Many people recognize a tendency to eat when they’re stressed. Although eating is always an option (really!), here are five steps for what to do instead of stress eating. These steps help you figure out what is causing your stress and how to address your needs instead.
FEAST instead of stress eating
The five steps in FEAST are a helpful way to figure out what to do instead of stress eating. In my post, Stress Eating: Stress Management 101, I explored the first three steps: Focus, Explore, and Accept (or Allow). Here’s an overview of those steps.
Step 1: Focus
Instead of trying to escape what you’re experiencing, pause and take a few deep breaths. This will calm your nervous system and help you tune-in to the present moment.
Step 2: Explore
A Body-Mind-Heart Scan will help you identify clues about the symptoms and source of stress. Notice your physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions.
Some situations are universally stressful, such as the loss of a loved one or the risk of bodily harm, whereas others are uniquely stressful to the individual.
- Physical – Fatigue, illness, sleep deprivation, lack of physical activity, and poor nutrition, are stressful on your body and can leave you more susceptible to stress from other sources.
- Thoughts – The experience of stress often results from your perception and interpretation of life’s events. Most of these thoughts are about the past or the future – but the only thing you can control is what you focus on right now.
- Emotional – Emotions provide information about how to meet your needs. Practice noticing what you’re feeling without judging it.
Step 3: Accept (or Allow)
Respect your personal strengths and limitations and use self-compassion when you’re experiencing stress. When you accept the situation as it is in this moment and just allow it to be, you won’t compound the stress response by resisting it or overreacting to it.
When you view something as manageable or even tolerable, your body will remain alert but not alarmed.
With practice, the first three steps of FEAST – Focus, Explore, and Accept – will take the dis-stress out of many situations.
Instead of stress eating, do this instead
If you still feel like eating, add the last two steps of FEAST: Strategize and Take action.
Step 4: Strategize
After you have checked in and identified the likely cause(s) of stress eating, brainstorm ideas for what to do instead. (Here’s an example of how I handled a stressful situation.) Here are some strategies to get you started.
Put things in perspective
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop and ask yourself two questions:
- “What difference will this make one week, or even one year, from now?”
- “Is this really important to me?”
If the situation will have no long-term consequences and does not hold true importance in your life, it deserves less of your energy. If you realize you’re in an “over-reactive mode,” go back to the Focus step.
Take charge – if possible
If you notice that you’re feeling out of control (a common source of stress), ask yourself, “Can I change this? If so, how?”
If you can take some action to correct, improve, or remove yourself from a situation, your stress will be reduced considerably. However, when a situation is beyond your control, acknowledge it and go back to the “Accept” step.
Change your thoughts
As you explore the source of your stress, you’ll often discover that a thought was at the root. For example, the thought, “Nobody ever helps me around here,” can lead to feelings of frustration, self-pity, overwhelm, and stress. Changing the original thought to something positive – or even neutral – can lead to different feelings: “I will schedule a family meeting to discuss chores. In the meantime, I’m going to do the ones that I am responsible for.” You are more likely to feel calm when you are taking charge of the things that are within your control and letting go of the rest.
Acknowledge your power to choose
Recognize that you have choices about many of the circumstances in your life. For example, you can choose to change jobs, discontinue your involvement with certain people, or limit your activities. You also have choices about how you perceive and react to the circumstances, events, and people in your life. Empower yourself by acknowledging your ability to choose – even if your choice is to do nothing.
Step 5: Take Action
Take a baby step, even a micromovement, in the direction you want to go!
This article is updated from a previous version.
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