Ep #12: Stress Eating


Do you turn to comfort foods, or "reward foods," in order to find some enjoyment while dealing with all the stressful circumstances in your life? If you do, you're certainly not alone, but you may be sabotaging your weight-loss goals by not dealing with the one thing about stress you can control - your thoughts.

With the influx of information about what's happening around the globe on the news and in our social media feeds, there are more things to stress over than ever. This week's episode of It's Never Too Late to Lose Weight is all about stress adn eating to cope: what it is, what it is not, how it affects your health, and how to choose more productive ways to handle it. 

Join me as I share the three types of stress we face and how each kind shows up in our lives. Learn what worry really is, who it's for, and why it's so important to create your own worry-free environment in order to recharge.

If you want to join a group of like-minded women over 50 who want to lose weight, transform bad habits, and live a healthy lifestyle, come on over to my closed Facebook group – It's Never Too Late to Lose Weight.

Listen to the Full Episode:

What You'll Learn from this Episode:

  • How stress eating affects our health.
  • The 3 different kinds of stress.
  • What worry is... and what it is not.
  • How our thoughts influence the level of stress we experience.
  • Alternatives to stress eating.

Featured on the Show:

If you have any questions or ideas for upcoming episodes, send me an email at pat@beauprecoaching.com

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to It's Never Too Late to Lose Weight, a podcast for women approaching 60 who have been successful at everything but reaching their weight loss goals. Tune in each week for tools and strategies to help you lose weight, create a strong body, and support a healthy mind. Here's your host, certified weight and life coach, Pat Beaupre Becker.

Hello, my dears. How are you today? It's actually late in the afternoon here, the sun is going down and it's pretty cool, although this is still California cool, and I know that many of you are really cold out there. So just stay warm and sit back, or if you're driving, you know, keep your eyes on the road.

So I wanted to tell you about - I went to the movies and saw a trailer for a movie that's coming out with Amy Schumer called I Feel Pretty. This looks fantastic. Now, I have no idea if it's going to be a good movie or not, but let me just tell you the premise. So it's about a woman, a young woman who's overweight a little bit, and she's always trying to lose weight, always trying to diet, always trying to get a date. And always trying to really believe that what people say is that you're beautiful when you feel beautiful on the inside.

But her, you know, her response - the world's response to her doesn't give her that real firm belief. So what happens is she's at a health club and she's taking a spin class and she falls off the bike and she hits her head. So she wakes up and she goes in to the restroom and she looks in the mirror and she is totally, totally impressed with how she looks. And she believes because of this bonk on the head that she's lost all this weight and she has this perfect body, and she loves how she looks.

So the most fascinating part of this is then she starts to behave as if she is so gorgeous, and of course she doesn't understand why anyone else doesn't see it, and proceeds to go through her life with this incredible confidence and physical embodiment of loving her body.

I love this idea. I really think that it is almost exactly what we try and talk about here, which is that the way you believe and think about yourself has everything to do with the way you feel, and the way you feel is the way you live in the world. And if we felt beautiful, we would have a lot more confidence. So let's look out for this movie, I hope it's going to be good. We'll see.

Today I want to talk to you about stress eating and how we can actually remove at least one level of stress. So I want to ask you how many times this seems to be something that you might have done or said. "I ate because my sister had a diagnosis and I was so stressed out I just ate the whole bowl of ice cream." Or maybe you said, "My grandchild had the flu and was up all night so I was very tired and I just ate a whole thing of bacon." Or, "I woke up in the middle of the night starving so I just had to eat all those chips."

Or this one is very popular, "My job is so stressful, I will never get out from under all this work. I have to have my three ‘o clock coffee and donut every day to relieve the stress that I feel about that job." Or, "I went out after work and splurged on - had a whole bunch of chips and guacamole because I was so stressed and everybody was just like, letting it out."

Isn't it interesting that when we feel stress the food that we're drawn to is reward food? Not so much nutritious food. And we if we look at the evolution of our brain from primitive time, we can see that this brain has not yet evolved to the point where it will automatically choose what is best for us, what will allow us to thrive.

