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Stress Eating? How Relationships, Stress, and the People Around us Contribute to Overeating

stress eating helpStruggle with emotional or stress eating despite taking a diet pill for appetite suppression? You’re not alone: stress eating or eating out of sadness, loneliness, or other “negative” emotion is a common and problematic behavior, one that often leads to weight gain and depression.

So how do you beat it? The most crucial factor is altering the trigger: we don’t emotionally eat for no reason at all- we eat to soothe something and the stress that accompanies it.

The stress can be small or large, chronic or short term. It can arise from trauma in the past, present, or anxiety about the future. It’s crucial that you find ways to confront and alter the cause of your stress- setting boundaries is a key part of breaking cycles of codependency that arise from dysfunctional personal relationships that may leave you feeling drained, defeated or powerless.

If you suspect you deal with stress or emotional eating, consider how the following causes may be affecting your ability to self-regulate. We also offer tips to change and manage triggers to create a healthier future, physically and emotionally.

Work Woes

Occupational stress is one of the most common causes of emotional eating: when you’re stressed out over a sky-high workload or irritated by inequitable treatment, it’s only natural to seek comfort through food.

Whether it’s a high workload, unhelpful coworkers, or overbearing boss is causing you stress, the best thing you can do is either change the environment (by finding a new job or department with a less stressful contentious atmosphere), or attempt to change the problem behavior by voicing your right to fair and equitable treatment.

While it can be difficult to voice dissatisfaction (especially to coworkers and superiors), doing so diplomatically can change a stressful environment for the better. Take a free moment (or else schedule one, if necessary) to discuss the origins of your discontent with the offending party- make the conversation as un-combative as possible by having genuine examples of unfair or harsh treatment. Make sure you make the emotional component about you, rather than the offending party.

For example, rather than saying “You make me feel like I don’t matter,” change the dialogue to state, “I often feel unappreciated and unacknowledged despite my hard work.” Or, instead of stating, “You give me too much work,” state that, “I want to do my best work and I feel like I have to sacrifice quality for quantity when the workload is as high as it has been.”

If your employer or coworker fails to accommodate you, it may be time to find another job.

Family Dysfunction

Family dysfunction is especially difficult to overcome because it’s so deeply seeded in our personal histories and views of ourselves in the world. Dysfunction with a parent, both parents, or a sibling can throw a wrench into our lives even long after you’ve found your way as an independent adult. Parents and siblings who fail to respect your personal space or boundaries by expressing criticism for or critiquing your life choices can cause stress, resentment, and a feeling of not being “enough”.

If you’re dealing with a stressful family member, the best route to take is abject honesty: tell them how your way of interacting with each other makes you feel, and how you’d like to see it change. Try to focus on the positive, especially if you want that person to remain in your life. Offer clear and abject examples of how you would like their behavior to change, what is acceptable, what is unacceptable, and why.

For example, rather than telling a racist relative that their jokes about your new boyfriend make you uncomfortable, clearly state, “It may not be your intent, but your jokes come off as racist and hurtful. Even if you don’t mean to, they make me uncomfortable, and I’m afraid that will hurt our relationship. These types of jokes (firm example) are unacceptable. Please leave race out of conversation or I won’t be able to be around you anymore.”

If your family member fails to accommodate your needs or respect your personal boundaries, it’s vital that there is a consequence for their behavior. Hold their feet to the fire- if you draw a line in the sand, you need to defend that line.

Using the previous example, if a relative repeatedly fails to respect the boundary of not making racist jokes, it’s essential that you avoid contact with that person. The period of no contact may be either short or long term, but it’s vital that the period of consequence causes them to alter their behavior. In many cases, the person will change their behavior. However, you should be prepared for some initial anger. Remember that you have the right to peace, space, and emotional boundaries.

Frazzled Friendships

Friends are the family we choose: when a friendship goes haywire, our chosen support system suffers a loss. While that loss may be only temporary or may be long-lasting, the loneliness that sets in after a fight, disagreement, or abandonment can cut deep.

If you can, repair the relationship by apologizing for any role you played in the falling out. If the falling out was due to the actions of the other party, it’s important that you discuss their actions without blame, lest you push them away. At the same time, it’s crucial that the offending party is made aware of the way in which they hurt you.

Voice your pain in as non-critical a manner as possible. Avoid name calling, sarcasm, or all-out blaming (“this is your fault”) in favor of a discussion of your feelings and why they were hurt, and how you can avoid the issue in the future. If the friend fails to meet you halfway, it’s time to cut ties.

In the meantime, find ways to find solace in remaining friends, family members, or coworkers to ease the loneliness that may otherwise have you reaching for unhealthy food. When you feel tempted, journal about your feelings and take time to reflect on the people who can and do support you.

If you find yourself at a loss, use your journaling time to brainstorm ways to meet new people and establish new, healthy friend groups. Joining an exercise class, book club, or taking a class at a community college can all lead to new friendships that serve you better.

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