Life’s definitely not all rainbows and butterflies. It can get rough out there. Many people come to rely on the quick release of dopamine that highly-processed, energy-dense food provides to “medicate” the stress away. As I’m sure many of you can attest to, rather than medicating, though… it’s really doing nothing more than kicking the proverbial can down the road.

If you find yourself in this camp of relying on highly palatable foods to manage your state, learning to insert some space between stress and impulsive eating can be such a meaningful skill to develop. It’s really the only way to tackle it since there’s no escaping stress.

Sure, you can minimize it. You can quit a stressful job. Remove stressful people from your life. Learn to meditate. On and on it goes… but it’d still be unrealistic to expect a complete eradication of stress from your life.

For me, my two main go to’s when the going gets tough are listening to music and walking in nature (which you’ll see is a recurring theme below). Another big one I lean on is laying in my hammock or sitting in my favorite chair outside, music playing, and staring up at the sky. I’ll note all the sights without judgment. The airplane. The hawk soaring by. The branches blowing in the breeze. The sound of the stream. I’ll center my mind on an appreciation for the connection I have to the universe around me.

I’ll progress to noticing the clouds. Clouds have an amazing ability to put me at peace. They roll across the sky so damn gently. I visualize my problems doing the same thing… gliding right on by. This helps to disconnect me from my problems. I am not my problems. I am me, and my problems, like clouds in the sky, aren’t permanent.

If I can find it within myself to hit that pause button and commit to one of these things… I can usually calm my nerves and change my state. It seems so dang simple… and I suppose it really is. But far too often for far too many… they never reach for one of these life lines. Instead, they surrender to the emotional tide and get swept away… only to “come to” after the fact as they aimlessly drift in a see of guilt and shame.

I recently asked people on the BI Change Community for their input about ways they’ve paused and soothed without food and here’s what they came up with.
  • “My Dre Beats headphones are my life. Being as they are noise canceling, it allows me to listen to my music to calm me down.”
  • “Sometimes, I just stare down at my hands, palms facing up. I don’t know why it works, but I think it takes me out of my head, where all my worries exist, and back to my body, which I tend to treat badly in times of distress. It makes me think of how my body has changed over my life. I can see the little veins under the smooth skin of my palms, and the calluses from lifting. It also makes me think of how wonderful my body is, designed and refined by nature over millions of years to produce such a functional living machine.”
  • “I go for long walks just to clear my mind. I’ve done this one for years, even when I was my heaviest. There is just something about walking that allows me to ground myself within minutes. Also…walking pass complete strangers and saying, “hello” or “good evening” helps to get my mood in check.”
  • “Coloring or something else to keep your hands occupied like knitting or crocheting”
  • “Having a private dance party”
  • “For me it’s walking… It gives me a chance to regroup myself. I think most times when I lose control of my eating…it’s because I’m frazzled, tired, emotional and maybe down. Walking helps me regain my focus.”
  • “Reading and walking for me”
  • “5-15 min. of de-cluttering, sweeping, dusting, vaccuuming…”
  • “Music is my savior! I love just walking and listening to a wide array on my playlists. I feel at this point I can overcome anything put in my path.”
  • “Take a bath”
  • “Going for a drive on back roads.”
  • “Call a friend or loved one.”
  • “Food prep- helps remind me of what my real goals are”
  • “Pampering: painting nails, face mask, leisurely shower”
  • “Fresh air and white noise. Sometimes I’ll get it through a walk, sometimes I’ll just sit on my front porch and listen to the leaves rustle. Sometimes it’s laying on my bed with the window open. Like the cloud analogy it helps me realize that the world moves regardless of if I do and that anything I’ve got going on can and will be changed if I choose to take action.”
  • “I spend some time with my horses or dogs. There is usually one of them who makes me laugh or at least smile pretty often.”
  • “Wind therapy with Dr. Harley” (Took me a minute to get this one. But I can relate with my Harley…err… I mean… mountain bike)
  • “Getting out in nature is a big one. Reading. Doing something with my son–that’s a twofer, as it both inserts an activity I love and is a reminder of the biggest reason I want to be healthy.”
  • “My go to has been either coloring or gaming.”
  • “Sometimes I’ll take a shower. Emerging in a good book, talking to a friend, getting a pedicure or manicure. I’ve recently starting adding monthly massages into my schedule.”

The more you practice the skill of intentionally soothing and self-care, the weaker the grip automaticity/impulsivity will have on you. You’ll realize that the seemingly powerful pull emotional eating had on you is really rather weak in the wake of intentional non-food soothing. A common thought is, “Wow, I really felt an intense craving to eat X but after that walk it’s completely gone. The shackles weren’t all that strong in hindsight.” The more you note these sorts of realizations, the more exciting and empowering this becomes.

Make no mistake about it… learning to create some space and change your state is a skill. A skill, I might add, that can be developed through practice. For the next couple of weeks, rather than walking the razor’s edge trying to avoid stress, how about committing to experiencing it as a natural part of life and responding to it with intention.

What should that intention look like?

Well, of course you can start by experimenting with any of the above non-food options.

You could even start smaller. As I’m fond of saying, there’s no “too small.”

How you’re currently managing stress is likely pretty automatic. So start by simply building in more awareness. Maybe start by noting what’s causing you stress. Log it in a journal. Do this for a week or two. Next you can start to identify what your immediate impulse is when stress hits. Do this for another week or two.

As your awareness grows, you can then start practicing some of the non-food soothers above.

Practice… that’s the key word. You’re not committing to anything but showing up and trying things that may or may not work for you. If they don’t work, that’s a-ok. You’re just learning to become a better stress manager one little experiment at a time.

If you have non-food soothers that aren’t listed above, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. I’ll update this list with any suggestions that come across.

Thanks for tuning in!