Now, stress eating leads to poor nutrition, sometimes we could drink more than we planned, we will not get enough sleep, and when we do this over and over and over again, it creates a chronic stress, and that is really detrimental to your health, to your ability to lose weight. And many times, it's our thoughts that we have about the situations that make it stressful.

So I want to talk about three kinds of stress. So one is acute stress, two is chronic stress, and three is actually good stress called eustress, or hormesis. So first, acute stress, what's that? Okay, you're crossing the street and you're talking with your friend and you both step out, and all of a sudden, a car appears out of nowhere, slams on its brakes, you jump back and your heart starts to beat. Your body is now preparing to defend itself, it's in fight or flight.

And this is acute stress, and it takes maybe about 90 minutes for your metabolism to return to normal when this response is over. So this is very rare, it does happen, but it's not something that happens over and over again.

So the second kind of stress I want to talk about is chronic stress and we're going to talk a lot about that today. And chronic stress is when we're worrying all the time, maybe we worry about getting old, we worry about finances, we're not feeling happy and it makes us feel bad so we start to resist any negative emotion. We have expectations of convenience, right?

Like if something happens and doesn't go as planned, we get really stressed out, and there's a really fascinating article in The New York Times, and I'll put a link to it in the show notes. And the article is called The Tyranny of Inconvenience, and it talks about how we are so expecting to have things go smoothly, things be quick, and when they don't, we get really stressed out about it. And how that can really impact our happiness and our health.

We also have fear of the unknown, we worry about ourselves, what's going to happen, worry about what's going to happen with our children, are they going to get a job, are they going to go to college, are they going to graduate, are they going to get married, right? And then we worry about the unknown about the future of the earth. We have climate change, we have so many issues that are out there that we can worry about.

Then we have indecision, right? Sometimes we want to make a decision but we maul things over around and around and we are not able to be decisive and so we feel stressed out about it. Now, and how many of you have thoughts that there's just not enough time to get things done? Right? So thoughts about time can be very stressful.

The other thing is we have these really bad opinions of ourselves. We believe we're weak and we can't accomplish certain things, we look to our past for our achievements and we don't actually look at what we've accomplished, but we end up focusing on what we have not done. And for some of us, perfectionism, right? There's just not enough time to get it done exactly the way we want to get it done.

So let's look at worry and our habit of worrying that causes stress eating. So what is worry? Worry is really a series of repetitive thoughts, they're kind of like catastrophizing. You feel it in your body. I know for me when I am worried, my heart is racing, my stomach is clenching, and maybe I'm just really tense because I'm trying to keep myself from crying or screaming or running away.

And my mind is really spending time imagining my worst fears, and I could also be trying to distract myself from it. That's one of the reasons why I used to overeat is to distract myself from those feelings. But the interesting thing about worry, it's actually an illusion that worrying is actually going to give you an answer or a solution. We think that worrying will help.

But what worry isn't, it isn't creating a solution, and it isn't influencing the outcome of a problem in a positive way, right? So - and if you know, after the fact, when you've worried about something and it hasn’t come true, you realize how much time you spend worrying, how much time your heart spends beating fast for no good reason.

And why is because worry gives us the illusion that you're caring about something, and it's not that you don't care, but it gives you this illusion that you're doing something, or maybe it gives you the comfort that you're actually seeing that there is a problem.

Now, who is worry for? I think this is really fascinating because worry makes me feel sorry for myself, and if I'm worried about someone else, I'm telling you that I'm worried about you, but is my worry about you helpful to you at all? If I tell you, "Oh, I haven't slept for days because I'm so worried about you," does that give you any insight into your problem?

Yet, worry keeps me busy, right? It satisfies some need that I have to show that I care so much about you that I'm out of control. Such a funny message. So what I'm saying here is my being obsessed and out of control of my thoughts, losing sleep and stress eating is all because I love you.

