Stress eating is a thing – and it’s related to how we mentally handle anxiety. Here’s a summary of what the psychologist did with his patient Johnny who was stress eating hot dogs:
I showed him some breathing techniques to help deactivate the sympathetic nervous system, which plays a strong role in producing the feeling one must urgently act on the impulse to overeat. I also helped him more specifically label his emotions so he might gain more of a sense of control. I also explained he might be approaching the entire issue with the wrong mindset.
It’s only when emotions are allowed to become actual behavior that damage to your health (over-eating) is done, and this only happens when some type of rational justification makes it “OK” to act against your previously best laid plans. It turns out that when you make a very specific rule to accomplish an important health goal, there’s almost always a voice of justification that occurs which rationalizes crossing the line you previously swore not to cross.
Turns out, these were the very specific thoughts and situations which were poking a hole in his resolve, justifying crossing the eating goals, and acting on the emotions in a negative way. To help arrest this behavior, I helped Johnny to label and very specifically dispute each one:
THOUGHT: “This is intolerable! I shouldn’t have to put up with people like this (usually his boss). The only way to cope is with more frankfurters.”
DISPUTATION: “Almost everyone has to swallow some difficult treatment from their superiors. Besides, frankfurters aren’t the only way to cope. I could work it off in the gym, go for a walk, do some breathing exercises, or just sit with the anger until it passes…which is almost always a lot quicker than I think it will be.”
At first, Johnny felt he couldn’t fight these thoughts even though he could identify them. So I had him carry around a little card with the specific disputations for each one, and I asked him to keep a little journal each morning where he wrote down any new rationalizations he felt brewing in his head. After a while, these thoughts lost their power, and Johnny indeed stuck with his three frankfurter rule.