It’s been said that college is the best four (or more) years of your life. But Ithink you can admit college is definitely stressful. Between desperately trying to keepyour GPA up, being broke and maintaining asocial life, it’s no wonder there willbe many timesyouutter the words, “college sucks!” It’s normal to experience a range of emotions during low points in college from stress, anxiety, sadness, boredom and loneliness.
It’s during these low points that you can feel the strongest urge to indulge in stress eating.
After taking three exams, writing two papers, balancing a job and doing student orgs all in the same week, it’s okay to reward yourself for a job well done- (maybe not well, but at least it’s done). But when you automatically reach for the greasy pizza when you’re bored, a pint of ice cream when you’re sad and popcorn when you’re anxious, you might be using food as an unhealthy emotional coping mechanism.
What is stress eating?
Stress eating is when one turns to food to suppress negative emotions instead of satisfying physical hunger. It’s in an unhealthy cycle that never addresses the real problem. Your emotions trigger you to impulsively overeat, subsiding those negative feelings in the moment. But the emotions will return again, and quite often, you feel even worse. Whatever empty, emotional void you have, it can’t be filled with food.
There are a few differences between stress eating and physical hunger. Helpguide.org offers clues to tell the two apart. Stress eating…
- Craves specific foods. Let me tell you something, when you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good enough to eat. Hence the saying, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.” But stress eating usually craves the unhealthy foods- the fatty, sugary and salty foods. When you’re physically hungry, a healthy broccoli casserole will suffice. When you’re emotionally hungry, then damn it, somebody better find you the drenched-in-grease bacon cheeseburger or nothing else will do.
- Is mindless eating. Have you ever “read” a page in your $500 college textbook and have no idea what you just read? The last thing you remember is reading the first word on the page, but you really have no recollection of how you got to the bottom. Or maybe you went out for a fun night of partying, blacked out, but somehow made it back to your dorm safe and sound. That’s what stress eating is like. Before you even know it, you’ve stuffed your face with an entire box of pizza and didn’t even enjoy it. When you’re physically hungry, you usually can remember what you ate, when you ate it and how you felt when eating.
- Is not satisfying. When you eat in response to a physiological need, you’re satisfied when you’re full and have alittle foodbaby. If you are stress eating, you keep eating and eating, wanting more and more until you’re body physically can’t accept any more food. It’s like being drunk at a bar. One drink just isn’t satisfying. You need just one (or two or three or…) more drink to feel good, until you’re brain shuts offand you lose control of your body.
How to stop college stress eating.
- Look for alternatives to stress eating. In order to stop yourself from stress eating, you have to find other emotionally fulfilling things. When you feel like you’re dying inside, instead of reaching for the nearestsnack to suppress your emotions, distract yourself with a better alternative. For example, when you’re stressed, try mediating, listing to music, reading, journaling, deep breathing or other stress techniques. If you’re sad or lonely, seek out a friend or family member to make you feel better. Anxious? Go expend your pent up energy dancing/singing to your fave song in the mirror or run it out atthe gym. Basically, treat yo’ self… but not to food.
- Get rid of the temptation. See no evil, do no evil. Destroy that stash of comfort food in your dorm. If you’ve got a meal plan, don’t use your extra swipes or flex points to buy junk food from the markets. Instead, choose to buy healthy snacks. We know the words healthy and college don’t usually mix; but your body will thank you 20 years from now. This way, when you feel the urge to stress eat, you’ll have nothing but low-fat, low-calorie food options to satisfy the craving.
- Find a solid support system. With any mental health issue, it’s so important to have a good support network. Please don’t struggle alone. Turn to family members and friends for help. If you find that you feel powerless against stress eating, consider seeking professional help. Therapy can help diagnose as well as provide practical ways to stop stress eating.
Hey, we get it! College can be stressful as hell. If you're a college student struggling with stress eating, it is possible to make a change for the better starting now.