When Stress is Causing You to Overeat or Overdrink
In 2013 the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (CABA) reported survey results showing that around 30% of accountant participants admitted to a drinking problem. The key is the word “admitted”; if 30% admitted to having an issue, imagine how many were unwilling to.
Unfortunately this isn’t just an issue for accountants. In a 2016 study of lawyers, nearly 3 out of 4 participants reported problematic use of alcohol and drugs to cope with stress starting as early as law school.
It doesn’t matter whether you are an accountant, a lawyer or in any other field of work because stress, long working hours and imbalance between work life and family life can be a breeding ground for overusing things to cope. It could come in the form of sitting with a pint of ice cream once everyone’s gone to bed or needing that second glass of wine after dinner; the inability to handle stress has become a bigger issue than ever.
I am obviously not a medical doctor therefore if you are addicted to substances and need medical intervention then just know that there is no shame in seeking help. Your professional organizations and insurance carrier will be able to provide assistance in the form of connecting you to treatment and resources.
This blog however is for those of you who are using food and alcohol more often than you want and would like to better understand why you are doing that. If you have noticed that you deal with stress by numbing it out with food and alcohol then keep reading.
This week I’m going to discuss what contributes to you overeating or overdrinking and how to manage the desire to overeat or overdrink.
What contributes to you overeating or overdrinking
If this has been an issue for you for a while, you’ve probably heard people teach how to take different actions like cleaning out your refrigerator to have healthier food available or limiting the alcohol you have in the house so you’re less tempted. What’s not being discussed enough is the underlying reason why you have the desire to overeat or overdrink.
The truth is that humans use things like food, alcohol, gambling and spending to tune out of their current reality. When you are extremely stressed due to your work life or your personal life, the desire to feel better comes in the form of buffering to escape. Buffering is a term used to describe the actions taken to lessen the impact of your negative emotions.
The more stress you are under, the more interested you will be in that pint of ice cream or that bottle of wine to dull the negative feeling of stress. Trying to lessen the effects of stress with food and alcohol is like pinging your finger against a crystal glass – if the glass is empty the vibration is high and loud; if the glass is filled with liquid then the vibration is lower and duller. Filling yourself up with food, alcohol or other things is a coping mechanism to dull the vibration that stress creates in your body just like filling a crystal glass dulls the vibration in the glass.
Unfortunately the accounting profession is fertile ground for stress and the desire to numb out. You may be under enormous pressure at work and also have most of the people around you fostering that pressure with the belief that “It’s just part of the job”.
The interesting thing is that the net negative effect of overeating and overdrinking actually adds to your feeling of stress. Using food with flour and sugar to feel better has the net negative effect of weight gain and other health problems. Using alcohol to relieve stress may make you zone out of your present reality but makes you feel worse the next day.
The vicious cycle of stress inducing thoughts like “I can’t handle this workload” and “I hate this job” then often lead to overeating or overdrinking which creates even more stress, increasing the desire to overeat and overdrink. This loop of negative thoughts, feelings and actions goes on and on week after week until you feel like this is just the way your life is.
To break this cycle, you need to learn what to do instead of numbing your life. You need to understand how to manage your desire to overeat or overdrink by managing your emotions.
Managing the desire to overeat or overdrink
If you haven’t been able to reduce your level of stress and have been turning to food or alcohol to feel better, just know that there’s nothing wrong with you. Overeating and overdrinking is just what your primitive brain has been offering you as relief from the feeling of stress and overwhelm.
Most of us were never taught how to manage our emotions. When you add the easy accessibility to food and alcohol, the fast-paced “go, go, go” message you get from the world and your lack of understanding about how to manage your emotions, it’s no wonder you turn to things outside yourself to feel better.
There are two things that are important to address when you are trying to stop overeating and overdrinking:
- The thoughts creating the feeling of desire for food or alcohol
- The habit of turning to food and alcohol to relieve stress
In order to get clear about the thoughts creating the feeling of desire to overeat or overdrink you have to understand that external circumstances never cause your feelings. Your work load, your boss, your commute, your spouse; none of it creates how you feel.
