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Natural Awakenings Austin

Wellness: Stress Eating

Success over Stress Eating

By Patricia Ronzio

Stress eating in the U.S. is surprisingly common. According to a national survey by the American Psychological Association, one in four Americans use comfort foods to reduce stress. Women may be especially susceptible to stress eating. Researchers from Ball State University suggest that two thirds of college age women make unhealthy food choices when emotionally stressed.

Women may be drawn to high calorie, high fat and sugary foods when overwhelmed by money worries, relationship issues, child care, and/or elder care. Since the mood-boosting benefits are temporary, stress eaters may find themselves trapped on a stress-eat roller coaster. Insight-empowered problem solving offers a holistic strategy to break free from stress eating.

The Stress Eating Roller Coaster

All too often chronic stress induces unhealthy habits (overeating), with consequences such as weight gain and feelings of guilt and inadequacy, which can lead to even more stress. Confronted with apparent “failure,” we may pile on the stress with our thoughts and choice of words.

As women, we may burden ourselves with self-blame. Stress-induced negative thoughts and emotions limit creativity, shut down love and self-acceptance, and block progress toward long-range goals. Insights provide a key to solving this dilemma.

Insight-Empowered Success over Stress Eating

Insights open the door for creative personal solutions. According to investigators at Northwestern University, when insights involve a sudden awareness of a solution, insightful answers can be more accurate than analytical solutions. To crack open the door for a new insight, consider this: Even if only one percent of a stress eating challenge is not about food or an apparent lack of willpower, what could it be about?

When riding the stress eating roller coaster, we may be tempted to focus on comfort foods, or on worrisome consequences such as gaining weight, a physical domain of wellness. However, effective long-term solutions to solve stress eating involve exploring the rich world of thoughts (mental domain), feelings (emotional domain) and life purpose and meaning (spiritual domain).


Our challenge is to stop an automatic eating response. Mentally pushing the pause button interrupts stress eating the moment it occurs and creates a golden opportunity to reframe negative thoughts and emotions.

Candid answers to the following three questions in the mental, emotional and spiritual domains of wellness help jump start creativity and generate new insight-based solutions.

Question 1: “What am I thinking?”
The mental domain identifies stressful thoughts, memories and beliefs that can prevent creative solutions.
Question 2: “What am I feeling?”
The emotional domain identifies an important, stressful emotion. (Although negative emotions can seem very real, they inhibit insights.)
Question 3: “What do I truly need?”
The spiritual domain clarifies key unmet needs, for example: to be heard, appreciated and/or loved. Answers often lead to a broader perspective on life purpose and meaning.

Responses represent an opportunity to exercise “choice muscles.” They suggest insight-empowered initial steps to satisfy an immediate underlying need such as taking a nap, asking for a hug, or calling a trusted friend.

Whether or not these questions lead to new actions, they provide another opportunity for feedback, fresh insights and empowerment, but never “failure.”

Rather than relying on generic, impersonal solutions, personal creativity and insights can create a golden opportunity for new options. Holistic, insight-empowered action steps can help liberate thoughts and emotions, beyond food and self-limiting habits, to stop the stress eating roller coaster.

Patricia Ronzio, M.Ed., CHES, is an international stress and wellness consultant, life coach, author and speaker. Patricia is passionate about helping women transform their relationship to stress. For more information, visit

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