Stress eating. Bored eating. Mindless eating. Emotional eating. We’ve all been there. And hey, there’s no shame in that. Food scientifically brings us pleasure. When we eat we are smacked in the face with dopamine. Certain crunchy foods *ahem chips* can release stress. Food is pleasure. In fact, a study found that eating for enjoyment activates the body’s reward system far more than eating to satisfy hunger.

So no, it’s not just you. You’re not alone. We are all gigantic biofeedback systems and what we can learn is the “why” behind our food choices. Since April is National Stress Awareness Month, this will be focused on how to overcome stress eating by breaking the habit loop.

The Habit Loop is a 4 stage cycle in which current habits exist, and new habits can be formed.

  1. Cue
    • There are several types of cues like location, time, and people, but typically stress eating is caused by an emotional cue, stress. Sure, depending on where you are, who you’re with, and maybe even that “time” of the month, stress can happen. But for demonstration purposes, emotions are the cue.
    • What does this “cue” feel like? It’s different for everyone. It can be a racing heart, sweaty palms, tension in the jaw, tapping foot, headache, fatigue, and more. An important part of the cue is understanding the symptoms.
  2. Craving
    • Again, everyone is different. Most common stress eating cravings are salty or sweet. Salty for the crunch sensation. Sweet for the immediate dopamine release. Both cravings are a vicious cycle, but arguably, sugar is more impactful as your blood sugar levels are heavily fluctuated.
  3. Response
    • Pantry. Freezer. Fridge. Stuff your face mindlessly. It happens.
  4. Reward
    • You feel “better”… until you don’t. Typically guilt sets in or physical discomfort. So all of a sudden, the immediate reward may become an entirely different emotion and we’re back to the habit loop all over again!

But we can break the chain. The first step is self-awareness. What are your triggers? What causes you stress? The next step is to identify what that stress feels like for you. Then, you want to develop a destress toolkit. What are some things that help you destress? Most people say exercise, but can you drop everything and do a quick Fran during a conference call or when visiting the in-laws? Developing your toolkit means diversify all of the tools. A power drill of calling a friend, an Allen wrench of journaling, and pliers for deep breathing.

Some other destressing activities can include: yoga, meditation, stretching, walking, running, box breathing, chair yoga, playing with your kids, playing with your pets, a warm shower, listening to music, dancing, making art, building something, painting your nails, doing your hair, reading a book, and SO much more.

Now, this won’t be easy. But the best way to set yourself up for success is to identify the trigger and enter an easily assessable tool before the craving takes over. Remove yourself from the situation if possible, or journal how you’re feeling in the moment.

If you ever need help deciding how to break other habit loops, consider reaching out to find out what coaching can offer you.