My wife is a stress eater. She has been all her life, by her own account. When she is under a heavy load of stress, whether it’s at work or otherwise, she takes solace in eating sweets. This has been one of her biggest challenges since doing our first Whole30, and is why I wrote an article about recommending a low-stress time in one’s life before starting a lifestyle change like Whole30, Paleo, or keto.
I’m not a stress eater. I am a stress hobbyist. The more stress I’m under, the more I bury myself in hobbies or video games. We all cope with stress in different ways, and I’m not saying that being a stress eater is wrong. As my sister would say, it is what it is.
With that said, I’ve learned some things I can do to help my wife when she’s under a lot of stress. First and foremost, if I do see her eating something that she shouldn’t be eating or wouldn’t normally eat, I ask her about her day. I ask her what’s going on. I don’t ever point out that she’s eating anything off-plan. Well, I try not to, and I may have given a look or raised an eyebrow, but I try not to call her out on it. I know she wouldn’t be eating that unless something is eating at her.
Second, I try to do what I can to alleviate her stress as best I can. I know I have no ability to reduce her work stress, but I can offer advice or tips I use to reduce stress in the workplace. Outside of that, I volunteer to make dinner or I take her out for dinner to keep her from having to prepare food.
Third, I do what I can to get her away from the foods she normally wouldn’t be eating without making a big deal out of it. I ask her if she would like to take a walk, I go walk the dog with her, or I go to her and just talk and let her vent. These things seem to help.
Ultimately, it’s her body, her appetite, and her stress. I am not her food police, and I don’t judge her for what she eats or drinks. I want her to be happy, first and foremost, and if that involves eating or drinking something off-plan to get her through a stressful time, so be it. It only would become a problem if it became a day-in/day-out eating pattern. At that point, I’d speak up.
The most important skill my wife and I have learned since undertaking our first Whole30 has been to be mutually supportive. It is rare that she and I are on the same upswing of motivation. Usually, one of us needs some support, and that’s when the other half steps up and carries the other. Everything, from making breakfast in the morning (first one in the kitchen starts it) to making coffee and rubbing a back in an afternoon after work. Ultimately, we operate as a team, and together, we succeed. Living with a stress eater is just another challenge in the big picture, but it doesn’t have to be the one that defines you (or them). There are ways to cope and mitigate, and together, we’ve been doing a good job of that.