Mind-Body-Nutrition Strategies to Kick Stress Eating to the Curb


Annette Sloan Bio PhotoIn today’s post, I am featuring a guest article by Annette Sloan, a mind-body-nutrition coach, speaker, and award-winning educator.  Her business, (w)holehearted, empowers women and teen girls to make peace with food (and themselves) so that they can live confident and courageous lives. Annette earned her B.A. from the University of Denver and is a certified mind-body-nutrition coach through the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. Her business is based in Colorado, and she works virtually with clients across the country.
  • Do you struggle with stress eating?
  • Do you wish you could stop, but don’t know how?

If you answered yes to these questions, read on below where Annette shares valuable insight and practical strategies for kicking stress-eating to the curb!


Stress Eating
If you struggle with stress eating, I want you to know one thing, right off the bat:

You’re in good company.

As a mind-body-nutrition coach, I spend a lot of time talking to people about their relationships with food. As a result, I know for a fact that stress eating is a common struggle, even for people who are committed to healthy living. For many years, I myself was a walking paradox: a health-conscious woman who: 1) spent significant time, money, and energy investing in healthy eating, and 2) regularly used stress eating as a way to cope whenever life got tough.

As you might imagine, this was a recipe for disaster. Over time, my stress eating caused me to gain 30 pounds and turned into a significant source of stress itself. I didn’t want to be turning to food as a coping mechanism. Why did I seem unable to stop myself from doing so? Every time it happened, I blamed my lack of willpower, and promised myself that I’d be stronger next time.

Finally, after years of attempting to tough it out, to overcome my tendency towards stress eating through sheer force of will (to no avail), I decided that I needed a new approach. I came up with a radical idea. What if, instead of treating stress eating as an enemy that needed to be destroyed, I chose to treat it as an invitation to dig deeper?

As I explored this new way of thinking, I realized an essential truth. My stress eating was not a willpower problem. It was a presence problem. This insight gave me immense relief; it meant that I wasn’t a willpower weakling after all. Instead, I was simply a person who wanted to numb feelings of discomfort rather than be present with them.

Over time, I figured out how to manage my stress eating by learning how to be present with discomfort – and how to be present with food. Today, I teach my clients how to do the same, including these two tried-and-true strategies.

1. Every time you have the urge to eat, stop and take 5 – 10 slow, deep breaths. While doing so, check in with yourself – body, mind, and soul. Notice what’s going on for you in the moment. Consider:

  • What were you doing right before you felt the urge to eat? Working? Watching TV? Fighting traffic on your commute?
  • How are you feeling? Stressed? Overwhelmed? Sad? Joyful? Bored?
  • Are you physically hungry?

If you’d like to take it a step further and deepen your self-awareness even more, write down the answers to these questions after your 5 to 10 breaths. Then, choose to eat or not eat. You might be thinking, “Ok, so I’m supposed to choose to eat if I noticed that I am actually physically hungry, and not to eat if I notice that I’m feeling stressed, but not hungry at all.” Maybe. Maybe not.

Yes, over time the goal is to get to a place where you make an informed choice based on what you notice when you slow down and breathe. However, in the beginning, don’t worry about it. The point is that you: 1) stopped to notice what’s going on for you, and 2) made a conscious decision about what to do next instead of mindlessly following an urge. It’s getting out of the habit of eating half a bag of chips before you really realize that you’re eating at all.

As this practice takes hold, you’ll start to recognize the types of feelings that consistently send you running for the fridge in a stressed state. Make time to write these down and begin to explore them, with a professional if needed. What changes can you make in your life that would help you to feel this way less often?

2. Practice mindful eating as often as possible.

A simple definition of mindful eating is “eating with intention while paying attention.” In other words, eating with your five senses.

When you eat mindfully, you engage your:

  • Eyes – to really look at your food
  • Nose – to inhale the scent of your food
  • Ears – to hear the sound of yourself chewing
  • Mouth – to actually taste your food
  • Sense of touch – to feel the texture of your food

Mindful eating means inviting your brain along for the ride. When our brains and our five senses are present for the act of eating, it turns into an entirely different experience, one that satisfies and nourishes us. And when we feel satisfied and nourished after a meal, we’re less likely to stress-eat an hour later. As an added bonus, mindful eating also has a myriad of physiological benefits, including better digestion, metabolism, and nutrient absorption.

Digestion: When we eat without paying attention, our bodies receive the message that although we are taking in food, eating (and therefore, digesting) must not be a priority. If it were, our brains would be focused on it. Therefore, our bodies respond to the clear signal from our minds that the most important task at hand is to: __________________ (fill in the blank – send a text, watch TV, work on the computer, etc.). As a result, our bodies send resources to help with these tasks, leaving less energy for digestion. In fact, studies have shown that our digestion is 30-40% less effective when our minds are tuned out during eating.

Metabolism: When we’re in a stressed state, our bodies react accordingly. This often means holding on to calories instead of burning them. Stress tells our bodies that something is up, so our bodies respond by storing extra energy as fat so that we’ll have plenty of energy to respond to the upcoming stressful situation. On the other hand, when we eat in a mindful and relaxed state, our bodies get the message that everything is ok, so there is no reason not to freely burn calories.

Nutrient absorption: If you put time, money, and effort into eating healthy foods, you want your body to receive the benefits from these foods. However, if you eat your wild salmon and kale without paying attention, your body will not assimilate the nutrients from these superfoods as well as it could. In one study, researchers gave test subjects a mineral drink, and asked them to drink it in a relaxed state. Then, they measured the absorption of two minerals, sodium and chloride, in the small intestines. They assimilated at 100 percent.

Later, the same individuals were given another mineral drink, as well as a pair of headphones in which two people were talking simultaneously. In their left ear, someone lectured about intergalactic space travel, while in their right ear, someone else talked about the joys of financial planning. The study participants consumed their drinks while trying to concentrate on both messages at once. When researchers once again measured for assimilation of sodium and chloride, there was zero percent absorption.

While taking deep breaths and practicing mindful eating are useful strategies, they are just the tip of the iceberg. If you’d like to dive deeper, visit http://www.annettesloan.com/overcoming-emotional-eating/ to grab your free, in-depth guide to overcoming emotional (and stress) eating!


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