The Healthy Executive

33 Countermeasures for Stress-Eating (Part 2)

Reading Time: 3.0 minutes (1800 words @ 600 wpm)

(Lots of tips, so stay with me here)

(lots of tips, so stay with me here)

  • Busy professionals struggle with stress-eating, especially when traveling.
  • There are 15 reasons why you stress-eat.
  • After years of experimentation, I developed 33 countermeasures to take control of stress-eating.
  • Here are 18 additional countermeasures you can take against stress-eating.
  • (the first 17 countermeasures are in this post).

18 Additional Countermeasures for Stress-Eating

  • Feel 100% better using 1% changes: Compound interest is powerful; the Rule of 72 tells us that making a 1% daily change will yield a 100% ROI in 10 weeks. When I want to eliminate a stress food from my diet, I find that the master goal is more achievable if I break it down into mini daily or weekly goals. To transition myself off caffeine, I bought regular and decaf coffee and mixed it 90/10% the first week, 80/20% the second week, and so on until by week 10 I was drinking 100% decaf. Similarly I was able to lower my carbohydrate intake by over 70% by making small weekly changes. And I earned my pilot’s license by running a little every week (see Reward Yourself tip below).
  • Group Challenge: Having an office weight loss challenge can be a fun and motivating way to lose weight in a group. You and your colleagues can offer each other friendly competition and bragging rights that can turn a humdrum health or fitness program into a fun team activity. You can do an inter-mural challenge (between groups at different companies) or intramural challenges (e.g. Sales versus Engineering within your company). You can even use challenges to raise money for great causes. There are now a variety of cloud services and smartphone apps that make organizing these a snap (ask for my tips on group challenges).
  • EHP: Executive Health Programs were both a fascinating and frustrating experience for me. Fascinating because I received a top-notch health assessment from multiple medical professionals, using state of the art diagnostics such as an ECG trace while running on a calibrated treadmill. Frustrating because although I received a detailed report on my specific health parameters, the report recommendations were generic and I received zero support in implementing them. If you are concerned about medical privacy, you should be aware that employer EHPs are exempt from privacy laws in the U.S.
  • Expert Help: Conventional wisdom (CW) says you should talk to experts such as your doctor, a nutritionist, or a trainer, and they will put you on the path to health. My experience hiring experts is that I wound up with a bunch of expensive puzzle pieces, but I was left to my own devices to assemble them. And I also learned that our bodies are fairly programmatic in how they respond to food, exercise, stress, and rest. The bigger challenges in overcoming bad habits and establishing good ones are in our minds. In reprogramming the mind, the experts mean well but they are amateurs. I got much better results using an online health coach.
  • Decode your DNA: Maybe this is going overboard, but I had my DNA (single nucleotide polymorphisms) sequenced and analyzed by 23andMe, Promethease, and SNPedia. The good news is that they can take certain diseases off the table if your genes are not pre-disposed in certain ways. The bad news is they can also tell you if have diseases for which there are no known cures; to manage everything in between I was really expecting cutting-edge esoteric techniques, but it turns out that the best course of action recommended by genetic analysis is (you guessed it), eating right, sufficient sleep and exercise, and managing your stress levels.
  • Gratitude versus McMindfulness: Corporate mindfulness programs are a current industry trend and there are tons of advice on how to meditate as a way of relaxing and reducing stress in three steps or two minutes. I’ve diligently tried dozens of them but rarely produced the promised results. Call me contrary but the Westernization of Eastern meditation practices can often result in McMindfulness. One technique that I do find effective is to be grateful for my many blessings on a daily basis. As an exec, I notice that the tough problems rise to the top and sometimes I feel surrounded only by problems and negativity if I don’t cultivate a perspective of gratitude.
  • Fail Forward: If you have an episode of stress eating, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Try to learn from the experience and make a plan to prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that’ll lead to better health. I’ve learned that every setback is a puzzle with a lesson I can learn from if I deal with it instead of avoiding it. And my coach points out that the cumulative energy wasted by avoidance adds up to result in more pain and cost than simply dealing with the issue in the first place.