The habit of picking up reward food, that somehow eating pie and bread and ice cream and chips is going to make us feel better, I don't know, do they really make us feel better? Because I propose they don't. I propose that your reactions to stress with eating is just causing you more stress. And though you have a moment of reprieve, the problem is not only not solved, but now it's compounded with your own ill health and your own worry and concern about yourself.

Another big one that causes stress is our thoughts about time. Quite often this leads us to the feeling of overwhelm. There's an author and a doctor, Pedram Shojai that I like, wrote a book called The Art of Stopping Time. And in this book, he offers 365 ways to get more time and more space. It's really a fascinating little read. Every chapter is only about one or two pages.

And one I was reading today was a chapter that talked about drinking from infinity. And he introduces the idea that the potential that's locked in this stillness of the present moment, that somehow being in the present moment is actually where we have more time. And he refers to how mystics have always gone for energy and clarity and wisdom to that space of meditation.

Now, I know we have demanding lives. We make many commitments or we work long hours, and we're exhausted, and part of that is because we believe we don't have an alternative. But I think we want to look at the consequences of these beliefs and do they add up to the positive or do they add up to the negative.

If you're going to work for eight hours a day, and that's the truth, that's the fact, but the whole time you're going to be rushed and you're going to think the whole time, "I'll never get anything done, there's not enough time," then you're going to be living in chronic stress. But what about if you embodied those same eight hours in a different way, and you still got your work done?

I had this experience when I used to work in an office, and I remember I was going to pick up something from the printer, and I was always multitasking, had lots to do, was very important what I was doing. And I remember I was really walking fast and I noticed that I was all tense. My wrists were clenched and I was walking to that printer like somehow holding all that tension in my body was making me get there faster, was making me more efficient.

Then I realized how crazy that was. What it was, it was actually making me exhausted. Holding tension, moving fast, I could have gotten to the printer with the same amount of time, but walking calmly and taking some deep breaths. But we're in this trap of thinking because we're so stressed out that being stressed is accomplishing something or that we have no choice.

Now, if you want to lose weight, you really need to learn how to have self-care. And self-care is partly creating this health program or a plan, and then following it to your ability each and every day. And stress and chronic stress does not help you achieve those goals.

Now, we mentioned acute stress and chronic stress. Now, the third kind of stress I'm going to talk about is good stress. This is called hormesis. That's the scientific word, and there's also another word called eustress. And this is basically stress that we have that's uncomfortable but actually leads to personal growth.

So one can say getting married, right? Stressful, you have all this stuff to do, but in the end, it is actually something that's leading you to a relationship and you're sharing this with your family so there's some personal growth. Having a promotion, right? That's also like, there's stress involved because you have to learn new things, you have to show up differently, but it's something that's going to lead you to growth. Even winning money. You know, they say people who win the lottery could be stressful, but it's uncomfortable but it can lead to personal growth.

If you think about the Olympics, we've been watching the Olympics, the amount of eustress, the stress that they put by attending and taking these risks, showing up in front of millions of people, performing these incredible amazing tasks, it's a perfect example of a positive stress.

So now let's look at some alternatives to stress eating, especially solving for chronic stress. So one of the things you want to do is eliminate beliefs and thoughts that cause unnecessary stress, right? So if you're going to show up and go to work, and you keep thinking there's too much to do, there's too much to do, you're creating all this stress.

So you might be thinking, "I can't get it done, there's too much work. I'll never get out from under it all. I'm not good enough." And these thoughts create more stress. We also tend to ask questions that are unhelpful. Perhaps, why is this happening to me? If you're worried, what if my husband gets cancer, what if my children get sick and die? We have all these questions that we're asking ourselves that are really not helpful.

Another thing with chronic stress is this obsession with the news, right? If you are looking at the news and you're seeing all these disasters happening all over and then we become obsessed with learning every single detail, filling ourselves with more and more stress.

So now I'm going to offer you three solutions, and one is going to be a writing exercise to help you transform chronic stress. Another, a writing exercise to help you to embrace good stress. And three, a creating no stress zones exercise.

