How to Handle Stress Eating and Sugar Cravings

Each evening, for a long period of time, I would find myself in a losing cycle of stress eating and struggling with sugar cravings. I would try to eat healthy during the day, finish the many things on my long “to-do list,” but would end the end feeling overwhelmed, stressed and anxious as the day went on.

Then, when everyone when the rest of my family was in bed, I would catch myself overeating the sugary items in our house. Each time I did this it was like a release from all the stress I felt during the day.

 

Even though I felt better in the moment I was eating the sugary treats, this cycle was something that would also leave me more stressed and feeling guilty in the long run.

 

While it’s normal to occasionally overeat a treat, or eat a food past our levels of satisfaction because it tasted good, some of us may find ourselves on a constant cycle of overeating when stressed or feeling out of control and struggling with sugar cravings.

 

When we consistently overeat, our reasons for starting this behavior can typically be traced back to two likely scenarios…

  • We overeat out of deprivation caused by our diets.
  • We overeat to comfort ourselves or try to manage our feelings.

 

1) Overeating out of deprivation caused by our diets

If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know I’ve covered the topic of satisfaction quite a bit. The #1 thing we can do to eat healthy long term (consistently – without yo-yo weight loss and rebound weight gain) is to feel satisfied on our diet.

I won’t go into detail on that topic here, but if you feel deprived or constantly fall off track with cheat meals or weekend eating, then be sure to check out my blog, “Sticking to Your Diet Is Directly Related to This...”

 

2) Overeating to comfort ourselves or manage our feelings

It’s also common to overeat and reach for food for emotional reasons. We could be eating because of stress, anger, boredom, or using food as a reward after a hard day. Sometimes there’s even a mix of both the emotional reasons for our eating/cravings AND overeating out of deprivation (reason #1 above), but for now let’s focus on this emotional component alone.

I’ll use my nighttime overeating as an example of how we sometimes use stress eating to comfort ourselves.

When I was stress-eating at night, I noticed I would get more anxious as my day went on. This was because of the pressure I would put on myself to try and be perfect. I also put too many responsibilities on myself and didn’t build in any time for me to relax, wind down, or feel balance with all of these responsibilities. By evening (when everyone was in bed, of course – no witnesses 😉 I would suddenly find myself binge-eating sugary treats, cookies, chocolate and more.

 

While I didn’t realize it at the time, I was binge-eating to comfort myself. I was doing it to manage my feelings of anxiety (although I wasn’t aware of my true reasons for doing this until years later).

 

Instead, I would call myself a sugar addict. Following the binges, I would start “Googling” diets or low-carb detoxes to rid sugar from my system.

Do you see what I did? Instead of managing my anxiety head-on, I shifted my focus off of those uncomfortable feelings and focused on what diet would “fix me.”  In addition, I blamed my problems on my weakness for sugar.

This whole process never allowed me to deal with the real issue at hand, which was the pressure I was putting on myself during the day. The problem was the anxiety I would feel, and the way I was managing my life. I didn’t want to acknowledge the real reasons why I would comfort myself with food.

 

How to Stop

We don’t stop emotional eating overnight. This is a process that takes baby steps, but the BIGGEST first step is just having awareness. Start to become aware of the times you overeat and begin to become a detective and discover if there’s an underlying cause behind it.

First, ask yourself, “Is there something else really going on here? Am I trying to soothe myself or avoid looking at something uncomfortable in my life right now?” 

Second, understand that while the emotional component may be strong for overeating, if you spent any time as a yo-yo dieter, deprivation is likely to blame as well.  If you are stress eating or struggling sugar cravings out of deprivation, work on adding satisfaction to your diet. Again, steps to fix this can be found in my blog post on satisfaction HERE.

Finally, remember that #TeamNoGuilt wins every time. Don’t beat yourself up if you suddenly find yourself binge-eating or struggling with sugar cravings. Instead, pause and reflect on why you may be doing it. If you are feeling stressed, what steps can you take the next day to lower stress levels? What feeling could you be ignoring that need attention?

It’s a process that takes time, but the pay off is worth it. We CAN feel balanced and in control around our food and manage sugar cravings for good.

❤️,
Barb