100 Days of Eating Clean – Week 4

stress-relief-sourceLast week I talked about stress eating. This is a big issue for me. Although, as much of a monster as it is, I’m happy to have it narrowed down to this one thing that I can focus my effort on. Knowing what the problem is makes it a lot easier to fix. OK, maybe not easier to fix, just easier to figure out what needs to be done to fix it. The actual fixing will probably still be tough.

What I didn’t mention last week is what to do about avoiding stress eating. It’s very common to deal with stress this way. At it’s core, stress eating is about one thing. Stress feels uncomfortable. It’s unpleasant. The source of the stress is likely something we don’t want to deal with, that we want to avoid. We turn to food to make us feel better even though in the end we feel worse. We need to find better ways to deal with it…

Awareness – All the tools and strategies in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t recognize when it’s time to use them. So, the first tool is learning to be aware of what’s happening before you act on it. When we’re in the middle of stress it can be easy to be so drawn to the relief that we think the food will give us that we don’t even realize what we’re doing until it’s too late. The minute you start obsessing over some junk food indulgence, the moment you find yourself pulled in that direction, you need to recognize that as your red flag and try to take a step back. Learning to be aware when the thought process begins is where you start.

Distraction – Eating serves to distract us from our stress. Find another distraction. Once you have awareness about what’s going on with you and your stress you have a chance to choose. You may still choose to chow down, but now the possibility is there for you to choose something else. Take a few minutes when you’re not feeling stressed and make a list of some things that you could use to distract you. Anything to occupy you and take your mind off it…call a friend, watch some funny videos on YouTube, surf the web… it doesn’t matter as long as it keeps you from going for the food.

Face it – The opposite of using distraction is to face your stress. Part of what is so uncomfortable about stress is often that we don’t know what to do about it. It seems big and overwhelming and it’s too much to deal with. The reality is that either it’s nothing and you don’t need to be stressed about it or it’s something and you’d better take a good look at it and start to figure out what you can do. Figuring out what you can do about it and then taking some action on it will help alleviate your stress and keep you from being drawn to eat. So, take a good look at whatever it is that’s causing you stress. Ask yourself what are the real effects and consequences of this thing and what can you do about it? Break it down into smaller chunks. You may find it’s easier to deal with than you thought.

Exercise – Yes, of course I would say that. I am a personal trainer after all. I’m not necessarily suggesting a full workout. Keeping your workout schedule as best you can will help you deal with stress in general. But if you worked out this morning and you feel an urge to binge in the afternoon, then try something a little easier to fit into the middle of your day. If you can, go for a walk. Get outside and focus on your environment and focus on your breathing. If yoga is your thing, a few sun salutations can work wonders. A few minutes of speed rope, some burpees, even some air squats. Anything to get your blood flowing and change your breathing. Try some stretching…especially the upper back, chest and neck area. Afterward you’ll be a little calmer a little less stressed. You’ll have shifted your perspective hopefully enough to not feel that urge to eat.

Breathing – Part of why exercise works is because it changes your breathing. You breathe deeper when you exercise, when you move your body. This change to deeper, slower breathing helps relieve tension and the stress that can drive you to eat. Research has shown that taking deep breaths activates something called the vagus nerve which can move you out of a stress state. Try taking 5 to 10 slow deep breaths and see if you feel calmer, less stressed and better able to make a good decision about whether and what to eat.

Meditation – If you can take a few minutes to meditate, even better. A guided meditation will get you to breathe deeply and can serve as a distraction too. The focus in meditation is to stop thinking and give your brain a rest. The research on meditation is pretty amazing.  Meditation can be challenging, but the benefits are worth it. And it will help reduce your stress. Keep a playlist of guided meditations on your iPod or your computer, wherever it will be easy to access. Even a couple of minutes can help. If you need a quick fix and/or you’re new to meditation try this site… Do Nothing for 2 Minutes.

Identity – Who are you? Are you a person who binges when they get stressed? Are you a person who eats junk food when they feel overwhelmed? Is that who you are? Or are you a person who doesn’t use food to alleviate stress? Are you someone who knows how to take a step back and find better options, ones that will feel good in the moment AND later? When you link up in your mind that you are a certain type of person, the you ARE a certain type of person. For example, I am a non-smoker. I used to smoke, but now I identify myself as a non-smoker. It’s who I am. Smoking doesn’t fit I can’t imagine doing it now. I am also a person dedicated to fitness. Blowing off workouts for more than a day or two at a time feels really off to me because, among other things, it violates my identity. Shifting your identity can take some time to establish, but once you do it’s pretty powerful.

None of these are fool proof. Some days all of them will fail. It may take you a while to get yourself to where you can use them effectively on a regular basis. And the sticky bit is that you have to truly want to use them. That’s where the identity thing really comes in. If you’d still rather just go for the food. If that feels safer, easier, if that’s the behavior you identify with, then you’ll do that. So, you have to decide before you’re in the thick of it, that you are committed to trying not to stress eat

My final thought on this is the 80-20 rule. Although I like to shoot for 90-10, it’s all the same thing. The idea is that you make the better choice more often than the lousy choice. I eat clean more days than I eat poorly. I workout more days than I don’t. Because the majority of my choices support my goals, despite some pretty big slips, my overall results are good. In the end it’s never about perfection. It’s always about continuing improvement and making the choices that support your goals and your well-being more and more often than you make the ones that don’t.


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