Stress Eating?

IMG_0057You are on your way to check out the new fish that are arriving today at the pet store and a car rear ends you at a stop sign. Then, you get there to find out that they haven’t arrived yet and you see your lover petting kittens with someone that you don’t know. You rush out of the store and run into an old nemesis and exchange comments and then you rush home and dive into the refrigerator and eat until you enter a coma. Stress eating? Maybe…..

Stress eating is often confused with other types of over eating because the situations that bring on these bouts of uncontrolled eating are often very similar. The actual underlying cause may not be.

Stress eating can be defined, in broad terms, as any time that you eat when you really don’t need to eat. The eating is in response to stress and usually involves eating way past the point of being full and may include favourite, high calorie foods.

Let me back up a little. Our society is focused on a few very superficial things. These include symbols of wealth that are expressed as possessions, youth and beauty. Beauty is fairly narrowly defined and always includes being underweight. I purposefully do not use the word thin here, because the models that we see on runways, the way that women are airbrushed in magazines and the “beauty” image is one of being underweight.

The average model is 5’8″ tall and weighs 110 pounds. This gives a whopping BMI (body mass index) of 16.7. If your BMI is less than 18.5 you are considered underweight. So our standard of beauty, for a woman at least, is a body type that is underweight.

For the purposes of this explanation, lets divide ourselves into two parts. There is the biological part, your body, that focuses on keeping us alive, meeting our needs and finding things to take pleasure in. The other part is our brain. It too will find things to take pleasure in but it is also the “trainable” part that learns all of the rules. The brain is worried about what other people think and has learned the proper way to behave. The biological part cares less about that and just wants to protect and enjoy itself.

If you are feeling a lot of pressure to approach the weight of a supermodel, your brain will tell you how to do this. There is no shortage of information about diets, pills, surgeries, elastic bands, exercise clubs and juice fasts to help you lose weight. We have been convinced that if we just follow an eating plan and make a few life style adjustments, we too can look like a cover girl.

The problem arises when the biological part becomes fearful for its life. In any situation where the body is in fear of dying, it will do everything that it can to stay alive. If you doubt this, try to hold your breath for three minutes. It’s OK, I’ll wait.

How did that work out for you? Were you able to hold your breath that long or did your body just decide that it was going to breath anyway? The same thing happens when we try to reduce our body weight below what our bodies are comfortable with. Our biological part is not comfortable with the weight of the supermodels, remember they are actually underweight.

We go on a diet, or a “lifestyle” change or a “cleanse”–the meanings are the same the names have just been changed–and our brains are firmly in control. Then we find out that we can’t buy any new fish for our aquarium and that our lover may not be faithful to us and our brains lose control for just a moment. Our brains become preoccupied with the drama that is going on in our lives and WHAM, our bodies take over and try to replace all of that essential body weight that we have been trying to remove. This is not emotional eating, even though it has the same triggers.

Emotional eating occurs when you are feeding yourself properly and the above happens and you are in so much pain that you don’t know how to make the pain go away. You have learned that eating can take your mind off of it and so you start to eat so that you can focus on the food instead of feeling the emotions.

So, if you think that you may be an emotional eater, first ask yourself if you feed yourself properly most of the time. If you are constantly trying to lose weight, you may not be an emotional eater at all; it is just the body taking over to avoid starvation. Can you blame it for trying to keep itself alive?


Step away from dieting and try something new. Develop a new relationship with yourself. Here are some resources.


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