Do you want to learn how to stop stress eating but find it just too hard to avoid using food to cope? Find out about crushing anxiety with these tips and alternatives that’ll help you break the harmful cycle that interferes with your health and weight loss goals.
We call it the “Salad Dressing Incident of 2009.” One evening as I was setting the table, I saw my husband looking through the refrigerator pretty intently. He then made his way to the pantry when he asked a question that was about ready to deflate my soul.
“Do we have any French salad dressing?” he pleasantly inquired.
Salad dressing is a pretty non-emotional topic, but in my head, I heard him asking if I had let him down. I felt like a complete and total failure at that moment.
What followed were weekly shopping trips where I always picked up an extra bottle of that burnt orange dressing “just to be safe.” We ended up with such a ridiculous stockpile of this salad sweetener, we stocked our local food pantry with French dressing too.
Can you relate? I am a recovered worrier. I was born with a talent to turn the smallest of tasks or mistakes into a near effort for world peace. Truly, it was quite remarkable.
So much of my life was spent twisted up in knots of soul-crushing anxiety. This only left me depressed because of how incapable I thought I was of doing anything “right.”
And, I turned to food to manage my mental mayhem and cried that “I can’t stop overeating.” Because, at least for a moment when I ate, I could escape the burden of my own tornado of negative thoughts.
During my battle with postpartum depression and anxiety (see the story here, scroll) I uncovered tools to help me reach a place of freedom. One of the most powerful was one I call the Crushing Anxiety List and it’s what I am going to share with you here.
3 Steps to End Stress Eating by Crusting Anxiety
You can download a free Crushing Anxiety List worksheet or simply use a piece of paper with a line drawn down the middle.
1. Determine WHY You’re Emotional Eating
What is it that plagues you? It may seem the root of your problem is the desire to stress eat. But, I propose that there is a driver beneath those cravings.
Pause for a moment and pay attention to the thoughts that run continuously in your mind (we have about 50,000-70,000 a day!):
- What worries make your stomach churn?
- Which anxieties make your heart race?
- What thoughts run through your mind as you lay in bed at night?
These are the deeper source of your unhappiness and what ultimately causes you to look through the pantry like a mom who’s running late and lost her keys.
WHAT TO DO:
You’ll want to add these worries and anxieties to the “problem” column on your Crushing Anxiety List.
2. Stop Stress Eating by Being Certain
Our brains love certainty. Certainties in our lives are things we can 100% count on.
For example, how wonderful does it feel to know you are loved by a spouse or parent? How assuring is it to know that every Friday your paycheck will be deposited?
When things are certain, our brains don’t have to go into protective mode– they can simply rest.
Anxiety is caused by thoughts that have no place to land. As a bird flies over the vast waters, they have no choice but to keep going until there is a resting place.
As you look over your Anxiety List so far, how can you infuse certaintiy in to those worries.
Even in an ever-changing, unstable world, there are still facts that can grant us peace such as the assurance of God’s love, our family’s support, and our history of resilience.
What to Do:
Add any certainties to you right-hand side of your Crushing Anxiety Worksheet.
3. Find Your “Solution” to Stress Eating
One way to manage and even CRUSH anxiety is to give those anxious thoughts a place to settle down. A solution per se. But, don’t sweat it, you don’t have to actually solve the problem to find relief.
With the Crushing Anxiety List, you take a moment each day to identify those things that bother you (even if you’re not quite sure what it is) and offer your brain a landing point/solution.
For example, after the birth of our daughter, I had a tremendous amount of anxiety over how to feed her. I was on medication for insomnia that piggybacked on my postpartum. And, it threw a real wrench into my breastfeeding plans.
With the Crushing Anxiety List, I would write down this concern each day it loomed and offer my brain a solution– I was going to exclusively pump until the baby was 6 months old and then reevaluate. When 6 months arrived, I set a new goal.
Another example is a worrisome health concern that runs like a broken record in our brains. Rather than ruminating on this concern (because we know how helpful that is), I created solutions on my list:
- Make an appointment.
- Talk to my doctor about the concern at the appointment.
Having the plan gave peace. Until then, there was no purpose or need to worry.
