- by Jared
Why Do I Stress Eat?
Let’s talk about stress eating from a 10,000 foot view.
Let’s talk about why you stress eat, while others at your job or in your social circle – who are under the same amount of stress – are normal with food.
This post will cover:
- Stress Eating Definition
- Now What Causes Stress Eating?
- Common Triggers For Emotional Eating
- Reasons “Why Do I Stress Eat?”
- Stress Eating Cure (Big Picture)
Below you can also watch a video I made about this common question “Why Do I Stress Eat?”
Here’s most common situation I see in my eating disorder therapist practice:
You’re an over-stressed, over-worked computer programmer coming home after work and can’t stop eating too much. You also snack on little sugary things during the day and can’t seem to stop.
Too much stress and work – in combination with a few other factors – is a recipe for deep-rooted automatic stress eating!
But really, just substitute “computer programmer” for any job where you’re over over-stressed and over-worked.
I happen to see a lot of people in the technology industry because I just happen to live in Silicon Valley where everyone and their neighbor works for a technology company!
You’ve tried controlling and using willpower before but nowadays you quickly give up using willpower.
Every time you’ve tried to “manage” your food in the past you’ve quit and seen no results. So now you just have sort of given up on food and feel resigned.
There has to be a different way.
Hence, a quick google search for stress eating cure, stress eating definition, etc. This problem sucks, but you’re a rational person and believe you can figure it out.
Well, I hope this post gives you all the basic information you need to get understand and make some progress on your own.
Please leave a comment or subscribe to my email for more information!
Because yes, stress eating sucks, and you do have to approach stress eating from a different angle, but you can do it and overcome this problem!
But here’s the real question – Why?
On some level we know that stress eating is the result of too much work and too much stress …
But on a deeper level you might wonder, why? Why me, specifically? Why do I turn to food? And why do I turn to food so powerfully?
This is what I heard from one woman who scheduled a free strategy session to learn more about stress eating:
My other coworkers, they don’t rely on food to cope with stress. True, my job is stressful.
But other people in the same job as me are normal with food. I seem to be the only one unflappably stuffing my face with food after work.
What’s going on? We will explore this further but first let’s be sure we’re all on the same page.
Stress Eating Definition:
Stress eating is eating food in response to your feeling. Most notably, stress eating officially occurs when you eat despite not being hungry.
Maybe you don’t know if you are hungry or not, but officially speaking stress eating occurs when you are eating and not hungry. This is also known as emotional eating.
Emotions, instead of your body sensations, are dictating when and how much you eat.
Definitions aside, here are 5 common signs you are emotionally eating or stress eating:
1. You suddenly crave a very specific food. Brownies! Or cake! Or peanut butter! Whatever the case there is some food you can’t get out of your mind or mouth.
2. You keep eating after you’ve eaten a meal (and you feel out of control too perhaps)
3. You eat fast, don’t taste the food.
4. You eat after a stressful event
5. You feel guilty, ashamed, or just simply “bad” after eating
Now What Causes Stress Eating?
Stress is defined as a situation where your resources are not sufficient for the task at hand, with consequences on the line.
So you have a big deadline … but only 24 hours to complete the deadline. Not enough resources for the task at hand, and potential consequences like being fired or not getting a good performance review.
This situation is evaluated at lightning quick speed by your brain. Your brain quickly does calculations.
It quickly evaluates everything and sees that you’re going to be screwed … unless …
Seeing that there is impending danger, the brain release “stress hormones”.
Scientifically, these hormones include things like adrenaline and cortisol, but you don’t need to know much about these chemicals. Basically cortisol and these other hormones give you temporary energy.
We all know stories where Mom’s see their child trapped under a car, and then … somehow are able to LIFT the car up and save their child. Let’s break this down.
Mom sees situation > Child is going to die > Current resources don’t match task at hand. Mom knows she’s not strong enough to lift car. > Release of chemicals to give temporary energy.
But here’s something you may not know about these “bursts” of energy…
Oftentimes after Mom’s have lifted their car up and saved their child … the shins and bones of the Mom’s legs are broken.
She literally broke up leg bones and splintered her shins into pieces to save her child.
Amazing! But this is just to let you know …
There’s a crash. After the stress hormones give you temporary energy and focus and drive and motivation … there’s a crash. A Big Crash.
