Have you ever found yourself coming home from a long day of work and wanting to do nothing but eat an entire pizza or finish off a bag of chips even though you're not hungry? Food fuels our bodies and minds, but sometimes we turn to food for more than physical sustenance. Food can be a way to escape from stressful emotions or to fill a void. Some people turn to food when they feel unfulfilled, sad, lonely, irritated or bored.
Eating can truly be a joyful experience -- if we're aware and intentional with our food. But when we eat to soothe a stress or fill an emotional void, we're often unsuccessful and end up feeling guilty for what we've put in our bodies.
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If you're a stress eater, it may be helpful to look at the emotions underlying the stress that drives you to eat. There are also some tips that you can put into action before, during and after you eat to help you figure out when you're heading down the path of compulsive eating.
Before You Eat
1. Cultivate an attitude of giving.
This is something you can start doing now. Don't think in terms of depriving yourself of certain foods, think about giving your body delicious, wholesome foods to help it flourish.
2. Drink a glass of water.
Sometimes when we think we're hungry, we're actually just thirsty. If you feel an unexpected urge to eat (after a meal, for example), try drinking a glass of water before you reach for a snack.
3. Interrupt the pattern.
If you eat as a reaction to stress or emotions, you may be caught up in an unintentional pattern. As soon as you start to notice those emotions or the beginning of a craving, stop what you're doing and interrupt the pattern. Go outside. Do some jumping jacks.
4. Go for a drive.
If you do decide to eat something, before you eat, create an environment that isn't full of distractions. If you're multitasking or watching TV, it's easy to not pay attention to what you're putting in your mouth. If you're going to eat, create an environment that allows you to pay attention to your food and enjoy it.
5. Be gentle.
It's not about not eating, it's about eating with intention. Listen to your body. If it truly wants food, feed it and don't overanalyze. Be gentle and kind to yourself.
While You Eat
1. Use a plate.
Don't just eat out of a bag or Tupperware. Treat yourself well and create a dignified environment for your meal or snack. Making a plate or bowl of food will also help with portion control and define an endpoint for your meal.
2. Take breaks.
Put your fork down every few bites and breathe. Reassess whether you're still hungry before you pick up your fork again. If you're not still hungry, stop eating. Remember: This isn't the last time you're going to get to eat.
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3. Chew thoroughly.
Chewing your food thoroughly before swallowing will help you to slow down. Don't put another bite into your mouth until you've swallowed the one you've got. This will also give your brain and stomach time to register the food you've eaten and feel full.
4. Tune in to your senses.
While you're eating, pay attention to the way your food looks, smells, tastes, its texture and even the sound it makes as your fork scrapes against the plate or as your teeth bite down on it. Your senses are a tool to staying in the present moment and to experiencing fully what you're doing.
5. Be gentle.
Yes, I know already said this, but it's important to be gentle with yourself while you're eating too. The idea is not to aggressively force yourself to follow these tips, but to bring attention to your senses, to your chewing, to your breath.
Even if you follow these tips to a T, you may still find that you've overeaten or eaten in an unhealthy way. If this happens, drinking water aids in digestion and helps your body move waste through your intestines.
Be gentle. (Are you starting to see a theme?) Being gentle to yourself at this stage may be the most important thing you can do. You can notice what happened. You can even feel disappointed. But then let it go. Beating yourself up will only make it worse. Take care of yourself and try again next time.
Readers -- Do you stress eat? What kind of circumstances make you want to eat unhealthily? Do you have any tips or tricks on how to avoid stress eating? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Jennifer Wang is the founder and CEO of The Tasteful Pantry. Having lived with multiple food intolerances and tried countless "free-from" snacks that tasted like cardboard, Jennifer's mission now is to share her love of wholesome food and healthy living. When she's not scouring the country looking for yummy snacks, Jennifer enjoys teaching spinning and meditation (although not at the same time). Connect with Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.