Stress Eating can be frustrating and sometimes it can feel like you have no self-control.  There are different types of stress and today I want to discuss acute stress.  Acute stress comes on quickly and usually doesn’t last a long time.  Things like:

“I’m going bananas because the baby won’t stop crying.”

“Where’s my son?  He should have been home by now.”

Waiting on the phone to ring with important test results from your doctor office.

Sitting in traffic on the interstate.  

What’s going on here? Simply put the brain does not like to be in a stressed out state. It doesn’t like it.  It’s not comfortable or normal.  You feel the difference in your body when you are stressed, right?  So it’s going to urge you to engage in an activity that’s going to calm it down and get it back to a baseline.  

What have you taught your brain about how to reduce stress? 

Some people have taught their brain that smoking a cigarette when acute stress arises calms it down.  The brain takes in that information and remembers it.  When you are stressed, it will urge you to go smoke in an effort to gain back the calmness.

The people I work with have unknowingly taught their brain that eating is going to calm it down. 

They did it once, twice, three times…and the brain learned

“YES! This is great. When we are stressed eating will get us back to baseline.  Let’s do it!”

You repeat this pattern over and over and eventually you have developed a bad habit of stress eating.

You probably don’t even recognize it as a habit.  You may call it a craving or you may just notice that when you experience acute stress you find your thoughts drifting to what is around to eat/drink. 

So what can we do about our bad habit?

The reason why you keep stress eating is because IT WORKS! The problem is that it is unhealthy for us, both mentally and physically. And it is temporary. The stress usually returns when we are done eating.

If we are not going to eat when we are stressed we need to replace that activity with something that IS healthy.  

We have to retrain our brains.  It’s common to hear advice like

Take a yoga class


Go for a walk in nature

These things work, however, they take time.  What if you don’t have that kind of time? Maybe you are in the middle of your workday at the office and you need stress relief.  Maybe you are on a family vacation and you need stress relief. 

We need to develop some quick, 3-5 minute stress relievers that will do the job for our brains and start trying these stress relievers when we feel the urge to stress eat.  Here are some ideas to get you thinking.  Try these and see what works for you. 

Walk outside – get fresh air, wind on the face, sunshine.  Look around at the landscape.  Take some deep breaths.  Sit in silence.  

Stand up and stretch – feel where you are tense.  Stress often shows up as tense jaw, neck, shoulders, or chest.  Target those tight muscles and stretch your body for 5 minutes until you feel more calm.

Meditation – there are tons of apps you can get with 3-5 minute meditations.  These are highly recommended to calm the brain quickly.

Prayer or devotional – Select Bible verses that are helpful for you in times of stress.  Look for a 5 minute devotional book or app.  Take your mind off your stressor and end your devotional with a prayer for peace and better focus.

Head to toe body scan – Close your eyes and get comfortable, scan your body from head to toe.  Notice where the tension is and release it.  

Deep Breathing – find a quiet place where you can relax and take in some deep breaths.  Focus on your breathe.  You can feel the body calm down as the minutes pass. 

How do you know if these are working?

When you feel stressed, pause and check in with your body.  Rate it on a scale of 1-10. 

1 is feeling heavy, slow, disengaged, unenergetic, drained, fatigued, lethargic

5 is neutral

10 is unable to sit still, restless, full of energy, hyperactive, can’t sleep or relax.  

Now do the same check-in with your brain

1 is foggy brain. Unable to think clearly. May react slowly to information. 

5 is neutral – calm, rationale, able to process information effectively

10 is racing thoughts, can’t concentrate, distracted,

Now complete your 5 minute stress reliever.

After that,  repeat the exercises above.

Notice the change?  If you are less stressed then you have found a winner!

Next time you are stressed and you feel the urge to eat, try this strategy. 

If you want to see the full  YouTube video, click here. 

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