I’ll never forget the friend who was a perfect size 6.
I thought she’d always been that size, until one day she let slip that she had her ex-boyfriend to thank.
He was the love of her life. They’d been together for years. His mother loved her. Everyone expected they’d get married.
Then he dumped her. And took up with another girl.
She stopped eating. She lost two dress sizes—and kept them off.
Who needs diets when you have heartbreak?
Not everyone loses a dress size when stressed.
And maybe you’re one of them.
Maybe you’re scowling at this story, thinking, “Some people have all the luck. Why couldn’t that happen to me?”
Well, I’ve got a few ideas.
It turns out that undereating in response to stress is just as common as overeating. But few people consider that a problem in today’s waistline-obsessed world, so you don’t hear as much about it.
When stress activates the fight-or-flight response, stress hormones suppress appetite and slow down digestion. If you try to eat, food just sits in your stomach. You start to avoid food, because you know it will make you sick.
But you may not even notice your body wanting less food.
That’s because the stress has taken over.
You’re in pain. You want that pain to stop.
So you reach for something that will stop it.
And what has always been there for you in time of trouble?
Is it vegetables? Fruit?
Ha, who am I kidding?
We love you, Ice Cream. We adore you, Mac n Cheese! Where are you, Margaritas?
When you’re stressed, foods high in sugar and fat just taste better.
But here’s the twist…
Those foods don’t ACTUALLY taste as good as they normally would.
Eat a bowl of your favorite ice cream when you’re sad and stressed, and it won’t satisfy as much as it would have if you were happy and at ease.
You’re trying to make yourself feel better by giving yourself a little reward—of the kind you’d normally deny yourself—but it’s not as enjoyable as it should be. You’re straight back to feeling unhappy again.
Stress eating is a habit. It’s driven by the mind, not the stomach. You do it to cope emotionally.
But rewarding yourself with food doesn’t change how you feel. Once the food is eaten, the problem is still there. And now you’re feeling worse about yourself, because food eaten while stressed tends to go straight to your thighs.
Interestingly, at least one study has found that happiness makes you overeat more than stress.
A stressed person eats because they’re hungry, the study found. A happy person eats because everything tastes so delicious.
I’ll never forget how tight my jeans got after moving in with the man I loved. I just wanted to curl up and stay in and devour wonderful meals.
And I’m not the only one. Newlyweds tend to gain about 5 lbs in the six months after marriage. Has love ever put the pounds on you?
So how can you stop eating food you don’t want to eat—food that doesn’t really even taste very good—just because you’re stressed?
It starts with realizing why you’re eating.
You’re eating to feel better.
Is it working for you?
Or is it just providing a short-lived distraction from the pain?
Instead of getting angry at yourself for overeating and having no willpower, forget the food. Work on the stress.
Can you find other ways to cope emotionally with everything that’s going on?
Exercise is really great. When I’m overwhelmed, I run away. Literally. I go outside and channel all that anger and frustration and resentment into pounding the pavement.
Dancing might work better for you. Or hot yoga. Or hot tubs.
Ongoing stress management can also help you lose weight. When you build relaxation and relief into your daily schedule, you don’t feel as stressed. (My book THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE has some cool ideas on how to do that.) And when you don’t feel as stressed, your cravings aren’t as strong. Plus, your food digests better.
You just need to take really good care of yourself.
Of course you reach for sweets when your life lacks sweetness.
You’re trying to give yourself the pleasure and enjoyment you’re lacking at the moment.
But is there another way of nurturing yourself?
Is there another way you could reconnect with your joy? Something that could remind you that this, too, shall pass?
Just don’t get TOO happy. 😉 Everything tastes extra-delicious when life is good.