A good place to start when understanding and changing stress is with your body. So I'm going to give you an anchoring exercise, which will take about a minute, and it's very simple. It's really - don't have to have much, you just want to be sitting in a chair. So if you're driving, you can do this later. But I want you to feel your feet on the floor. Like, push your feet into the floor, feel the floor under your feet.

Then you want to straighten your spine and stretch your arms out, maybe arms above you, to the side, and as you're doing that, take a deep breath. So as you're breathing deeply, I want you to look around the room and note five things. Just one, two, three, four, five. Five things you see on the wall, and then notice some sounds that you hear. And then again, just put your feet into the ground, kind of maybe stretch, and now you're grounded in the present moment.

So let's look at transforming chronic stress with writing exercise number one. So here I'm going to take you back to the model, which we talked about in the last episode, which is our mantra, right? Our new mantra, our thoughts create our feelings, our feelings create our actions, and our actions create our results. So with that, let's take a look at the T line, which is the thought line.

So make a list of all the worried thoughts you have. Now, this is going to take some time, but these thoughts are already in your head. And it's better to know what's lurking in your mind, taking up space. So take the time that you need to write down. So you could write about your thoughts about not having enough time, maybe some thoughts you have about aging, "Where will I live? Will I have enough money? Will I be healthy? Will my children take care of me?"

You can write about your thoughts about being inconvenienced, like when you go to the checkout and she's moving slowly, or someone's asking a question and you're in a rush. And then you can write about the fear of the unknown for yourselves, for your children, maybe you worry about the earth.

You could also write about indecision, like when you're mulling things over around and around without decisiveness. What are your thoughts about making decisions? Then you might consider writing about thoughts about time, not enough time. You can also write about your thoughts - really important, this bad opinion you might have of yourself. Especially if we're thinking we're weak and we're easily overwhelmed, and we can't accomplish something. And then I want you to write about your thoughts about food and how food is solving stress.

Okay, that's the first part. Then you're going to write a list of thoughts that create more freedom, more focus, more solution. So for instance, I have a couple of examples I can share with you. How about, "I will work for eight hours today, giving the best I have to give without tension." Or, "I will keep track of how I feel throughout the day and notice when I'm tense." Or, "I will keep track of small successes."

Or asking some better questions. How can I look at this problem differently? How can I focus on a solution to each problem? Or, who can help me with this problem? And one of my favorites is I can do hard things without stress eating.

Then we're going to go to writing exercise number two, to embrace good stress. So I want you to commit to five things that you're going to include in your good stress life. So that could be taking action around food, maybe you decide you're going to eat less sugar and cut out all processed foods, and maybe have little bit less alcohol.

Now, that is going to be stress in the process, but it's going to help you with the plan, with your health. Maybe you can commit to creating a plan and prepping your food, taking action steps that you haven't taken in terms of cooking more. Now, that's going to be a little bit stressful for you but that would be a stress that's going to help you. It's going to help you by giving you healthy food to eat, by touching food, becoming more connected with what it takes to keep you healthy.

You might commit to exercise. Exercise is a perfect stress, right? Doesn't feel good all the time, we're pushing ourselves, but we're growing from it, even just showing up and giving yourself the ability to do something that may not feel as easy as other things, just showing up is going to help you to grow.

You can maybe learn something new. Taking risks to have a conversation. Say there's somebody at work that you've been meaning to have a conversation with, but it's very uncomfortable and you haven't figured out how to say it, you can take a risk. That's going to help you to grow.

So I want you to keep track of how you feel throughout the day. Notice how much time you spend stressed out. Notice what stress feels like in your body and describe it. And notice if eating is really solving that problem that you have, and for how long, and when does it actually create another problem.

Now, writing exercise number three. This is where I want you to create some times of no stress, which is really more about healing, finding some coping mechanisms. So we can look at committing to what you can do to create no stress zones. Now, I think that food is actually - because if you eliminate processed food and sugar, you are going to feel better. That is one way you can actually decrease your stress.

The other way is with your mindset. So you can develop a learning attitude, decide you're going to learn from your mistakes, you're not going to judge them. And here, curiosity is so important and so much more fun than judgment. What about if you met your partner or your boss or your coworker, and you just imagine you didn't know everything about them, and that you were open to finding out something new? Even about yourself.

