Are your stress-relievers adding to your stress?

Raise your hand if you eat chocolate when you are stressed.

Raise your hand if you ever have days in which you just have to have a glass of wine, because hell, for the day you just got through, you deserve it!

Okay, now raise your hand if thoughts of tackling a huge upcoming project at work send your heart rate up and your hands to your cupboards, mindlessly rifling through for snacks? Or if fighting with your parents leaves you so aggravated that you scrounge up those chips that you SWORE you were going to throw away, but just couldn’t bring yourself to do it (because it’s not a big deal, you don’t even really like chips anyway….and yet here you are, eating them by the handful, straight out of the bag).

You are not alone!

You are not alone!

photo credit: <a href=””>Locator</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

If you were able to look around a little bit, you’d know that you are NOT alone. According to the APA (as cited in The Willpower Instinct), most people report “eating” as a way to relieve stress (along with using Facebook, drinking, and shopping). Yet most people also note that their chosen stress reliever is generally NOT EFFECTIVE. While we may rationalize in the moment that a little food helps us get through our toughest times, I’d argue that for many of us, we are just setting ourselves up for additional stress, future cravings, or possible addiction.

Adding Guilt to your Stress

Especially if fat loss or weight loss is the goal, choosing food as our means for decompressing often leads to the experience of MORE stress than before. If you’ve learned to rely on the comforting effect of food (which is a very powerful and real thing!), you know that it can often be a major reason that contributes to weight gain in the first place. For example, when I was wronged by a guy in college, my best friend immediately put me in her car and drove me to the nearest gelato shop with lightning speed so that I could vent and be consoled by the cold, creamy, dessert. (And I’m not going to lie either:  I felt better!)

We remember that food has been a reliable mood booster before, so we tend to fall back on it in times of emotional vulnerability. address However, if we continually attempt to relieve our stress using the very thing we aim to avoid or reduce, we feel only a momentary reprieve from stress that soon returns in full and then some. The real problem, our anxiety or feelings about a difficult situation, has not been resolved.  PLUS, we now experience feelings of guilt from our indulgences and a decrease in self esteem from not sticking to our health goals. Ouch!

Fueling Future Cravings

I know, kid. Life is tough.

I know, kid. Life is tough.

photo credit: <a href=””>Fiery-Phoenix</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

Just like a two year old throwing a tantrum, cravings are annoying, persistent, and inevitable. Our response to them, however, is what dictates their intensity and frequency in the future. If we give in and reward our two year old nightmare with the candy she demands, she will learn that throwing a fit leads to candy. In the same way, by stuffing our faces with chocolate and ice cream when we crave them, we learn that we only feel good when we give in to our desires. Over time, this pattern only gets stronger and we soon expect that our cravings will automatically lead us to eat. When we add in the negative emotions of feeling overwhelmed or anxious, we immediately know how to make those feelings go away. Additionally, we are in a weakened position to try to fight these cravings when we are overcome by our emotions in times of stress.


Somehow Ben and Jerry's has manage to create a product possibly even MORE addictive than regular ice cream.

Somehow Ben and Jerry’s has manage to create a product possibly even MORE addictive than regular ice cream.

Certain foods (especially those in high in salt, fat, and sugar, like salted caramel gelato…mmm) can affect the same neurological pathways of addiction that drugs do. Turning to food in times of stress quickly establishes routines and habits, innocently enough at first, but we often don’t realize the strength of these habits until we try to change them.

For example, as much as I warn my clients against it now, I have always found it really “relaxing” to plop down on the couch after dinner, watch some TV, and have dessert (I grew up in a household where ice cream was as much of a grocery staple as eggs or milk). Having dessert makes watching TV more enjoyable and fun. This routine started out harmlessly, but grew into something more destructive: as I developed more stress as an adult and experienced more relaxation from the ritual, I started to experience the urge for sweets every time I watched TV on the couch at night.

And guess what? Even when I do indulge in my craving and I finish eating my berries or a couple of squares of dark chocolate (my more current usual suspects for dessert), I immediately want more berries or chocolate.   In the same way drug addicts develop higher tolerance for their drugs, the urge for eating out of mindless relaxation is not satisfied by just a little bit of eating. And sometimes this means grabbing a second or third bowl of berries. Fine…it’s better than ice cream, right? But this exact same process occurs whether its berries or ice cream or nuts or popcorn. I eat some, but the urge to eat is not satisfied.

And this is when a well-intentioned snack or dessert after dinner can turn into one what the smart folks over at Metabolic Effect refer to as a “continuous meal” (nonstop eating from dinner until bedtime), and this becomes our new compulsive habit that we turn to in order to relieve our stress.

