How can I stick to a diet when I’m so stressed?!

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I don’t know about you, but my 2021 is off to a pretty stressful start. The post-holiday season is usually a little stressful and depressing for me, but the events of the past week have had my head spinning. I can’t seem to stay away from the news or stop checking social media 10 times per day! On top of that, I have some personal stressors like getting ready for the new semester of nursing school, trying to get my son’s sleep schedule back on track, and managing our household. Needless to say, I’m a little stressed!

So far, this stress hasn’t caused too many problems for me, since I have learned some good coping mechanisms over the past several months. I’m still living alcohol-free and very happy to be waking up feeling physically healthy and mentally clear despite all the stress. However, I am really struggling with my diet at the moment. Food is something that I have used to deal with my emotions since childhood, and old habits die hard! For this reason, I thought it might be helpful for me, and possibly others as well, to write about strategies for overcoming emotional eating. Here are some strategies that I find helpful:

Play the tape forward. This is a wonderful tool that has helped me to avoid drinking for as long as I have. Basically, it is a way of being more mindful about giving into the impulse that you have to eat or drink. When I play the tape forward with drinking, I imagine how my night and the following day will play out if I drink. I’ll likely drink too much, wake up hungover, and waste the day feeling like crap. Likewise, if I give in to my urges to eat lots of unhealthy food, I’ll feel ashamed and physically uncomfortable, I’ll see a higher number on the scale in the morning, and I will have to make up for it the following day.

Track everything you eat. I find it much harder to overeat when I keep a running tally of the calories I have consumed so far. I try to track everything I eat as soon as possible after I eat it. This way, I always know how many calories I have to spare. If I don’t track my food, it’s way easier for me to give in to my urges because I convince myself that I haven’t actually eaten that much. But if I haven’t tracked my calories, who known how much I’ve actually eaten! It’s no wonder I gain weight when I don’t track what I eat.

Find a better way to manage stress. I used to cope with stress by opening a bottle of wine, but now I have much healthier stress relief techniques. My favorite ways to control stress include exercising, taking a bath or shower, baking, crocheting or knitting, playing video games, and drinking herbal tea. Other strategies can also be helpful to me, like deep breathing, yoga, and meditation. Find what works for you and do it when you’re feeling stressed. 

Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. I always find that I feel better after I talk to someone about how I am feeling. Call up a friend or family member to chat or talk with your significant other about what is stressing you out. I often find that I have multiple things that I am worried about at once, but after I say them out loud, I usually realize how ridiculous some of my worries are and I feel a lot better. If there’s something I’m worried about that is a serious problem, then talking about it also helps me to identify actionable ways of dealing with it. If I can’t talk with someone right away, I write about what’s bothering me. I also find writing therapeutic for working through emotions that I don’t feel comfortable talking with other people about.

Plan healthy, satisfying meals and snacks ahead of time. I often make a plan for what I will eat the night before so that I am not left to my own devices. I put my foods right into my meal tracker (My Fitness Pal) and that way I also know how many calories I will be using. This takes the guesswork out of choosing meals and snacks, so I am less likely to cheat or give in to a craving for something unhealthy. If this sounds too rigid to you, then you could also try making a list of diet-friendly options for yourself, such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, and then selecting what you want to eat from the list each day.

Stock your cupboards and fridge with healthy foods and eliminate temptation. If possible, clean out your fridge and cupboards before you start your diet to get rid of any junk food that might derail you. Then, stock up on healthy options. Try to avoid keeping anything in your household that is off-limits during your diet. If you live with other people, this can be a little tricky. I have a 3 year old and a husband who loathes most of the foods I like to eat when I am dieting. What I do to avoid temptation is reorganize. I keep my diet-friendly foods in a specific area of the fridge and pantry, and I try my best not to look at their food! This usually works out well for me. 

Know that it is okay to treat yourself now and then. Even when you’re dieting, you need an occasional treat. Just make sure that you plan for it! For example, I love Reese’s peanut butter cups and I have one daily with a cup of tea. This is basically non-negotiable, and that’s fine because I make sure that I save the calories for it. That’s not too hard because it’s only about 100 calories for one peanut butter cup. Yeah, it’s chock full of sugar, but the benefits of allowing myself this treat far outweigh the sugar! It helps me to feel more satisfied, so I can stick to my diet for a longer period of time, and it’s not so many calories that it will derail my progress.

I hope you found these suggestions helpful! I am going to keep chugging along despite the stress and hopefully I will have a good update on my diet progress soon. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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