Use Your Faith to Crush Anxiety
Now, if you are a Christian like I am, this list has an easy first solution to every problem: Giving your cares to God.
Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 ESV
We believers may know this solution, but it’s not always easy to live out.
This is a physical exercise that can help us spiritually walk on in faith. While it is still helpful to consider action steps, we can package those action steps in God’s care and provision… because that’s where the real help lies.
The Best Time to Crush Anxiety
So this part will probably surprise you— I chose to write my list each day after lunch. I find this to be the ideal time. It gave me plenty of time to worry about my concerns and plenty of time to relax from them.
Now it may seem ideal to move writing our daily list to earlier in the day…the less time to worry, the better. But then we’re missing out on a key component– contrasting.
“Life is so ironic. It takes sadness to know happiness, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence.” -unknown
When we’re able to see how truly painful it is to be in the throes of anxiety, it makes it worth the effort to alleviate it. When we see that we do in fact have a choice, we can choose.
If we don’t know and can’t see this, it’s a lot harder to choose peace.
The Crushing Anxiety Sample Sheet
Here I will break down what the Crushing Anxiety List can look like in real life.
As I mentioned above, we’re looking for solutions. But, these so-called solutions don’t have to solve anything other than your anxiety. Got it?
Say you have a concern that you have no clue how to address, and thinking won’t get you closer to your desired outcome.
In this case, you may simply note that you choose not to think about this particular concern until tomorrow, next week, or ideally a day in the future where you can actually do something about it.
Makes sense, right?
Below, I’ll share a few examples to get you started.
Of course, if you’re a Christian, turning these problems over to God will be your best solution. However, I’ve kept these ideas super-practical to give you some food for thought.
|Will I get into the college I want?||If I do not receive notification by the promised date, I will reach out to the college. Until then, I choose to not stress about it.|
|There is so much housework to do, how will I get it done?||I will set a timer for 15 minutes this afternoon to clean. Then, I’ll ask my husband to run the vacuum when he gets home.|
|How will I pay for an unexpected car repair?||I will wisely allocate my finances as best I can (may list details). Then, I’ll ask my boss if I can get in a few extra hours this week. I will set this worry aside until 3 days before my house payment is due.|
|What will I do about a relationship problem?||I will reach out to this person and apologize for any part I may have played. Then I’ll share my feelings and then let go of the outcome because I have done my part.|
As you can see, a large part of this is learning what we can control and can’t control. Often there is absolutely NO good that our anxious thoughts accomplish. What a waste!
I’ve spent countless hours tied up in knots over things my best efforts couldn’t budge a gnat’s eyelash. I’m grateful that now I see a better way.
I can truly cast my cares on the Lord as I trust in His love and care. And while anxious thoughts still pop up, my tolerance for them has lessened. I refuse to lose days, weeks, and even months mulling over worries that just make me want to eat.
Choose joy. Choose peace in YOUR world. Decide not to let circumstances steal irreplaceable hours and minutes from you.
There is a better way and this action plan can help you get started too.
Try This to Stop Stress Eating
- Download your Crushing Anxiety List Worksheet HERE and print out 5 copies.
- Choose a time each day to write your Crushing Anxiety List. Set an alarm on your phone or place an appointment on your calendar. You don’t need long, just 5 minutes will do.
- At your scheduled time, jot down any stressors you have experienced throughout the day (you may also do this as they come up).
- After each of your anxieties listed, note a solution or certainty. Remember– even “I’ll think about it in the morning” is acceptable.
- As these anxieties pop up in your day, assure yourself you’ve already chosen a solution and there’s no further need to think about it. You may want to review your list.
- If a new anxiety pops up, pull out your list and draft a new solution. You can be proactive with this. Do not let worries steal your joy!
- Continue this practice for at least 30 days and then reevaluate. I no longer use this tool at a set time. I’ve trained my brain to look for solutions on the fly. Booyah! But, I do pull it out on days that are rocky.
- Finally, if you need help with an anxious thought, feel free to comment below. I’d be happy to chime in with some ideas that may spur you onto your solution.
Brandice Lardner is a Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, Author, and Jesus Girl whose mission in life is to help women ditch the diet mentality and find peace with food and their bodies so that they are better equipped to do the great things God has called them to do.