Have you ever found yourself stress eating and mindlessly scoffing a pack of biscuits, crisps or a glass of wine (maybe even the bottle) after a stressful day at work?
It’s very common with the pressures of managing a team, in back-to-back meetings all day and always being in the firing line.
Add to that the stress of family life and it’s no surprise many women find that by the time they’re home in the evening they just seem to gravitate towards unhealthy snack food and alcohol, despite knowing it’s not doing them any favours.
For women under 40, some may be able to get away with this, but natural changes to hormones that occur as people reach their 40s and 50s mean that this stress eating can quickly pile on the pounds.
Nice clothes that used to fit can quickly become impossible to wear comfortably and get left to gather dust in the wardrobe, and switched for clothes that hide the problem areas best. It’s not a nice situation to be in!
The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way! It is possible to overcome stress eating.
Here’s 7 proven strategies that we use with our clients inside our Fit Over 40 programme to overcome stress eating:
Tip 1: Follow a flexible approach that can fit around a hectic life
For people with a busy carer, then a cookie-cutter approach simply won’t cut it (excuse the pun!).
Spending two hours going to a slimming club meeting every week just to get weighted when that’s all the free time you have to work on your fitness for the week, then clearly that’s very unproductive.
The same goes for attending generic gym classes that can work well for those in their 20s and 30s with low stress. For someone who’s in their 40s or 50s with vastly different hormones and extremely high stress levels, these are often ineffective and again mean a lot of time invested for very little return.
Finally, a rigid and strict diet that only works when you spend every evening and weekend batch cooking complicated meals is generally only sustainable for a short period of time. When work gets busy, a meal out crops up or something goes wrong then the strict diet goes out the window and so too does any hope of results.
Following these strict, inflexible and generic approaches is like trying to chop down a massive tree using an old blunt axe. Sure it is possible, but it will take forever and be absolutely exhausting to the point most people give up.
But what if you could use a chainsaw and chop the tree down in a matter of minutes?
For someone with a hectic career and family life what works much better is to focus on things that are flexible, quick and highly effective.
Generally our clients find exercising from home is much quicker and easier to fit into a busy schedule, and for women over 40 low impact weight training is FAR more effective at shifting the pounds for good than any other form of exercise.
Plus doing exercise that can be done whilst travelling even in the confines of a hotel room means that it can be adhered to no matter what.
The same goes for nutrition. Flexible is best.
We help our clients to eat the foods they like with a combination of cooking quick, easy meals (without any weird ingredients) and grabbing food on the go. They can even eat out at restaurants and make it work.
If you want to see the kind of results we get with our clients, Click Here.
Tip 2: Eat proper meals, and eat them regularly
It can seem really efficient to skip meals, especially for busy professionals with stressful jobs.
Not only are you eating less, which means you’re more likely to lose weight, but you’re also saving time so you can get more done, right?
Skipping meals leads to a massive dip in blood sugar levels.
For people under 40, they may be able to get away with this when youth is on their side, but for those 40+ with changing hormones this is a disaster waiting to happen.
This massive dip in blood sugar levels leads to massive cravings later in the day.
Ever come in from a stressful day at work absolutely ravenous only to eat everything in site without even thinking twice about it? That’s the body crying out for food due to low blood sugar levels.
It’s very easy to consume far more calories in one quick binge like this than would be found in a healthy meal, plus it won’t be very filling if it’s from unhealthy snack food like chocolate, biscuits or crisps.
Consuming these snack foods when hungry is like pouring petrol on a bonfire. It will give you a burst of energy, but only for a very short time, then you’ll be hungry again and want to eat more.
What works much better is to have 2-3 balanced meals a day, containing all the right nutrients – slow digesting carbohydrates, plenty of protein and fibre, plus some healthy fats.
This is like putting a big log on a fire. It will take a little longer to get going, but it will provide a steady output of energy for hours afterwards, meaning you’ll feel satisfied and curb your cravings.
