It’s been a crazy year — no wonder we’re eating our feelings. Here are some easy ways to stop stress snacking and listen to your body, decrease anxiety, and rediscover joy.
Wake Up to Grace
The truth is, we’re all stress snacking these days. “Our usual coping tools for anxiety, like going out with friends, are not as available to us, which only increases our drive to seek comfort in food,” observes expert Carolyn Coker Ross, MD. “You can’t expect to have stress-relieving strategies for this unprecedented time, which is why you need to give yourself a little grace. For me, that’s telling myself, I’m okay in the moment.” You might even type “give myself grace” in your phone. “Instead of swiping to see your alarm, wake up to something that reminds you to be kind to yourself.”
Just pinpoint your stress number on a five-point scale, advises psychologist Laurel Mellin, PhD. Stress number 1 is when you feel present and happy. “At level 5, anxiety makes you crave sugary, fatty foods, so if you just binged on carbs, you were at level 5 and your body’s chemicals forced you to do it.” Knowing where you are on the scale helps you stop blaming yourself, she says.
Don’t Overthink It
Researchers tested how effectively the rational mind stops the stress chemicals that drive overeating, and they discovered a “thinking paradox,” reveals Mellin. “Mindfulness works in low-stress situations, but fails at the levels of anxiety we’re all experiencing today — overthinking just stresses us out more.” Instead, ask yourself, What do I need? Safety, comfort? “If your hidden message is, I get safety from food, say to yourself, Actually, I get safety from my spiritual core.” This shift helps you see what you’re really craving.
Savor Your Favorites
“I encourage people to enjoy every bite, especially childhood favorites,” declares Dr. Coker Ross. “I’ve personally been craving pecan sandies that were popular when I was growing up —happy memories trigger pleasure chemicals that leave you more satisfied.” If you make your snacks a “conscious celebration” of joy, she says, you won’t feel the need to overindulge and can stop stress snacking.
Instead of defining food as either “good” or “bad,” try using words like, satisfying or energizing. “When I use a continuum like this, I no longer organize my day obsessing about what I’m going to eat or worrying about chips versus carrots,” says expert Jennifer Wegmann, PhD. “When it no longer takes as much space in your mind, you can find new ways to nourish yourself without food.”
Feed Your Spirit
Try snacking while doing something you enjoy, like listening to a podcast or sitting in the sun, urges Dr. Coker Ross. “This retrains your brain to associate eating with feeling good, so you’re less apt to reach for food or overindulge when you’re anxious.” Indeed, snacking while doing something that feeds your spirit, she notes, is like taking your security blanket with you and realizing you don’t need it after all because you’re already safe and comforted.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.