After your stress hormones are spent you are in a depleted state. You’ve just released a ton of energy… and now the crash is coming. This means you are in a vulnerable state.
Another example of a vulnerable state if being hungover.
It’s a very similar phenomenon. Your body gets a dose of chemicals that make you go wild and feel uninhibited. Then there’s a crash. In the crash, you’re in a weakened state.
Now when you’re hungover you are PREDISPOSED to being foggy headed, lazy, can’t think, headaches, etc … in a normal state of mind you wouldn’t feel so crappy … but because you’re in a vulnerable state of mind … anything goes.
Common Triggers For Emotional Eating
So now that you’re in this vulnerable state of being…
And by the way … after a long day of work where you have been set off several times by stress hormones … so you are in a vulnerable state of being.
You are more likely to be “cued” or set off by little triggers. I did another post here about habits and understanding cues so be sure to check out this post for more information on habit loops and stress eating.
Basically a trigger is like you’re alarm clock. When your alarm clocks rings, you automatically instinctively turn that alarm clock off without even thinking.
Common triggers for emotional eating or stress eating include:
Fatigue, habits, boredom and stress. That’s right, even boredom can be a trigger! You don’t have to be stressed.
Sometimes it’s just the very fact that you in are a vulnerable, weak state of being post-stress hormone release that this state itself triggers emotional eating.
But Why Me? Why do I emotionally eat and not others?
Ah – the most important question of today so far, and the most difficult.
Why do you stress eat particularly? Sure, other people stress eat. They have a bad day, so they go have a bowl of ice cream. And that’s it!
You on the otherhand have 5 bowls of ice cream and then finally give in and eat what you really wanted, which was KFC fried chicken. And you eat a ton of that fried chicken and still don’t stop.
Finally, you can’t eat anymore, your belly literally feels like it’s going to explode, and you feel like a horrible person who ruined Christmas for your entire family and you’re all alone now.
So why you?
For starter’s I don’t have an easy answer. There is no magic bullet of an answer.
Below I’ll give some potential ideas to help explain why you might suffer from stress eating worse than others…
But the main point I want to convey – is that stress eating can be a blessing.
Seriously. My binge eating I now see as a blessing. Just check out my about page for my story there.
The bottom line is that somehow you are out of alignment.
Somehow you are out of balance. And you know this. You already know this. Deep down, you know something is wrong.
And we’ll talk about how to cure stress eating in a few more paragraphs down below, but the main thing is to realize that there is a path to healing.
Yes, I know. Healing. It’s an awful word. Who the hell wants to be healed?
Being healed must mean there is something wrong! Being healed must mean that there is something wrong with you.
Right? If you are resisting the notion that you need healing, right now, as you read these words, if you are resisting the notion that you need healing then …
You are taking it personally. And cut that out. The only way stress eating can become a blessing in disguise is if you stop taking it personally.
If you are asking “Why Do I Stress Eat?” then don’t take it personally when I suggest that you need healing!
Listen, your body and soul are calling out to you. You are suffering because you are not on your authentic path. You are not living your best life.
Your body and soul are eating so much metaphorically speaking, to grab your attention and they are saying to you – WAKE THE F*** UP!!!!
Your body and belly are saying to you – we are not alright. We are not ok. We need to change things. And we definitely need a wakeup call.
And the solution is not another diet. The solution is not another attempt at control. That doesn’t work. You know that.
And if you can just be chill with the fact that you need to change things up, then stress eating can be a blessing in disguise.
That’s the point here. Stress eating is calling you on a journey of transformation.
Stress eating – if you stop thinking there’s a magic diet or some magic quick solution – this can be the signal and way for you to step into being your best self. That’s what I did. That’s what many other people have found to be true.
This woman the other day, after a few months of work, she finally has gradually stopped binge eating.
For years she had this question of “why do I stress eat” in the back of her mind.
And then she finally hunkered down, did the work, got the tools and mindsets, and stayed committed.
The beautiful thing is that her life improved too.
And she has a heart-to-heart with her son and finally says some things – not all positive, but all truthful – to her son and her son responds positively!
Instead of resentment and bitterness, she’s learned the fundamental skills of relating to other people.
Her binge eating and stress eating were signs that she was off. She accepted this without blame, guilt, resentment, despair or hopelessness.