In our experience, this leads to consuming a lot less throughout the day, plus much better energy levels boosts productivity at work meaning shorter work hours as a bonus!
Tip 3: Manage your hormones to mitigate stress eating
Often stress eating can be triggered by hormones – the chemical signals in your body that have a big impact on how you feel and behave.
For those over 40 it can feel like their hormones are out of control, but there are a lot of things that can be done to optimise hormone levels, even during peri-menopause and menopause, that most people are not doing.
Diet, sleep, exercise, environment, stress levels, alcohol and medication also affects your hormones.
So what you eat and drink, how active you are, how you manage your stress and many other aspects of your lifestyle are also very important, and these are all things you can control.
In our experience, some of the weight gain women over 40 encounter comes from a shift in lifestyle.
More time being sedentary at work and less exercise, all whilst eating the same diet (often with a bit more wine and chocolate thrown in to deal with all the stress), can easily lead to the weight piling on and gaining 1-2 dress sizes.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way…
Making some simple lifestyle changes such as sleeping better, cutting back on alcohol, making better food choices or managing stress better using mindset tools can all have a big impact on hormone levels, reducing cravings and making stress eating much less likely.
Because this is such a complex area we’re going to go through how to make each of these lifestyle changes in more detail in the next next 4 tips…
Tip 4: Improve both sleep quality and quantity
Sleep is often missed as a contributor to stress eating and weight gain in general.
Limiting sleep to 5-6 hours a night (or less) can seem like a good way to get more done in today’s high pressure society where we’re constantly striving for more.
However, there is a cost to this that often goes unnoticed.
You see, sleep has a profound effect on your hunger hormones Leptin and Ghrelin which control your cravings.
Leptin signals a sense of feeling full. When leptin levels are high you don’t feel like eating.
Ghrelin has the opposite effect and triggers a strong feeling of hunger. When ghrelin levels are increased, so does your desire to eat. It’s like a voice inside saying “I need to eat! I’m hungry!”
Lack of sleep disrupts both Leptin and Ghrelin levels. Ghrelin levels rise, meaning people in this situation feel hungry 24/7, and Leptin levels drop, meaning they don’t feel full even if they’re constantly eating.
So add these effects of lack of sleep to the pressures that comes with a high-powered job and it’s easy to see how it leads to stress eating and weight gain.
In fact, in a series of studies by Dr Eve Van Cauter at the University of Chicago, it was found that people sleeping 4-5 hours a night for 5 nights in a row ate on average 300 calories more a day than those sleeping 8-9 hours a night!
Even factoring in a month off a year for holidays where sleep is back to healthy levels, this would still mean that the average person would gain 10-15lbs of weight every year!
There are lots of things we do with our clients to improve sleep, but the most simple steps are to get to bed earlier, exercise regularly so you’re tired and sleep better and cut out caffeine and alcohol as these disrupt sleep.
Note: If you struggle with sleep due to Menopause you can find out how to minimise sleep disruption in our article on Menopause Weight Loss
Tip 5: Avoid alcohol in the week (and manage it at the weekends)
As most people know all too well, alcohol lowers our inhibitions meaning we’re less likely to act rationally and more likely to make spontaneous decisions that aren’t always the best for us long-term.
This includes how we act when it comes to food.
That family-sized pack of crisps that we could resist when stone cold sober suddenly becomes a GREAT idea, and before we know it not only have we had hundreds of calories of alcohol, but we’ve had 1000 calories of junk food on top of it – a surefire way to undo all your hard work eating well and exercising that week.
What’s more, alcohol has a detrimental effect on our sleep.
Even if it means you get off to sleep quicker, sleep quality is significantly worse, meaning we wake up poorly rested.
We already covered the effects of lack of sleep earlier in this article – uncontrollable cravings and not feeling full even if you eat loads due to messed up hormone levels. This makes it much more likely you’ll stress eat the next day after drinking.
Finally, even a mild hangover the next day means you’ll be cravings saltier high-calorie foods, which combined with stress makes it even harder than normal to exercise willpower and make good decisions.
