5 doughnuts later, I'm ready to admit that I've got a problem
December 10, 2012 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Stress eating well on the way into binge eating. How do I stop it?!

So I eat crap when I'm stressed (mostly sweets, occasionally something salty/fatty like chips). Problem is, I work long hours in a high pressure high stress job these days. I also work in a hospital, an environment rich in calorific free food, so whenever I start to freak out, there's something for me to eat nearby. How can I stop this?
I already eat healthy meals and bring healthy snacks from home. It's just that I can suck down 10 or 15 cookies (or whatever) before I'm even really conscious that I'm doing it, and that's about half the total calories I should be eating for the day! Besides wearing a muzzle, what can I do?
posted by genmonster to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
When I go through "need to snack" phases, I keep a bag of prewashed sugar snap peas at my desk. They're crunchy and a little sweet, and the chewing mechanic is enough to mollify me, even if I'm not eating something awesome.
posted by homodachi at 3:26 PM on December 10, 2012

I chew a lot of gum when I'm stressed out. I try to stick to sugar free gum, but beware! That stuff can make you really gassy.

I also drink a lot of water and tea. I have to pee more than the average person, but the need to ingest something is taken care of and I'm not binging on crap.

Also: Zero tolerance for junk food. Do not eat one cookie. I find it's easier to avoid that stuff all together - I let myself have one or two starbursts if I'm really having a shitty day, and that's it. No one needs to eat candy.

I feel your pain. I work in TV, and the production office is full of junk food. Long hours+stress+easy access to free, junky food=trouble.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:30 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

One thing that I've done in the past to get a general awareness of my calorie intake (as things go down very easy and in large quantities at times) is to keep a calorie log, and have a rule that whenever I eat something (whatever it is), the calories have to be logged. When I've done this over a period of days, it's forced me to be very aware not only of what I'm eating and when, but how exactly those calories add up so that I can have a sense of it, and also an awareness of how I need to space food out during my day so as to not use all my calories up too early. It's a matter of changing eating from something that goes on mindlessly during the day to something I really am aware of and try to wrap my sense of perspective around.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:40 PM on December 10, 2012

Is there any way you can leave your money at home or in a hard-to-get-to place? If you don't have any change you can't use a vending machine, and if you don't have a debit card or a credit card, you can't buy any food.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:41 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I asked a similar question not too long ago. I find that I do well with healthy eating for the most part. When I'm under stress I too tend to overeat and binge.

Healthy snacks don't really work for me. Sure, I can bring an apple or nuts or other healthy snack to work but that doesn't work for me when there is other food readily available. I am a nurse and I remember the days where the lounge would be filled with free goodies from patients and doctors. I currently work in an outpatient setting and I have a patient who brings me a handful of Werther's Originals every day. I chomp about six or more every time I work. There is more candy and nuts in the office and I scarf those down too.

Here is what works for me on my best days:

I agree with ablazingsaddle. Do not have one piece of anything. I asked my coworkers to hide the Werther's. They remember most of the time.

Download MyFitnessPal onto your phone and access it on your computer. Record everything you eat. Even on bad days. Especially on bad days. When you record faithfully, you become more aware.

Ask coworkers to hide food. Stay out of the lounge and eat lunch outside or the cafeteria.

Every morning mentally go over your goals and strategies. Take it one day at a time. I lost 30 pounds by eating regular meals at regular times. I also had one or two healthy snacks in addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I stopped eating after dinner but this is not necessary if you want to save a healthy snack for the evening.

Several cookies is not a regular meal or a healthy snack. Regular meals at regular times was, and is, my mantra. The binge-eating prevention gurus also advocate regular meals at regular times. It's also a big no-no to skip meals. If you're feeling guilty about eating 15 cookies, you may skip dinner or breakfast the following morning, thinking this will negate some of the harm done. When you skip meals, you're setting yourself up for another binge. I did this for so many years until I finally woke up.

Exercise. When I'm exercising on a regular basis I find that I overeat and binge less.

Get enough sleep. When we're tired we tend to overeat and reach for carbs.
posted by Fairchild at 3:50 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

And when I said healthy snacks don't work for me, I meant to say healthy snacks don't work as substitute to junkfood that is out in the open when I'm stressed.

Healthy snacks absolutely work for me and when I'm in the zone, so to speak, I eat one or two healthy snacks a day (usually fruit or yogurt with fresh fruit).
posted by Fairchild at 4:04 PM on December 10, 2012

I work in a hospital too so I totally know what you mean about the snacks. What I find is that it is helpful to me to bring along or be able to access something that I personally really like, that is at least reasonable in terms of health. The sugar snap pea thing would never work for me, work is stressful and when people around me are eating doughnuts, I need something that works as a 'reward' and is actually substantial to eat, or I'll just eat the snack plus the doughnut too.

