It’s okay to have stress in your life. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine life with a modicum of stress. The idea is to keep it to a minimum and know how to handle it. Obviously, mindless eating is one way, but not an effective one. I often wonder how many of you don’t recognize the stressors in your life which affect your eating. Here are some.
Many of you focus on weight loss so fiercely that you stress yourself out by wanting to look at certain way or weigh a certain amount. What you likely don’t realize is that you are stressing yourself out by pursuing this goal and that this stress may be ruining the quality of your life—even if you do manage to lose weight or keep it off. I understand that you’re trying to feel better by finding a more comfortable weight, but my point is that the way you’re going about it—dieting, over-exercising, obsessing about your clothing size or the number on the scale, and feeling deep shame about your body, may be causing you more shame—and more stress.
Carrying around body shame is deleterious for your mental health. It makes you highly self-critical, keeps you comparing your body to that of others—real people and the images you see in the media—and maintains a focus on your perceived defects rather than on your strengths. Obsessions are generally unhealthy even if they start out being for a good cause, because we are constantly measuring ourselves against where we wish to be, rather than on changing ourselves in the present. And, make no mistake, stressing about not having the body you want will only make you miserable.
Another area of stress is work: discontent or dissatisfaction with your job on a day to day basis, difficult relationships with your colleagues, subordinates or boss, lack of autonomy over decisions, and a job that overshadows everything else in your life. Many people underestimate the toll that work stress takes on them or view it is a given and don’t try to improve their situations.
An equally pressing stress is family and friend relationships. Are your partner, mother, father or children abusive to or neglectful of you? Do you feel loved by them and treated well? I’ve seen many dysregulated eaters who had dysfunctional childhoods accept and feel helpless when others treat them poorly. They put up with far more abuse than mentally healthier people would, but it still takes its toll—and causes mindless eating.
If you’re living a highly stressed life and find it difficult to eat “normally,” think about the correlation between the two. You may not be able to have a better relationship with food until you reduce your life stressors. Your problem may not be so much with food as with the way you’re letting work, people, or your hoped for self-image ruin and rule your life.