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To Eat or Not to Eat? That Is the Stress Question

Young man holding pizza
A modern day Hamlet, contemplating his pizza slice. A little too happy? (Photo by Stockimages, downloaded from

Maybe that wasn’t Hamlet’s big dilemma, but for many of us facing stress, food is a big deal. Recently, I came across an interesting site by Karen Salmansohn with a subtitle of “Self-Help for People Who Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead Doing Self-Help.” I poked around her post called “Stop Stress Eating: 29 Motivating Quotes,” which naturally led me to read other articles about stress eating.

Why? Because I, too, use food as a tool to handle stress though in a quite opposite manner to the majority. Where most turn to food to eat their feelings or because they associate food with comfort, I use it as a control issue if other parts of my life feel out of my control. My stomach rumbles but my brain says,

“Ha! You are hungry. Other mere mortals may eat, but you are powerful. You will not eat. Focus on not eating rather than on the problems causing your stress. Control your body and dominate your hunger and, above all, don’t eat.”

Yes, my brain tends to be wordy and to sound like a power-mad dictator at times.

Unfortunately, my body listened to my brain. By late in 2014 through most of last year, I stopped weighing what I’ve comfortably weighed since college. I wholeheartedly embraced the stress diet (also fondly labeled by me as the “Divorce Diet”) and dropped down to a weight that my body hadn’t seen since I was about 12 years old. The more I didn’t eat — the lighter I felt, obviously, and lightheaded and headachy — but more importantly, the more powerful I felt.

Breakfast? Cup of tea.
Lunch? Who needs it?
Dinner? More tea, and maybe some rice if I was feeling relaxed.

I was in control over one significant part of my life. No one could make me eat, including myself.  Ha! That’ll show who is boss. (Show whom, I never quite figured out.)

The noticeably thinner, painfully gaunt me had an issue. My friends, mostly female, who eat copiously and freely during times of stress, thought it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. While they added pounds of mac and cheese to their thighs, I bought skinny-girl jeans in a size 0. Eventually, however, everyone said, “You look a little thin.” Not “You look good” or “You look fit and healthy.”

What I’ve discovered: It doesn’t matter how you handle the stress diet, you need to get off of it ASAP. It’s a dangerous thing to use food as a tool, whether you chow down or seal your lips. A smart woman said to me (and I’m paraphrasing because I was lightheaded at the time she said it): Try not to give food any importance or significance other than a way to nourish yourself. Just eat for nourishment and energy. Don’t eat for comfort; don’t not eat for control. It’s only food.

couple making salad
No, neither of these people is me or anyone I know. But I like their spirit, the look of their salad, and their kitchen. (Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee from

She was right, but it took a long time for me to relinquish that measure of control.  My body needs to eat? What a pain in the ass! How weak. Eventually, after a year or so, I started to eat like a sane, healthy person again and to gain back 10 lbs. But I don’t see much about this on the Internet. I see a lot about overeating, binge eating, and eating your emotions.

So I am just putting this out there: that, for me at least, even though I was still feeding family members, still living a semi-normal existence, I was starving myself. It was easy for me to think I was gaining control by losing it, while losing myself in the process. And it was easy to do it under the regard of friends and family because, in our culture, overeating is seen immediately as a problem, but undereating is barely noticeable.

To those facing stress, I salute you. I sympathize. I empathize. And now, I eat.

2 thoughts on “To Eat or Not to Eat? That Is the Stress Question

  1. I’m like you, girlfriend. The more stress the less I eat–it’s not so much a control thing as I just don’t have an appetite. Glad you’re back to your lovely svelte self and not too skinny! It’s a new year–wohoo!

    1. For me, I was definitely hungry. I can remember the gnawing in my stomach, but I relished giving hunger the middle finger, thinking it gave me a little power over something in a life that felt out of my control. And now, I will pop a piece of dark chocolate in my mouth and be content. 🙂

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