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What Is In Your Stress Sandwich?


In simple terms, emotional eaters "eat" their feelings rather than deal with them. This becomes ingrained and happens automatically—almost like a reflex—in response to life stresses that result from things like an unhappy relationship, an unhappy childhood or an unsatisfying job.

Many people don't even realize that they're regularly turning to food to cope because eating is such an everyday occurrence. It's not an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant prescribed to us by a doctor that needs to be filled by a pharmacist; it's something we prescribe ourselves whenever and wherever we want.

And just like over-the-counter medication, regularly turning to food for comfort can come with its own set of side effects: weight gain perhaps being the most immediate and certainly the most visible.

All of this talk of emotional eating is great, but what if we could actually visualize it?

An effective way to do that is with what I call the "Stress Sandwich." In the stress sandwich of this post we see the layers of stress that send our friend running to the fridge: her anxiety, her mortgage, her primary relationship and her kids. Instead of learning how to face these stresses and handle them more effectively, she numbs them with food — just as the alcoholic would with drink, or the drug addict with narcotics.

For our friend here, this sandwich is much, much more than just lunch or dinner or a snack.

The reason why I find the stress sandwich to be effective is that it serves as a strong visual reminder of our own emotional eating. It takes emotional eating from a concept in our heads to a physical image in the real world. To this end I'd encourage you to draw your own stress sandwich. You don't need to be Picasso; simply jot down the stresses taking up room in your life today and put them in between two flat lines.

Why not take it a step further by sizing each stress according to the pain they're actually causing you? Maybe your sandwich consists of a double layer of loneliness with a little bit of career stress and relationship stress? Either way, you get the idea. And being able to see your stress sandwich on the fridge each time you're about to dive in and binge might just be a powerful aid in helping you pause, take a breath, and realize that it's emotional hunger you're feeling, not biological.

The stress sandwich might also serve as an excellent measure of progress. i.e., last year's stress sandwich was stuffed with a triple-layer of anxiety; this year's has only one.


Emotional eating has to be understood as a concept first. Once that's been accomplished the challenge lies in remembering that you're emotional eating when you dive into the fridge for that late night snack. Remembering is hard—especially when you're stressed—but a strong image can go a long way towards jolting your memory when you need it most, and motivating you to turn that multi-layered party sub into a healthy and far more manageable lunchtime sandwich for one.

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