Really also cultivating positive self-talk. Because if you're feeling better and having positive self-talk, that is going to be a stress reliever. Then there's some things you can do to relieve your stress or have this - create this no stress zone.

They - many research papers have been completed that show that spending time in nature, even just short-term contact with nature has significant positive effects on your mood. Engage with things you love to do. You know, me with my ping pong, and now I've discovered pickleball, and I love these things. I get to be with people, I get to move around and exercise, and I get to laugh because I'm not very good.

And then you want to make sure you have time for yourself. Learn breathing. Learn how to breathe, learn some meditation. Get some good sleep. You can have a gratitude practice.

So you can decide how much time it's going to be, but create these stress-free zones so that daily you can make better choices, which are going to lead you to more enrichment, more meaning in your life, more love, joy, and happiness, and maybe even some inconvenience. And that's going to help you manage stress.

So in summary, we've got three kinds of stress we talked about today. Acute stress, chronic stress, and that good stress, eustress or hormesis. So we have stress that supports our growth, stress that tears us down, we would need time to rejuvenate, to recover, and to receive.

You want to remember that stress eating never solves the problem, and almost always creates a new problem or compounds the problem we already have. So what are we going to do about stress?

Number one is we're going to eliminate beliefs that cause stress. We're going to journal and write down our thoughts and worries. We're going to practice looking at what we believe and what we say to ourselves throughout the day, and notice how it feels. We're going to write out a list of alternative thoughts, and we're going to see what it might be like to believe them.

And then we're going to write out situations where you use food to feel better, and is it actually true? Do you really feel better? And for how long? And then the second thing is we're going to cultivate beliefs that see good stress as something that's good for us.

So we have this hormesis, which actually helps us stay young. We want to identify at least five good stressers, activities that we will promise to engage in, knowing that they're not going to be the most comfortable, but that we're going to grow, we're going to develop, and we're going to stay young and vibrant. And then third, let's create non-food related recipes for experiencing no stress zones.

So now I want to talk about my favorite things, and today my favorite things are free. It's the library. How amazing is the library? A quiet place where you can go to borrow free books, CDs, and even videos. And a library has really impacted my life so much because the truth is I found my first life coach teacher, Martha Beck, at the Nevada Library when I discovered Finding Your North Star on an audio CD.

And now when you go to the library - recently when I went, it was in the summer, and it was so hot outside and it was beautifully air-conditioned, there were lots of places to sit and read. There are classes that go on, there's community reading, you get online books. And do you remember your high school library?

I remember mine because that's where I did my first - no actually, it wasn't high school. I remember my grammar school library. Because that's where I did my first binge reading with Nancy Drew mysteries. I loved going to that shelf. I can still see them on the bottom shelf, all lined up, and I read every single one.

And I may still have a copy of the library book. Sorry New York Public Library, from The Diary of Anïas Nin. Because I discovered her and I went and got all of her books as well, and then all of the books of people that she talked about in her diary. It was an amazing experience.

There's also a book called Library Book: Writers on Libraries, which I think is so beautiful, and this is all different writers writing about their experience with libraries during the course of their life. So I hope you get a chance to visit your library, support your library, and enjoy it.

So thank you so much for listening, but remember, listening is not doing. Why don't you find a spot, maybe you can go to your local library. Go to your calendar and plan some time to go to the library, or find another place where you can do some writing and explore stress in your life. So I'll see you next week when we're going to talk about planning and daily habits.

Hey, if you want to join a group of like-minded women over 50 who want to lose weight, transform bad habits, and live a healthy lifestyle, come on over to my closed Facebook page called It's Never Too Late to Lose Weight. I hope to see you there. Okay, thanks. Bye-bye.

Thanks for listening to this episode of It's Never Too Late to Lose Weight. If you liked what you heard and want more, head over to never2late.info/guide, to download your quick start guide to jump start your weight loss plan and begin creating an amazing life you love.

Enjoy the Show?