The real problem behind stress eating, also called emotional eating, is not in our kitchens – but in our minds.
Susan Albers, Cleveland Clinic psychologist, recommends these 5 highly effective mind tricks to combat stress eating:
1. Write a 5x5x5 list
One of the most effective ways to deal with stress eating is to redirect your attention to something else through purposeful, intentional distraction. Doing this will shake off thoughts of eating and put a period on the endless food chatter in your head that will make you want to mindlessly munch. By taking your focus away from food and onto something else, you buy yourself time to let the thoughts of eating or the emotion urging you to satisfy cravings to dissipate and eventually go away.
Dr. Albers recommends this 5x5x5 exercise: On a piece of paper, write down five short lists of five items each. For example, five people you would take to Disneyland, five most relaxing activities, five things you love about yourself, five favorite hobbies, and five favorite songs at the moment. Stick this list on your fridge or a kitchen closet. Next time you feel the strong desire to munch your stress away, look at this list and choose one of the 25. Focus on this list for five minutes, making sure to give it your full attention.
2. Map out your emotional trails ahead
This is something that successful people do, too. Sketch out your route for the week – not highways or toll gates – just a rough map that contains all your foreseeable stops (school, work, gym, doctor’s clinic, cinema, etc.) as well as potential detours (laundry shop, supermarket, etc.) Select an object that symbolizes stress eating, perhaps a donut, and draw one on top of the places that could trigger stress eating. Dr. Albers writes that having a map laid out for the week clearly points out problematic events that may help you identify your personal tendencies and triggers for stress eating.
3. Do an internal squeegee clean
Taking deep, cleansing breaths are highly recommended stress-relieving exercises and it’s absolutely helpful for managing stress-eating too. Dr. Albers suggests making it more fun and visual: Inhale deeply, and imagine a squeegee on your forehead. Slowly exhale as you picture it wiping clean your inner self – worries, cravings, frustrations, all wiped clean from head to toe. Repeat this exercise three times.
4. Speak to yourself like royalty
Stress eating is usually accompanied by self-criticism, saying things to yourself like, “I’ve never done anything right,” or “I’m such a failure.” It only takes a few instances to unconsciously develop this dangerous habit and before you know it you’re lining up on the nearest burger shop.
Dr. Albers recommends shifting into the third person as soon as you catch statements like these going on through your head. When you think, “I messed up again,” replace “I” with your name and train yourself to see the situation from a third person’s perspective. It may be an insignificant shift but developing this habit will soon stop the negative thought loop in your head and eventually quell your stress-eating tendencies.
5. Ground your mind
Dr. Albers believes grounding techniques are powerful methods to support yourself through intense emotional phases. These techniques bring you back to the present moment and prevent you from being carried away by emotional triggers and resorting to mindless eating.
Pick up a magazine, or a book, flip through it, and choose a section. Read it backward to yourself – starting with the last word of the paragraph or sentence and continue reading until you reach the first word. Do this with two more sections.
Read Dr. Susan Alber’s full article on Reader’s Digest’s blog here for more highly effective mind tricks to combat stress eating.