Do you see how this might lead to weight gain?


So now that we know what won’t work, what can we do to reduce our levels of stress? The following activities tend to actually be effective in reducing stress by promoting our parasympathetic (or “rest and digest”) system:

  • Yoga– go to and sign up for tons of yoga classes on your computer!
  • Foam rolling/stretching – good recovery for your mind AND your body
  • Meditations/Deep belly breaths – I have many of my clients practice these daily, for relaxation and proper bracing techniques while strength training
  • Warm bath or shower – I like to add in a few drops of lavender essential oil, or bathe in Epsom salts, for added relaxation
  • Drink tea—Harney’s Cinnamon Spice Tea = life-changing
  • Read a book for pleasure – sometimes a girl needs a good distraction; if you are looking for some good page turners I love Gillian Flynn’s books
  • Listen to music
  • Walk/ Light exercise—often overlooked, but if you can get your body moving and your heart pumping just a bit, you will feel reenergized and refreshed afterwards
  • Nap/Sleep—I am a strong believer in taking midafternoon naps when I can; try to keep your nap under 30 minutes though to prevent waking up groggy or accidentally sleeping for 3 hours (not that I know anything about that…)


The next time you feel that wave of stress and anxiety start to wash over your entire being, start with 3 deep breaths and then think:

What action can I take right now that will actually help me feel better?


Always here to help,


PS – I’d love to know: Do you struggle with this? Do you find that your chosen mode of stress relief can leave you feeling more wound up? Let me know in the comments below!

PPS – I really hope that you find some of these insights and suggestions useful! If you know somebody who may struggle with these challenges or benefit from reading, please share this post with them!

Rewriting the Negative Tapes in your Head

Do you ever notice the constant self talk that plays in the back of your head all day long? How much of it is helping you achieve your goals or improve your well being?  When I was caught up in the midst of my bingeing and restricting cycles, I would guess that 80% of the tapes playing in my head revolved around dieting, needing to diet, which foods I was going to (and definitely NOT going to) eat, how fat my body felt or looked, and on and on and on.

It was exhausting!

I remember feeling really embarrassed the first time I ever realized that the running tapes in my head were almost entirely about food and my body. I mean, how shallow must I be?? But also… how sad is that? I was spending eighty percent of my mental space and effort obsessing, judging, and being negative.

Here is what I’ve done to help reframe my inner monologue in a more positive, productive way.

1)      Practice saying “SO WHAT?!”

Every time I catch myself self-judging or thinking those quick, almost reflexive, biting remarks about my body for being not up to an imaginary (and self-imposed) standard, I ask myself:  SO WHAT?

I remember the first time I caught myself and was able to rewrite my mental self talk tape. I was in a hot yoga class lying on my side in some twisty pose, and I noticed my upper arms squeeze against my body and heard myself automatically think, “Ugh! My arms are so huge! I hope there’s no cellulite on them for my neighbor behind me to see!”

Ouch! 🙁 But for the very first time, my brand new tape finally hit play:

“SO WHAT if your arms look fat? What can you do about it right now?” [Not a damn thing…I’m even working on it by doing yoga right now!]

“Does it matter if the arms of the other girl in front of you look fat? And… so what if they do? Does it change your opinion of her?” [It doesn’t.]

The answer to “SO WHAT,” of course, was absolutely nothing. So I might as well shrug it off and accept that my body is and will always be my body. I can still work to improve it, but my arms will always be at my sides so I might try not berating them all of the time. Once I decided to accept my arms in that moment, I actually smiled and thanked them for working so hard. It was a huge breakthrough moment for me.


If you are going to do twisty poses like this one, you’d better accept that some body parts are going to squish together!!

If you are going to do twisty poses like this one, you’d better accept that some body parts are going to squish together!!

photo credit: jaylara via photopin cc

2)      Figure out my “job with a capital J”

Jon Kabat-Zinn, master of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction techniques, often asks his clients to think about their “job with a capital J.” Basically, what is your ultimate place in the world? I like to think of it as the really REALLY big picture.

Is my Job in the world to sit on the couch alone at night and eat peanut butter, or to spend all of my energy counting carbohydrates? NO! My Job is to get out there and use my experience to help alleviate the pain and struggle that so many women go through every day. My Job is to be a loving wife, daughter, sister, friend, and perhaps one day, a mother. My Job is to continue on my journey to better health and self acceptance so that I can go on and teach millions of women to do the same. If that is my charge in this world, then CRAP! I better snap out of it, put the chocolate down, and get to work! 🙂 I need to make myself a part of the world, not pull back and try to remove myself from it while everything happens around me.