And she went on a journey. And now her relationships are WAY better. Stress eating was a calling for her to step up, to evolve, to see different, to grow and LOVE MORE. It’s a blessing in disguise.
And the reasons you’re stress eating have nothing to do with you personally!
1 – You have a genetic predisposition towards social anxiety and just get nervous
2 – You didn’t have a supportive family that taught you emotional coping skills.
Please note that you could have a ‘great’ family like I did. My family was financially and logically available to me. But they didn’t teach me emotional skills. They demanded perfection. My parents never had a divorce.
But it took me a long time to make peace with the fact that my family wasn’t there for me emotionally.
Today the majority of people I work with are astute professionals, who didn’t have their caregivers model and provide emotional skills to them, and typically demanded perfection, in early childhood.
3 – You have dieted excessively.
Again, not your fault. You didn’t know any better. Hell the people recommending dieting don’t know any better. They are ignorantly skinny and just assume dieting is about willpower. If you’re fat, you must be lazy.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
4 – You got caught by a vicious habit loop.
Again. Life happens. You can fix this.
Stress Eating Cure
So the following is a high-level understanding of how to cure stress eating.
After all, if you’re asking “why do I stress eat?” you’re probably wondering how to stop.
I’m going to be discussing the biggest obstacle – which is lack of time.
I’m going to be explaining why taking time to decrease your stress and feed yourself, can actually increase your productivity.
Because the biggest obstacle I see, is this insidious belief that you are somehow BAD for feeling stress.
You are somehow to blame, somehow at fault, guilty, weak, or it’s just simply unacceptable to feel bad. It’s unacceptable to feel mad. Or it’s unacceptable to feel sad.
Deep down, this is the real reason.
Let me be clear – the reason you might initially give – that you have too much work – this is a superficial reason.
Trust me trust me trust me – I have worked with enough people to clearly say without hesitation – that underneath the busyness and the have-to-do-it all there these beliefs about emotions.
Now, before we can talk about the real beliefs, the real causes of stress eating here and the real cures, let’s talk about how taking time to decrease your stress can lead to more productivity.
By going through some examples with you, I want to prove that work and not having time is not an excuse. Then hopefully you’ll be more ready to explore deeper with me into the true causes.
Does this make sense?
Bear with me.
Most people initially might sense sort of what I’m talking about in terms of these beliefs. But the main problem they feel is simply that work is too tough.
But if you’re asking “why do I stress eat?” I guarantee you that you have some underlying belief you must discover!
For example, this belief about work.
I want to examine this with you – that work is too tough – and show you that you can get more work done in less time. I know that sounds crazy. But let’s go.
Afterwards, after we agree very common sensically that you can get more work done in less time, we can start diving into deeper reasons of stress eating.
Before going on, I did create another post about stress eating. It’s about feeling so many positive feelings you don’t get stressed through a process I call “flooding”.
Please note the flooding takes place within the context mentioned below:
Again this is big picture, but let’s get started!
How you can decrease stress and get more work done in less time?
The answer is well-documented scientifically. There are a few different solutions.
The big mindset you have to have is LONG-TERM productivity versus SHORT-TERM productivity.
Put simply, you can push yourself to work hard for a week, 10 days, a month, two months … but eventually you get sick for a whole week. Eventually you burnout.
And this burnout, when your not available at work, is what sets you back. This manifests in other ways too:
Other times people experience a radical drop in performance. Or depression.
Or you get angry at work and burn your relationships with coworkers. Maybe you constantly get distracted to an unusual degree and don’t get anything done
This burnout, where you essentially have to take a break from work – or sometimes your performance goes down dramatically – is what happens EVERY time you work, work, work, work.
Now let’s give credit where credit is due. I didn’t come up with this solution.
But Laura Putnam, is the researcher and speaker, who has studied workplace productivity. She and many other researchers have concluded that LONG-TERM productivity is greatly enhanced by frequent breaks.
Ever wonder why new companies are doing 4-day workweeks, and having all these “wellness programs”.
Hint: it’s not because they care about you.
It’s because the old way of work, work, work just isn’t as productive. You are more productive, in the long-term, if you take care of yourself.
Whatever the case – if a negative stressful emotions whether that’s guilt, anger or sadness – if you are not allow to experience these emotions – then you cannot deal with these emotions.