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Stress Management 102

By Michelle May, M.D.

In my last post in this series on triggers for overeating, I talked about the first three steps of FEAST for dealing with stress. Frankly, they are the most important steps: Self-CareFocus: Instead of trying to escape what you’re experiencing, pause and take a few deep breaths. Do a slow Body-Mind-Heart Scan. Explore: Some situations are universally stressful-the loss of a loved one or the risk of bodily harm-whereas others are uniquely stressful to the individual.

  • Physical – Fatigue, poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, and lack of physical activity 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 so practice noticing what you’re feeling without judging it.

Accept: Respect your personal strengths and limitations and use self-compassion when you’re experiencing stress. When you accept the situation (and yourself) 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. So with practice, the first three steps of FEAST – Focus, Explore, and Accept – will take the dis-stress out of most situations.

When needed, you can add the last two steps of FEAST: Strategize and Take action.


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 are 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 that 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.

Take Action

Take a baby step, even a micromovement, in the direction you want to go!


About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

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