We’ve all had days where we eat or drink too much. We inhale a whole bag of chips while we watch a movie. Or we pour one too many glasses of wine after a long day at work. In the summer, there are cookouts. In the winter, office parties and holiday meals.
We often indulge without thinking. It can be out of habit. Or it can be driven by our emotions. And that can happen whether we’re feeling happy. Or just checked out. Stress is a big spark for many people. According to a recent poll, 33% of adults said their eating habits take a negative turn when they’re stressed. In the last National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 59 million adults reported binge drinking in the month prior.
But change is possible. And it’s worth the effort. “These coping behaviors might feel good in the moment,” says AbleTo Coach Advisor Carolyn Oldham. “But more mindful approaches will help you see long-term changes.”
Research backs this up. Treatments based in mindfulness have been shown to help with stress. Other research suggests that they may help curb cravings and reduce emotional eating. They may also help people who are at risk of overusing alcohol.
“There are compounds in food and drink that make our brains want more,” says Oldham. A mindful approach works on breaking that loop. You can learn to swap in healthier actions. Or hobbies that move you toward a goal. Maybe it’s walking your dog. Or seeing a friend. “The key is to figure out what need you’re trying to fill,” says Oldham. Then you can start to find other coping tools. The reason? It allows you to fill the same need but support healthier routines.
Reading this with a glass of merlot in hand? Try not to stress. This isn’t meant to make you feel bad. We’re here to help you take a look at your habits with kindness. We can all better understand how to make more mindful choices. Here are six tips to help you be more aware around food and drink.
Get to the “why”
There are often a few reasons people fall into a pattern of eating or drinking too much. Some are physical. Some are mental. Food and alcohol can both trigger cravings. They can also be common coping tools when dealing with hard emotions.
Next time you find yourself reaching for alcohol or food, get curious. “I ask people to name what they might be feeling in the moment,” says Oldham. “What emotion might they be trying to cope with?”
It doesn’t have to be complicated, she notes. Think of it as simply checking in with yourself. Here are some questions you could ask yourself:
- Am I stressed?
- Am I angry?
- Am I bored?
- Am I frustrated?
The more you tune in, the easier it is to spot patterns. When you do, you can start to swap in coping tools that support your well-being.
Find other ways to cope
Alcohol can make you feel relaxed at first. But in the long run, it can take a toll on your health. Research shows it can increase the body’s stress response. It can also hurt the immune system. And it can lead to poor sleep.
Instead of a drink, what else could give you comfort? Or relieve stress? Or bring joy? Here are few ideas:
- Connect with people. Reaching out to others can ease heavy feelings. Think about a loved one you haven’t seen lately. Or a group that lets you discuss shared interests.
- Pick up a hobby. Is there a skill you’ve let lapse? Or a new one you want to try? Channeling your creative side can lift your mood.
- Move your body. Being active boosts feel-good hormones. They can help when we feel stressed or anxious. Go for a walk. Or hop on your bike. Even stretching can work wonders.
- Focus on your breath. Breathing in and out allows you to slow down. That extra time can help you feel more present in your body.
- Journal. Writing down our thoughts can help us sort through the clutter in our brains. It gives us a chance to spot problems. It can also help us define our feelings. Stuck on what to write? Jotting down a gratitude list can be an easy way to start.
- Have a “fun list.” Curate a roster of things you can turn to when you’re bored. Do you love to garden? How about yoga? Dancing? Taking an art class? Cooking a healthy recipe? Next time you feel the blahs, reach for that list.
Learn how to sit with the tough stuff
Do tough emotions make you crave a treat? Or alcohol? This goes back to the feel-good loop. Food and drinks trigger a rush of positive feelings in our bodies. It softens the distress. But it doesn’t fix the root problem.
“The hard part here is that the threshold is always going to rise,” says Oldham. One glass or one cookie might satisfy an urge for now. But your body will want more over time. So you’ll need more to meet the need.
Pause the next time you want to reach for something outside of yourself to feel better. What’s it like to sit and observe the emotion? How does it feel in your body? Take a moment to describe the sensations you feel.
If we can put a name to our emotions, we can figure out how to accept them without judgment. And we’re less tempted to cope in ways that don’t serve us well. The more we practice, the more resilient we become.
Have a social plan
Being mindful about alcohol use in social settings can be tough. You don’t want to feel like you’re missing out. And it’s easy to get swept up in the action. Having a plan ahead of time helps, says Oldham.
These days, fancy mocktails are often an option. You can also just ask for seltzer with lime. That way you still have a glass in your hand.
Give yourself a little self-love
If you’re feeling sad, lonely, or a bit socially anxious, you’re not alone. Everyone struggles from time to time. Instead of judgment, try to offer yourself grace and kindness. This can be a chance to get to know yourself better. Once you find your triggers, you can build better coping skills.
Reach out for help
Like many other issues, alcohol use falls on a spectrum. Responsible drinkers and people with alcohol-use disorder are not the only options. The same is true for eating habits.
If you’re concerned about yourself or someone you know, professional help is available. Consider reaching out to your primary care provider. A trusted loved one can also be helpful.
You can also check with Quartz mental well-being programs with AbleTo. You may be eligible to work with a caring coach, licensed therapist, or both. And if you need a higher level of support? Our team can help connect you. Find out if you qualify at AbleTo.com/Quartz.