions can help to de-escalate your emotions.
Another helpful tool to de-escalate is to allow yourself to distract but only for 20 minutes and in a healthy way. I always recommend getting fresh air, sunshine and moving if possible. Take the dog for a walk. Sit on your porch, close your eyes and focus on your breath or your surroundings. In 20 minutes see if the situation still seems as big. Is your anxiety lower?
Here’s another tip: Process the situation in one of two ways.
Talk it out.
Write it out.
Instead of allowing your thoughts to focus solely on the issue, get it out. Talk to a trusted friend. Write in a journal. See if it makes you feel calmer.
I always feel like having a plan helps. I look at the worst case scenario and I make a plan for it should it actually happen. Having a plan gives me peace. It takes away the chaos and uncertainty that can cause anxiety.
So these are some things you can try the next time your anxiety urges you to run for the refrigerator. Food works but it is only temporary.
As soon as you are done chewing, the anxiety returns. Find a better way.
If you want to do a deeper dive into your feelings and how it relates to what you eat, sign up to chat with me about my online program called Feelings and Fries. It’s a four week online course that really looks at how emotional eating developed and how you can learn a better way to cope.
Here’s the link to my personal calendar where you can schedule a chat with me!
Until next time.
Yours in Health,
If you want to see the full YouTube video on Anxiety and Overeating, click here.
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