When Weight is a Stressor: How to Stop Feeding Your Anxiety

Community Member

When we talk about anxiety stressors one huge stressor for a lot of people is weight gain. It seems to be a vicious cycle. We feel anxious and we eat to comfort ourselves. Then we pack on the pounds and feel stressed because we have gained weight. And that stress makes us want to eat more. How many people have experienced this raise your hand? I know I have. I suffer from both depression and anxiety   and it is interesting how each disorder alters my eating habits. If I am extremely depressed I don't eat. But If I am chronically anxious or stressed I look to food to calm my nerves.

Anxiety can be the fuel for overeating and for developing a food addiction. Something stresses us out like a bad day at work, an argument with yourspouse, or you just found out that your in-laws are coming for a visit and an automatic response might be to go to the chip bag or the pint of rocky road ice-cream you have reserved for such situations. Over time you can grow to depend upon certain foods to get you through the day. It gets real bad when you don't even remember what you were eating or even what it tasted like. Anxiety induced eating can become an unconscious event.

So what can we do about this?

Here are some suggestions and I am hoping that our readers can add to this list.

  • Replace the junk food in your house with healthy treats which will truly give you a sense of calm after eating them. If the junk isn't there you can't eat it, it is as simple as that. Get the sugary over processed foods out of your sight and out of reach. Here are some better alternatives for snacks and treats: Mixed nuts, oranges, guacamole, oatmeal and dark chocolate.

  • Think small. If you do get a craving for something sweet have a few Hershey's kisses on hand or some M&M's. You just can't eat the whole bag.

  • Make the healthy treats and snacks easy and convenient for you to get. This is sometimes what attracts us to junk food is that all we have to do is rip open a package and there it is. Cut up veggies ahead of time and put them into ziplock bags or containers. Snacks like almonds, bananas, or raisins are readily accessible.

  • Develop conscious eating habits. Take the time to see, smell, and taste your food. Eating can be a delightful sensory experience if we allow that to happen. Chew slowly and savor your food. Meditate on how much went into creating the food you see before you. Appreciate food and eating as not some blind mind numbing activity but as fuel for life and living.

  • Some of us literally eat our feelings. We stuff them down with food. The next time you are feeling stressed or anxious, express it in writing. Get on the phone and talk to a friend. It is better to get the emotions out than to subdue them with food.

  • Develop alternative relaxation and de-stressing strategies. We offer some information here on Anxiety Connection about relaxation techniques that you may want to read. Whenever you find yourself reaching for food, use one of your favorite calming methods instead. My favorite de-stressor is exercise and/or riding my bike.

  • Recognize the signs that you are anxious. As I mentioned previously, some of us engage in what I call unconscious eating. And this may be due to the fact that we are also unaware that we are anxious to begin with. It may be helpful to write down all of your stress triggers so that you can be more aware of when anxiety may creep up on you. When you reach for the food ask yourself, "Am I really hungry or am I just anxious?"

  • Some of us anxiety eaters may develop what I call "mouth hunger." You are not really hungry but you just have that sensory need to chew because it feels comforting. The next time you experience this, chew some sugarless gum or plain popcorn. You can get that feeling of fullness and chewing without ingesting a bunch of junk food that you really weren't hungry for in the first place.

  • Instead of eating when stressed, play with a fidget toy. Sometimes it helps to ease stress and anxiety when you have an object to fidget. Examples of what I am talking about are stress balls to squeeze, a twistable manipulative called tangle (I just bought one and I love it), or even silly putty. Another thing to fidget is a "worry bracelet." Some people also call them comfort bracelets. All they are is a bracelet with many different kinds of beads on it to maneuver around. Charm bracelets also work for this purpose as a sensory distraction from feeling stressed and to refocus the mind.

Now we want to hear from our members. Do any of you eat in response to stress and anxiety? Have any of you found ways to overcome your stress eating? If so we would love to hear your tips and suggestion. Remember that you guys are the real experts here and we want to hear from you.