The Health and Wellness Center hosted an informational workshop on October 16, 2019 about the effects that stress eating can have on your mental health and well being. With exams, presentations, and busy schedules taking up so much of a student’s life, it might be second nature to grab some good, sit down with your favorite show, and eat…. and eat… and eat some more.
Stress eating can happen to anybody and is one of the easiest ways to distract someone from all the chaos happening around you. It often starts with a craving, and before you know it, you’ve eaten a bag of chips, a leftover slice of pizza, and some cookies. And after all the food which you might not have registered eating, you might be left with feelings of guilt and regret.
“So, whatever emotions that are driving you to overeat, the result is going to be the same. The effect of that is temporary. Your emotions are going to return and you are likely, then, to have additional feelings of guilt,” said Judi Cruz, a Health Educator and speaker for the event.
According to the American Psychology Association, 50 percent of millennials report that they overeat because of stress which is more than any generation before them. Overeating can lead to obesity which is one of the leading causes of heart disease and other chronic diseases such as respiratory problems, hypertension, and, in some cases, cancer. Stress eating doesn’t just mean an increased intake of food.
“For me…its more of like, stress drinking. I get boba. I’m addicted. Whenever I have spare time or I’m thinking, ‘oh, I should treat myself or something,’ I go and get myself a boba,” said fourth-year, Victoria Joy.
These little allowances and self-prescribed rewards add up. They add up in calories and in dollars. The Wellness Center acknowledges that college students struggle with the stress of maintaining their grades, jobs, and relationships and offered these practices that anybody can try if they start to catch themselves turning food into an emotional outlet.
The most important thing to be aware of is staying mindful. Keep track of your actions and limit the activities that allow you to eat without thinking, whether that be watching television, studying, or browsing social media. Instead, focus on your food. Focus on the tastes. Then watch TV after you’ve finished. This will make it a little bit harder to lose track of how much you’ve eaten.
Be aware of what feelings you’re experiencing when you start reaching for food. Did you have a fight with your parents or significant other? Do you have an exam coming up? Is your work pressing you for hours that you can’t give? Take a moment and address these feelings. Then shift your behavior into something healthier.
“You either need to adjust something in the environment or develop some techniques,” said Cruz. According to Cruz, most of the time you’re not actually as hungry as you might think. So drink a glass of water instead. Take a walk. Watch a movie. After you’ve shifted your mind away from that immediate impulse to eat and you find yourself still hungry, then make yourself a healthy meal and reflect. Don’t force yourself to resist comfort food in your home.
“Let’s say I have a bad day at work or a rough day at school,” said Kristina Salcedo, a fourth-year student, “I have this In-N-Out right by the exit when I’m driving home, and like, I’ll do this a lot. When I have a rough day, and when I feel like I deserve it, I’m gonna go eat In-N-Out.”
For many students, having a meal at a restaurant or a venti drink at Starbucks is a form of reward. Which is why this last part is very important. DON’T deprive yourself completely. If you limit your craving the day you have it, you can let it sit. Once a month, find a day to give yourself that reward. Just take care that those rewards don’t become a daily part of your life.
“You’re gonna have that craving. It’s gonna get stronger. Give yourself that occasional treat,” advised Cruz, “We have enough people beating us up. We don’t need to do it to ourselves.”
If you struggle with stress eating in your life or need professional help, the Health Center is always willing to provide support and advice. If you experience food insecurity, you can visit the Den for a “Coyote Food Pack.”
For free nutrition counseling, make an appointment at the Student Health Center by email at [email protected] or call (909) 537-3452.