For me, this could include: a thing of fancy yogurt, a mini dark chocolate bar, apple with peanut butter or an applesauce with cinnamon, Clementine/orange. And some kind of delicious coffee with Splenda (I will also add full cream to this when I'm doing low carb diet and need something filling). I try to bring several of these sorts of things so that if I have downtime near dangerous snacks, I can keep eating these until some work thing comes up and I'm too busy to be snacking. I would also sometimes do berries, like blueberries and sliced strawberries, with the fancy yogurt and put a little agave nectar and maybe some whip cream on top so it's like a fancy dessert.

If you forgot to bring anything, hospitals almost always have graham crackers and peanut butter. And sometimes things like sugarfree pudding too.

I also find it helpful to tell the nurses about my diet to reinforce it to myself. If I tell them I can't eat a doughnut because I am on a low carb diet, then the fact that the food sits next to them protects me from eating it because I now have my pride to maintain by adhering to the diet...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:15 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I am successful at eating appropriately at work (which is not always!) I bring about 1 C of baby carrots, a small apple and a red bell pepper chopped into 1" pieces. These things are all sweet, crunchy and take a while to eat. The minute I get hungry/snacky, I break out the carrots. I have been known to buzz through all the carrots and most of the bell pepper by lunch on stressful days. And I bring a protein for lunch - lately it's been a lot of tofu which I simmer in curry sauce and then take out of the sauce, so that there's sauce clinging to the tofu but not tons of extra as it's a bit caloric.
posted by Frowner at 4:20 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, unfortunately I also think it's best to take the 'AA' approach (not to be flip on that front though) and just say 'not even one'. Once you eat one you already feel kinda shitty so what's another one or two. I work in a neighborhood with a dearth of good food so I either take power bars, and/or yogurt and/or basically just go hungry. That's bad advice but 5 donuts or 15 cookies us just going to make you feel bad- so is three. Just say no. Might as well be miserable and hungry rather than miserable, feeling guilty, gaining weight and still not feeling any better about anything! (Or you know, pack normal healthy food like you do and just really steel yourself against having sweets at work).
posted by bquarters at 4:39 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

What I used to do when I worked in TV and had the same Office Full of Snacks issue ablazingsaddle mentioned is bring healthy snacks that I really liked, but which were also time-consuming to eat. For me, this was grapefruit. I actually LOVE grapefruit, but I also have to: peel it, remove all the pith, AND sort of section it. So it takes forever. And it's really filling. By the time I did all that hoo-ha and ate the damn thing, the urge to snack had sort of passed.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:09 PM on December 10, 2012

The joy of low-carb is that when I feel stressed and want to really chow down--protein and high fat mean I don't eat very much before I'm full. I do miss salty, crunchy snacks, and pork rinds are just too gross for me. Jerky is okay, and celery stalks with cheese satisfy my crunch urge.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:13 PM on December 10, 2012

I have a solution you probably will not like, but it will probably work. Based on something I read about in the NY Times recently.

Take a picture of EVERYTHING you eat. (can just take a picture with your cell phone) EVERYTHING. Your description of sucking down 10-15 cookies without being conscious indicates that your habits might change considerably by simply FORCING yourself to be conscious. It does not take much effort to do this, it likely will help.

Of course if you are able to abstain completely, so much the better.

good luck
posted by jcworth at 6:59 PM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

I love the suggestions above for bringing 'treat' snacks from home. Don't even touch the work snacks.

I have a little container of roasted almonds with dark choc chips mixed in, or a super-fancy mini yoghurt, or strawberries, or a piece of homemade nutty banana bread, waiting at my desk. All that cheap sugary junk looks so much less appealing then. But it has to be an actual *treat*, which for me is not cut-up veggies (which is just what I have when I'm sitting around home trying to feel healthy).
posted by Salamander at 7:11 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I bought a ring I coveted and wear it on my pointer finger after first imbuing it with secret super powers... to assist me in mindfulness when eating. I see it every time I reach for food or lift hand to mouth. I am reminded that I only own it because I bought it as a promise to myself to "eat food - not too much - mostly plants" (to quote Michael Pollan) and do not otherwise merit it. I take it off when I go to sleep (done eating) and put it on in the morning (so it doesn't become invisible) as part of getting ready for the day. It helps.
posted by carmicha at 7:48 PM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

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