The Cycle of Stress Eating

This past week I was talking with a trainee about their progress.  This trainee has made excellent progress but seemed to be having difficulty staying away from foods she knew were not healthy for her.

We discussed a wide range of issues.  One of the things I asked her to do was to reflect on what she was thinking and feeling when she made the decision to eat something that’s not on her nutrition plan.  Not just “Oh, I’m hungry, I think I want a whopper with fries.”  What was the motivating thought and feeling for her to eat fatty, greasy non-nutritious foods.

What we came up with is that she eats out of stress.  The way that she’s always dealt with stress, anger, sadness, hurt, fear or any other feeling is to eat away those feelings.  By eating away her feelings she can literally “stuff ” her feelings and never have to address them.

Here’s the deal, we all have ways that we cope with life and the feelings we experience.  Some people use food.  Others use alcohol, drugs.  Others even use relationships as a way to mask feelings.  No matter what a person uses to turn off their feelings, they will continue to act out in the same manner, unless they can directly confront why they are avoiding the issues that need to be dealt with.

The cycle of acting out to avoid the uncomfortable feeling looks something like this:


Each part of the cycle leads to the next and when a person is in this cycle, they have an extremely difficult time removing themselves.  The individual has to stop themselves in the fantasy stage and question what is causing them to romance the idea of eating something that is going to make them feel bad emotionally, mentally and physically.

The best way to get out of this cycle is to stop and think about what is going on right now and what the person is feeling.  Many times stress is a major factor.  Loneliness is another feeling that triggers acting out.

For whatever reason, the person experiences a void in their life and they usually try to fill that void with food.  Filling a void with food can cause lots of negative consequences.  It’s not the rapid type of consequences that someone who uses drugs and alcohol.  It comes on over a long period of time and can be just as devastating.

Sometimes it’s not just the physical aspect of weight loss like exercising and eating properly.  We also have to consider what is going on mentally and emotionally.

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