We are stressed, worried, fearful and overwhelmed. That about sums up the year 2020 and is starting to define 2021. I am concerned about the many who are caught in the overwhelming stress of just trying to live everyday life.

Although stress may seem like just a fact of life, it takes a huge toil on our bodies. When we are stressed, many of us have a tendency to overeat mostly junk food but sometimes just any kind of food. When we try to eat our stress away, it only leads us down the path of more stress in the form of continual weight gain.

woman with head in hands

We may not realize it, but totally changing the way we do things is stressful. Staying home is stressful. Not being with extended family and friends is stressful. Not going on vacation is stressful. Just thinking about going to the grocery store or even to church is stressful.

Now as we cautiously venture forward into the world, poke our heads up out of the holes we’ve lived in for over a year, we’re realizing some things about 2020 that we didn’t factor in.

First and foremost, we are stressed and as a result we overate and gained weight. We didn’t worry too much about it because it was such a stressful year. We figured when everything gets back to normal we’ll just go on a diet.

If we had been honest with ourselves, we’d have realized that diets have never worked to change us. If they had worked, we wouldn’t be continually running back to them to solve our issue of running to food when we are stressed.

Toll of Stress On the Body

Stress itself comes with increased health risks. When we are stressed our central nervous system, which is in charge of the fight of flight response in our brain, kicks in, according to Healthline.

Our brain tells our adrenal glands to release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These make our heartbeat go up and send blood rushing to areas of our body like muscles and heart that need it in case say a saber tooth tiger is chasing us and we need to get away fast.

When whatever is causing the stress is gone, then our brain should tell our body systems to go back to normal. However if our brain doesn’t do that, if our systems don’t return to normal or if the stressor doesn’t go away, the stress response will continue.

This is known as chronic stress and it’s where a lot of us are right now. Frequent or chronic stress will make our hearts work too hard for too long. We are then in danger of stroke or heart attack.

Chronic stress is a big factor in behaviors such as alcohol or drug abuse and the one I am most concerned about—overeating.

Mindless Eating

When we are in the midst of stress and turn to food we pretty much do it mindlessly. Most of the time we are not even aware of what we are eating. We think we are eating it because it will make us feel better.

Instead we sit in front of the tv watching reruns of old movies and before we know it we’ve eaten a whole bag of chips but we haven’t even tasted a single one.

The culprit here is not the food. The culprit is our inability to deal with the emotions we are feeling.

When faced with issues we’ve never faced before, we don’t know what to do. That is stressful so we look for a way to ease our emotional discontent and pain. Some go to alcohol and drugs. Some go to pornography or gambling. Some of us go to what we think is a lesser addiction. We go to food.

I’m not saying all of this shame you. I’m sharing this to challenge you and give you a wake-up call. Eating extra food we don’t need will not do away with our stress. It will not solve our problems.

We Are Complex

Changing how we think and how we deal with our emotions is something most of us want to ignore at all costs. It is crucial, though, to understand how to deal with our emotions if we want to stop the endless cycle of yo-yo dieting.

In order to do that we have to go to the root of why we eat when we are not physically hungry. We are very complex human beings. We know we need to change. We have good intentions and then something goes haywire when we try to implement that change.

There are many layers to this, but it starts with acknowledging we have a problem with food that goes deeper than just sticking to an eating plan or diet. We have to deal with the core issue, the thing we want to avoid. But we just don’t want to take on that task in the midst of great stress already.

God understands. As a matter of fact, here’s what He has to say about that. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly,” Matthew 11:28-30 MSG.

Freely and Lightly

Wouldn’t it be awesome to live freely and lightly? These verses tell us it is possible to stop the spinning for a minute and let God lead. I’m not saying to do forced Bible study, though studying the Bible is great.

I’m saying to allow God to minister to you as only He can. Running to food when we are stressed does not hold a candle to running to the only One who can really comfort us, the precious Holy

Spirit, the Comforter Himself.

Stop trying to bear your burdens alone. He’s ready to shoulder them if you just take your hands off. In Overcomers Academy I teach women how to work with God to get to the core issues that are holding them back.

Stress Training

This is the first of a series of podcasts I’m compiling in a training called Eating Stress. It will include the video of each of episode along with the transcript download and a bonus of action steps that are only available in the course.

The best thing is there is no cost. Just sign up here: https://www.teresashieldsparker.com/stress/. You’ll get notified by email each week when we add a new lesson.

One last word, if you’ve been eating stress and avoiding your emotions for years, I totally understand. I lived that way for way too many years. I know how you feel. I do. We’ll be talking more about living in chronic stress, dealing with emotion and putting stress to rest on upcoming episodes.