Petey also enjoys contemplating his "job with a capital J" while vacationing in the White Mountains.

Petey also enjoys contemplating his “job with a capital J” while vacationing in the White Mountains.


3)      Use  solitude to set the right tapes

This has been a surprisingly effective strategy for me, and it has worked because it allows me to hit “play” on the right tape each and every day. I wake up at 5am almost every day (even on weekends), before the dog, husband, or sun, and sit with myself, my coffee, and whatever else it is I want to focus on FIRST that day. Sometimes it’s writing, sometimes it’s programming for my clients, sometimes I just need to read a little bit for some motivation and find a little bit of peace. I remind myself each morning of what I want my big picture to look like, and I am better able to act and think in line with that vision throughout the day. By spending this time with myself, I feel WAY more grounded and I can shrug off the thoughts that don’t serve to help me in any way.


Coffee. Computer. Luxurious red robe. I LOVE my morning time.

Coffee. Computer. Luxurious red robe. I LOVE my morning time.

The most important thing to remember, ladies, is this: you are SO much more than the food you eat, the size of your clothes, or your ability to look a certain way. There is no number on the scale that will ever make you happy or satisfied if you don’t start changing the way you think about your body. Jump in, start noticing the tapes in your head, and then let’s start editing!

Always here to help,




How to Surf your Way through Cravings

There are plenty of tips to distract yourself from mindless eating or unnecessary snacking. I definitely recommend that people have a list of things to do, or alternatives that will help them avoid a full on binge or addictive overeating episode. My list looks something like this:

1)      Have what I want….but not exactly what I want (i.e. eat frozen berries with Stevia and a drizzle of coconut milk instead of having ice cream, or a square of dark chocolate to satisfy a chocolate craving)

2)      Make a warm drink (like tea or the Metabolic Effect cocoa drink)

3)      Take a hot shower

4)       Brush your teeth and get in bed

5)      Read

6)      Do the crossword puzzle

7)      Paint my nails

8)      Take Petey (my puggle) for a walk

Even this cute little monkey man and his delicious tea just aren't enough to beat cravings sometimes.

Even this cute little monkey man and his delicious tea just aren’t enough to beat cravings sometimes.


Sometimes, though, I don’t even want to look at that list. The cravings are just too strong, or I’m too stressed or tired to even remember that I had a list! I just want to EAT. THE. FOOD. I want the satisfaction, the taste, the emotional relief, and the full feeling in my belly. When those urges arise, the best thing I’ve learned to do is use a technique called “urge surfing.” I’ve learned to ride the wave of food cravings, which come on strong but also fade. I don’t try to fight the natural tide, but I know that even the biggest waves will break and eventually cascade back into harmless ripples.


Here’s how to handle the next time you think you “need” to have something:

Sit there. Don’t act on the urge just yet. Sit and notice that you are having desire to eat. Notice the thoughts and beliefs and rationalizations and excuses that arise in your head. For me, these thoughts are often misleading and inaccurate, and they are NOT conducive to my goals or my health. Notice if there is a sensation or physical in your body that these thoughts and stories create.

Notice the anxiety or any other emotion you may experience by not acting on your impulses.

Just notice. Is your breathing shallow? Or does it remain calm and steady?  Is it quick with the anticipation of planning to eat your favorite treats?

Keep sitting. Keep noticing. Thoughts may persist in your head, demand to be heard, but if you continue to sit and let those thoughts enter your mind they eventually leave and evolve into new thoughts. You will notice the intensity of the craving to eat will diminish. The thoughts may even begin to quiet down, or you may even become distracted by something new.

Congratulations. You’ve made it to the other side of the wave.

Do it just once and you’ll feel incredibly empowered, like you are an unstoppable, impenetrable force. You just BEAT your cravings! High five, girlfriend! It is POSSIBLE. You CAN do this!

Take that, you silly little wave!

Take that, you silly little wave!

photo credit: <a href=””>Kevin N. Murphy</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

Moving forward, remember that you must continue to PRACTICE riding the wave all the way through. Notice your little urges and cravings throughout the day, and see if you can practice noticing how they make you feel. Practice delaying gratification just for a few minutes once in a while, as though you were training a muscle in the gym. Sometimes you might fall off the wave too early and give in to the thoughts and stories and cravings. That’s okay! Keep practicing. Keep sitting. Keep noticing. You’ll get there.

Always here to help,



PS – Do you immediately give in to cravings? If not, how do you get manage them?