Is anyone here familiar with the term stress eating?

If you aren’t, let’s get acquainted.

Do you have a well-stocked drawer of goodies at work just to get through the day? Have you ever dug deep into a pint of cookie dough ice cream while cramming for your midterm?  What about getting to the bottom of a bag of chips in anticipation of tomorrow’s presentation?

If you answered yes to any or all of the above, you just might be one of the many people engaging in something we call emotional or stress eating.  Stress eating occurs when we eat in response to emotional cues and events rather than actual physical hunger and satiety cues.  While occasional stress eating is part of the human experience, frequent stress eating can lead to significant distress and many physical health complications.

The Beacon Program is here today to provide you with your Tuesday skill to kick stress eating to the curb! Cue Coping Ahead!

We invite you to try a DBT skill aptly entitled Cope Ahead on for size.  The cope ahead skill asks us to identify the times/situations that we are most likely to engage in any problem behavior (in this case stress eating), and to methodically plan for success.  Look below to see how it’s done!

Step 1 : Describe the Situation: 

Example: I tend to eat in response to high levels of stress at work, especially when deadlines are approaching or my to do list seems never-ending. I begin to make many afternoon stops to the vending machine.

Step 2: Describe how you want to feel AFTER the situation: 

Example: I want to feel in control and effective in my work.  I also want to feel proud of myself for not relying on food to get through my work or for distraction.

Step 3: Identify the situation’s challenges & brainstorm solutions: 

Situation/Challenge: Receiving an influx of calls/e-mails.  Unexpected deadlines.

Solutions/Skills: Deep breathing; Taking a 5-10 minute break that is unrelated to my work tasks; Rehearsing a mantra that reinforces my competencies and ability to get the work done; Having water to offset cravings; Making a phone call to a trusted friend or talking with a colleague.

Step 4: Imagine the situation vividly in the HERE and NOW!  

Example: It’s 3:00 pm and I receive a call from my boss that I have to amend a huge project to be presented tomorrow.  I begin to experience feelings of escalating anxiety and panic  (heart rate increases and sweaty palms).  I am worried that I will not be able to complete the required amendments by tomorrow.  I feel bombarded by overwhelming thoughts and frustration.  This is when I begin to think that something sweet will help me get through the next two hours of work.

Step 5: Rehearse in your mind being skillful when the challenges arise! Walk yourself through the situation like an allstar, envisioning the success, rehearsing your thoughts, words and actions.

Example: I receive an unexpected call from my boss- she tells me that our project needs a couple of major revisions by tomorrow.  I feel panic and a desire to distract.  I want to go to the vending machine for a quick pick me up.  I remember to take some deep and slow breaths to refocus, and to remember that the food will not bring me any closer to my underlying goal: to perform well and treat myself with integrity.   I have some water and take a 5-10 minute break to call my sister to discuss some of my frustrations.  Together we discuss my previous successes in similar situations, and I am able to go back to the task without having relied on the vending machine!

Step 6: Practice relaxation after rehearsing!

Finally, coping ahead is hard work.  Don’t forget to unwind with your favorite relaxation technique!

The Cope Ahead skill has been Lovingly adapted from DBT Skills Trainings Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition by Marsha M. Linehan, 2015

For more useful tips and skills follow us on Tuesdays!