For many of us, we eat when we’re stressed. Comfort eating is our guilty pleasure; a reward to get us through the day. But for others – particularly those recovering from eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia – eating itself can be stressful. For many, every mealtime brings on a wave of panic and nausea.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. Eating stress can be managed and controlled with a little bit of self-care and self-healing.
Stress from eating disorders isn’t always about the meal itself. Rather, intrusive thoughts begin to arise in the lull after a meal. Post-meal distress, as it is known, is an understudied phenomenon that accompanies many eating disorders. This sensation involves thoughts such as “feeling fat” or having a negative body image immediately following a meal. It’s believed that these thoughts arise from feelings of depression and guilt – as well as a fear of rapid weight gain.
So, how do we use self-care to tackle this feeling?
In one study published in Eating Disorders Review, participants were asked to engage in an activity after a meal. This included playing an online computer game or completing a general knowledge quiz. When asked how they felt later on, the participant reported diminished post-meal stress.
They weren’t cured. But it definitely helped.
Breathe and Relax
Eating disorders are diverse: not eating enough, purging after a meal, or binge-eating episodes. What links them is stress – caused by the hormone cortisol. Though there are very real social, environmental, and psychological aspects to eating disorders, cortisol is a prime candidate behind the stress felt at mealtimes.
Luckily, there are some simple techniques to reduce eating stress – and, by extension, cortisol.
- Meditation is now common, helping slow down breathing and establishing mindfulness in our eating and thinking patterns. Even just 10 minutes of meditation can calm your intrusive thoughts and foster self-care and self-healing.
- Yoga or tai chi are more active than meditation. Sometimes when we quieten our minds, intrusive thoughts can become a little stronger. Practising yoga is one way to counter this effect. It also strengthens your body, promoting a positive self-image.
In fact, according to a cross-sectional study, stress may be a key factor in the development of eating disorders. Managing chronic stress can, therefore, help reduce intrusive thoughts and help make eating less stressful.
Overcoming an eating disorder is no easy feat. It’s especially hard to manage the triggers that bombard us constantly throughout the day due to the fact we must eat to survive. Luckily though, with a few positive anxiety management exercises, you can make mealtimes less stressful so that you can enjoy the delicious and nourishing food in front of you.