What’s more, using alcohol to deal with stress can quickly become a crutch. Whilst it can numb the stressful feelings temporarily it makes it MUCH harder to avoid stress eating.
In our experience, what works much better is to use mindset tools to manage stress so you don’t have to turn to food and drink to deal with the stress…
Tip 6: Use mindset tools to change the way you deal with stress
Most people are poorly equipped to deal with stress, despite having stressful high-pressure jobs.
The general attitude is to “just get on with it” and hope that the stress doesn’t lead to total burnout.
But even if it doesn’t lead to burnout, the stress can take a big toll when it leads to out of control eating and drinking and the weight gain and health risks that come from that.
The good news is that there are a number of tools anyone can use to manage stress in a better way.
Three such tools are:
- Thought questioning exercises
Meditation helps to “widen the gap” between something stressful happening and you reacting to it.
For most people this gap becomes so small that when something stressful happens they immediately react without thinking.
If you’ve ever found yourself hoovering up all the snacks in sight as soon as you’ve got home from a stressful day of work you’ll know what this feels like.
Meditation will buy you the headspace to think before acting, and that can make all the difference in making better decisions both with food and at work.
There’s lots of free apps available with guided meditation that is easy to follow for beginners – these include:
Journalling and thought questioning exercises can help you to turnaround unhelpful thinking patterns that lead to stress eating and self-sabotage.
For example, if you’ve ever had a stressful day and made a poor food choice and then thought “F**k it, I’ve ruined it now so I may as well eat whatever I want,” then ended up spending the rest of the week eating junk and undoing all your hard work then these tools are the quickest way for you to overcome this vicious cycle of self-sabotage.
However, it can still be tricky if you have bad habits with food…
Tip 7: Curb cravings that lead to stress eating by doing a “Diet Makeover”
Habit is a powerful thing.
If every time you get stressed you turn to sugary or unhealthy snack food like chocolate, biscuits or crisps this can become deeply ingrained as a habit.
It creates what’s called a habit loop and once it’s become embedded you don’t even have to think about it and you’ll be off buying and eating junk food every time you get stressed.
The good news is habits can be broken.
In our experience, this must be done with a full dietary “reset”. Just trying to eat in moderation when you’ve got deeply ingrained bad habits is virtually impossible.
When it’s a habit cravings are out of control and one of two chucks of chocolate will always become the whole bar, and the stress eating cycle continues.
What works much better is to eliminate any food groups that are easy to stress eat for a short period of time – typically 7-14 days.
Common problem food groups are the WADS foods:
We eliminate these 4 food groups with our clients for 1-2 weeks with a process called the Diet Makeover.
Our members regularly report their cravings are massively reduced and their stress eating habit eliminated, making it much easier to make good decisions going forwards.
Stress eating is a complex issue that can be caused by a number of reasons:
- Skipping meals
- Poor sleep
- Changing hormones
- Food choices
- Restrictive diets
For this reason a full lifestyle change is required to overcome stress eating for good.
The tips in this article outline the steps to take to overcome it, but it can seem like a lot of steps to take on your own.
Want more help?
Our area of expertise is helping high-achieving woman to overcome everything that’s stopping them being able to lose weight as they’ve got older and as their bodies and lifestyles have changed.
We typically work with women who have tried lots of different diets, slimming clubs, shakes and exercises classes in the past but they’ve not been able to see or maintain their results as they’ve got older.
Inside our Fit Over 40 programme we help women over 40 to get back into healthy eating and exercise habits that fit around their lives and support the changes happening to their bodies.
The aim is for our clients to get to their ideal weight and size in 12 weeks, or be well on their way towards it, but be in a position where they feel quite confident they could maintain that long term.
It’s kind of like having a personal trainer, nutrition coach and mindset coach on board to take all of the stress and uncertainty out of the process.
If you want to find out more about how you can lose 1-2 stone and 1-2 dress sizes in 84 days or less, without having to give up wine or chocolate, click on the button below and we’ll send you all the details: