Picture this – it’s 7:48pm and you’re about to shut down your Outlook when a new email pops up. THIS is the email you’ve been dreading because your client found a mistake in the Q3 projected income they sent over, a mistake that needs to be corrected.  Yes it’s their fault, but that isn’t a relief considering the fact that every minute you spent on the Q3 work today has to be redone. You have to fix this ASAP. There goes the hope of leaving work before 8pm at least one night this week. So what’s your next move? Grab your cell, and place that delivery order for pizza, extra cheese with garlic breadsticks.  Oh and don’t forget the M&Ms from the vending machine…


Food was the ONLY thing that would make that night better for me.  Ok, that’s not completely true, because in reality diving into pizza and candy really didn’t make late night work any better, it just provided temporary distraction from the stress and frustration.  This was an average worknight for me as a CPA, and unfortunately my default way of coping with the stress and irritation of the constant, last-minute client-centered change was with food.


Can you relate?  Turns out a lot of us rely on food to immediately (though temporarily) take the sting out of a stressful situation.  The American Psychological Association reports:


43% of women have overeaten or eaten unhealthy due to stress in the last month.  30% of these women say they eat to manage stress.


I personally am a classic unhealthy overeater (because, c’mon who overeats kale salads), and it’s something that must have developed pretty young.  I remember eating an entire loaf of Wonder bread with Skippy peanut butter one night back in high school. In college, during finals studying I ate giant bags of peanut butter M&Ms and some of you may even know my “Milano cookies” story where, on a lunch break from work I finished the entire bag while walking around the CVS and had the clerk ring up an empty cookie container.


It’s even a little difficult to admit this now, because it’s something I was ashamed of – what normal person can eat 4 bagels in one sitting and try to say they are watching their weight?


A person who is relying on food to cope with stress, that’s who.


The Solution to overeating is not to clear out all the junk food from your house or swear off ever eating a bagel again.  These are bandaids for a bigger problem. In order to really get a handle on overeating, you must address the root cause and make a change there.  


It wasn’t until I discovered the real cause that I could do anything to change my overeating.  There was a pattern, I turned to food when I was anxious about my next project, irritated that I had to stay late at work, emotionally stressed about relationships, or stressed that my weight or my body wasn’t where I wanted it to be (the irony of this last part is not lost on me).


Here’s what works:


1st – Take the shame out of it.  

Approach this eating pattern with curiosity as opposed to judgment. Repeat after me, “I am not a bad person because I eat too much.” It’s a coping mechanism that’s just not serving you, leave it at that.


2nd – Identify which type of overeater you are.  

There are 2 type of overeaters: 1) Stress Induced or 2) Unintentional (you may not even realize you’re eating more than your body can handle).  To find out which type describes you, answer these questions:

Do you eat while watching TV, or while working at your desk?

Do you eat when you’re bored?

Do you go out to eat more often than eating at home?

When out for a meal in a group, do you eat faster than everyone else around you?

Do you feel guilty or angry after you eat too much?

Do you feel “out of control” when food is involved?

Do you know you can’t keep your favorite food in the house without eating it all in one sitting.

Yes to any of the first 4 questions would put you in Category 2- unintentional overeating.  If you relate more to the last 3 questions, stress is probably the cause of your overeating.


3rd – Address the cause.  

If you are like me, a Type 1 Stress-Induced Overeater, make it a priority to find a NEW way to manage emotional, physiological and physical stress.  This is essential to freeing yourself from the weight-sabotaging behavior. If you are a Type 2 Unintentional Overeater, be present during meals. Slow down your chewing, look at your food, turn off the TV and focus on each forkful you bring to your mouth.  


Knowing WHY I overeat has been invaluable to my body, to my weight, to the way I view myself.  I no longer assume something is wrong with me, or think that this is just a part of my life that I can’t control. Now I actually know how to reduce the instances of my overeating.


I’m managing this tendency of mine and the times I lose control are closer to 4x a year vs. 4x a week.  I know that my overeating tendencies will still be there and if I don’t make a conscious effort they will become my default again.  


So if you resonate, or if you already know you are a chronic overeater stop feeling ashamed. I know the guilt and shame, and feeling sluggish and unmotivated followed by hating my body that used to follow those periods of stuffing my face.  Eating more isn’t going to change the fact that you have to stay late at the office, or bring you closer to my goal weight- but it’s manageable and it’s something you CAN get a handle on.


Which type of overeater are you?  What can you do to address the true cause of this behavior? Leave me a comment or join us to continue the conversation in the FREE Professional Women Get REAL Facebook group.  Click here for access.