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The Key to Quit Stress Eating: Stop Buffering and Start Questioning

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

A woman throwing a hat.

What is buffering?

Buffering in the context of stress eating means using food to numb or avoid the negative feeling of stress. Food provides a temporary feeling of comfort and relief, but it does not address the underlying emotion.

For those of us who are familiar with stress eating, food feels like a drug. When stress hits, eating becomes the automatic response. You find yourself rummaging through the pantry, or coasting past the drive-thru window before you even know what’s happening. It’s as if you’re on auto pilot, asleep at the wheel. The initial high from eating lasts a few minutes before wearing off. Then you’re left staring at an empty package of Oreo’s feeling discouraged and disappointed that it happened again, frustrated with the lack of self-control.

What makes matters worse is that stress eating doesn’t actually help to reduce stress. Food only stuffs the feeling down until next time. That's how stress eating becomes a repetitive cycle that feels impossible to break. The cycle strengthens over time and can last for decades.

Seeing the pattern is the first step to changing it.

The next time you have a bad day at work; when you can’t keep up with all the demands; when overwhelm kicks in….

Stop buffering with food and start asking questions:

  1. Am I physically hungry?

  2. Do I want to eat this?

  3. Will food/eating help?

  4. How will I feel after eating this?

Breathe. Pause. Answer.

Then, consider some non-food alternatives that can offer comfort in the moment. It’s important to find activities you enjoy that help you relax and de-stress.

Here are some examples that helped me:

  • Go for a walk

  • Journal in a notebook

  • Listen to a favorite song

  • Talk it out to yourself or a loved one

  • Punch a pillow (I’m not kidding… it works)

Be sure to celebrate the wins, no matter how small they seem. For example, every time you’re able to resist the urge to stress eat is a win! Celebrating with non-food rewards helps to stay determined and to keep going. This is the key to quit stress eating.

Most importantly, quit beating yourself up when you stress eat. Accept that it's probably going to happen again. You’re learning to change an old habit. This will take time, and being harsh with yourself only leads to more of the same behavior.

When it does happen.... move on. Try again next time. Be kinder to yourself. This will go a long way to overcoming the habit.

Remember, you’re not alone. Millions of people struggle with stress eating. It’s possible to break the habit and take back your power from food. Get started this week by asking and answering the questions above and notice if anything feels different. Reach out here and let me know how it goes. I'm cheering for you.



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