When you have a desire to overeat or overdrink, that feeling of desire is caused by a thought. This often unconscious thought is about a circumstance in your life and that thought then creates a feeling of desire. The feeling of desire can be created by thoughts like:
- This was a crazy day and I can’t wait to get home and relax with a glass of wine
- My boss was so difficult today, I really need a drink
- With everything I do for everyone else, I deserve this bowl of ice cream
- I’ve earned this after the day I just had
- Screw it, who cares!
These thoughts are your “permission” thoughts. These are the thoughts that create the feeling of desire and make it easier to take action in the form of a big piece of chocolate cake or an extra few glasses of sangria.
By paying attention to your permission thoughts, you will be making those unconscious thoughts conscious. Before you change your behavior it’s important to just practice writing down what you think in overeating or overdrinking situations like when you stand in front of the refrigerator looking for something sweet or when you open that bottle of Chardonnay.
Just become curious about what you are thinking prior to overeating or overdrinking. By becoming aware of those thoughts you can understand where your desire to numb out is really coming from. Remember, it’s never the circumstance that is creating your feelings. It’s only ever your thoughts about the circumstance.
Now that you are becoming familiar with the thoughts creating the desire to overeat or overdrink, it’s time to get familiar with how the urge to overeat or overdrink feels in your body. Right now you have a thought, feeling, action pattern in your brain that goes like:
This deadline is driving me crazy = Urge = Eat the entire bag of potato chips while watching TV
This loop in your brain has been created by a desire and reward cycle. You’ve had habitual stressful thoughts, you’ve felt the urge to overeat or overdrink and you’ve answered the urge by eating or drinking in a way that doesn’t serve you.
In order to interrupt this pattern, you need to get comfortable with feeling the urge. This is different than resisting it; resisting actually keeps you stuck however allowing it without acting on it creates a new pattern in your brain.
When you allow an urge you give yourself the opportunity to become curious about it. You don’t fight with it or wish it away, you see it for what it is, just a feeling, and you become curious about the thought that created the feeling.
By choosing to be curious you can choose to understand it better and not take action just because the feeling is there. It becomes possible to have an urge, take no action like overeating or overdrinking and lessen the urge.
Interrupting the desire and reward cycle takes repetition in the form of unanswered urges. One of the fun things I learned in my membership with The Life Coach School is to use an urge jar. We were given blue glass beads that were to be put in a glass jar every time we had an urge and didn’t act upon it.
The act of putting a glass bead in the jar as well as the visual of the jar being filled was the new reward our brains were learning to accept. It was explained that once we had 100 unanswered urges it meant we had taught our brains the new pattern:
This deadline is driving me crazy = Urge = Put a bead in the jar
This new tool creates a new pathway in your brain where you show yourself that you can feel an urge for food or alcohol and not act on it. Now the net effect of stress is lessened because you are no longer adding the net negative effect of overeating or overdrinking.
If you’ve beaten yourself up in the past for overeating or overdrinking due to stress, you can now practice just being curious. Understanding the “permission thoughts”, allowing an urge and not acting on it as well as believing that it’s possible to change your old pattern is what makes it possible.
When stress is causing you to overeat or overdrink, learning how to manage your mind is the most powerful way to break the cycle. Understanding what’s creating the desire and how to not act on an urge puts you back in control of your emotional life and helps you to have a more enjoyable life.
- In 2013 the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (CABA) reported survey results showing that around 30% of accountant participants admitted to a drinking problem.
- It doesn’t matter whether you are an accountant, a lawyer or in any other field of work, stress, long working hours and imbalance between work life and family life can be a breeding ground for overusing things to cope.
- Filling yourself up with food, alcohol or other things is a coping mechanism to dull the vibration that stress creates in your body just like filling a crystal glass dulls the vibration in the glass.
- In order to get clear about the thoughts creating the feeling of desire to overeat or overdrink you have to understand that external circumstances never cause your feelings.
- Understanding the “permission thoughts”, allowing an urge and not acting on it as well as believing that it’s possible to change your old pattern is what makes it possible.
If you’d like some help with overeating or overdrinking due to stress, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at email@example.com and we can get to work together.