Tips to stop stress eating
The economy doesn’t have to go straight to your hips. Here are some tips on how to control stress-driven eating:
• Recognize that being stressed is normal, said Edward Abramson, a psychologist in Lafayette, Calif., and author of “Emotional Eating.” Talk about the stress with family and friends.
• Know that the economy is out of your hands, said Martin Binks, director of behavioral health and research at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center. Focus on what you can control.
• Find healthier ways to soothe yourself. Some people go for a walk. Others work on a hobby. Listen to your favorite music or read something not work-related, said Linda Hlivka, co-author of “Stress Eater Diet.”
• If you are at home because of a layoff, make sure you are not eating in front of the television or computer, said Leslie Seppinni, a psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, Calif. “Eat at the table at the times you are supposed to eat.”
• Don’t make food your social outlet, Seppinni said. Meet friends at a park or go see a movie.
• Substitute healthier food for the bad stuff, Hlivka said. If you need to eat something crunchy, try carrot sticks.
• If you feel a craving coming on, practice deep breathing, Hlivka said. Once you slow down your breathing, your blood pressure will drop and you will decrease production of stress hormones.
• Don’t deprive yourself. Sometimes the answer is a little bit of ice cream, Binks said.
New York Leslie Fuller tried to stick to her shopping list on a recent grocery run. Instead, she found herself venturing down the candy aisle, throwing bags of Hershey’s Miniatures and M&M’s into her cart.
“I should just put them down on the seat and sit on them,” said Fuller, a paralegal in Las Vegas. “That’s where they’re going to go — on my behind. I eat them because it makes me feel better.”
Tough times means tighter belts, and for many people tighter pants as they turn to fatty, sugary comfort food to deal with recession-related stress.
Fuller, 51, recently lost her house to foreclosure through no fault of her own. She lost some of her husband’s income because of a pay cut. She lost her savings, which the couple used for moving expenses. And she recently put one of her dogs to sleep and is having foot surgery next month.
“To say that my life is stressful is an understatement,” said Fuller, who wants to lose 30 pounds. “I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I just don’t know how far it is.”
Getting relief from snacks
Denise Lamothe, an emotional eating expert and clinical psychologist in Exeter, N.H., said research indicates that more than half the population eats more when feeling stressed. She’s seeing patients who were losing weight before financial trouble hit but are now eating more.
“As the economy has faltered, people have become more and more anxious, more and more fearful,” said Lamothe, author of “The Taming of the Chew.” “The more intense feelings become, the more people will turn to sugar, fat and salt, because that’s where they can get some relief.”
Such food is also cheaper per calorie than fruits and vegetables, said Linda Hlivka, co-author of “Stress Eater Diet.” McDonald’s, with its value menu, has benefited from the economic slump while sit-down competitors report steep declines.
With so many people out of work, it becomes easy to snack all day to fill the time, said Leslie Seppinni, a psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, Calif., adding that women are more likely than men to binge because of stress.
Suzanne Brumfield, 38, of Groton, Conn., found that out when she was unemployed for about six months last year. She reached for Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies and Drake’s Funny Bones cakes because of boredom and mounting frustration from applying for countless jobs. She gained 30 pounds and ended up 100 pounds overweight.
Brumfield, who is married and has three stepchildren, has since found a job as an office manager, but she’s making less.
“I never really got anything positive out of it,” said Brumfield, who is now on Nutrisystem and has lost 30 pounds. “I never got the, ‘That satisfied a craving. I’m good now.’ It was, ‘I cannot believe I ate another one of those.’”
Stress eating generally follows a lifelong pattern, and most people will stress eat from time to time, depending on how bad the stress is and how long it lasts.
While there are lots of stressors that people will face throughout their lives, whether it’s the death of a loved one or divorce, financial worries are a huge trigger for overeating, Hlivka said. Not being able to pay bills, find work or support a family, watching retirement savings shrink. All hit home on a daily basis, she said.
“It doesn’t seem to go away, and for those people that are looking for jobs and can’t find jobs, their survival is at risk,” Hlivka said.
Jan Anderegg, 48, a mom of five in Guttenberg, Iowa, said at one time she was eating five or six boxes of candy a day to cope with money worries. The farm she and her husband run suffered a hit last year because of the rising costs of corn and hay, and they continue to field calls from bill collectors.
But Anderegg has lost 60 pounds since December. Instead of eating, she now writes short stories and logs on to the free health and weight loss Web site SparkPeople.com for support.
She keeps one box of candy in the house so she doesn’t go overboard. And she also eats more fruits and vegetables, drinks more water and watches portions.
“I wish I could say I felt it was under control,” Anderegg said about her stress eating. “I think it’s going to be an ongoing struggle for the rest of my life.”
Experts recommend stress eaters acknowledge the stress, and substitute eating from boredom, depression or anxiety with exercise or a hobby. But it’s important to get a handle on it. For most people, the extra calories will add up to extra pounds.
“It’s a mindless satisfaction that seems harmless in the moment,” Seppinni said. “But obviously has larger repercussions later, no pun intended.”