  • IF:  Intermittent Fasting is an advanced technique that taught me to master hunger when my busy schedule causes me to miss meals. As far back as the 1930s, scientists have been exploring the benefits of reducing calories by skipping meals. Studies have also shown that decreasing calorie consumption by 30 to 40 percent (regardless of how fasting is done) can extend life span by a third or more. Plus, there’s data to suggest that limiting food intake may reduce the risk of many common diseases. And some believe fasting may also increase the body’s responsiveness to insulin, which regulates blood sugar, helping to control feelings of hunger and food cravings (ask for my tips on intermittent fasting).
  • Apps: I used to journal my moods and foods using the Evernote app on my smartphone or tablet. Oddly, just writing them down was sufficient. I never actually found it necessary to review or chart my journal, the mere act of writing reinforces a positive mindset and habits. There are also smartphone health apps for this purpose such as “Before I Eat” (iPhone and Android). Two apps I personally have very good success with are MyFitnessPal (for food logging) and RunKeeper (for exercise logging). These apps also offer virtual forms of health coaching and allow you to participate with friends in virtual challenges.
  • Social Eating: As we all know, doing business and sharing a meal or grabbing a drink go hand in hand, and of course, its good business to make your dinner partners feel comfortable. In these cases, I let people know that they are free to order whatever they like, and tell them that whatever I eat has to follow “doctor’s orders”.  Most people understand and will not ask any questions. For employees or associates who know me a bit better and wonder, I simply explain “the doc wants me to cut back on X”. In my experience, the matter will stop there as most people don’t really want to question medical authority.  With respect to alcohol, I find that there can be expectations to drink and be one of the guys (I’m talking about you, Field Sales Guys). In these cases I will usually order a drink AND a glass of tonic water…this creates a positive situation where I am part of the drinking group and part of the non-drinking group. And trust me, don’t order a spritzer (wine and soda water mixed)….it does NOT achieve the same effect (see my tips on social support for health goals).
  • Hypnosis: During the course of my research, some people reported good results using hypnosis to reduce their stress eating. Although I have not tried clinical hypnosis personally, I have experimented with hypnosis apps such as “Weight Loss Hypnosis” and achieved mixed results. Hypnosis is probably one of those techniques that works well for those who believe in it and not very well for those who don’t (a form of confirmation bias).
  • Trevose Behavior Modification: Launched in 1970 by a formerly obese person and an obesity researcher, this rigorous program requires enrollees to attend weekly group sessions. They’re also required to meet predetermined weight-loss goals or else risk being kicked out. Run entirely by volunteers, the program is free, and this hard-core approach seems to work. In one study, participants lost an average of 19 percent of their body weight in two years—much more than conventional dieting, and the study participants managed to keep that weight off. After five years, they were still down 17 percent on average from their initial weight. However, the hard-core approach can also prove too much for many participants; in the study, just under half of the enrollees were still participating in the program at the two-year mark.
  • Upgrade Your Social Media: I’ll be honest here — within the group of the five people closest to me in terms of time, proximity and influence, I’d have to include my computer/cell phone/tablet. Business demands it, and I also do a lot of personal research and reading online. So I tried a 21-day experiment of surrounding myself with positive messages electronically. I signed up for newsletters that provide healthy messages, filled my Facebook feed with posts from transformational coaches and stress management advice, and followed health-oriented Twitter feeds. I also pruned people and news sources from my feeds that irritated me. The result? After 21 days I felt significantly more motivated and less stressed.
  • Reward Yourself: I will buy a non-work-related book or magazine that I am really interested in but then deliberately hold off reading it. When stress or cravings get me down, I will re-energize by busting out the Kindle and reading a chapter or two. Alternatively, I will reward myself with activities that I enjoy after I have hit a 21-day goal (see 21 Day Challenge tip above) or a 10-week goal (see Feel 100% Better tip above). For instance I gained my pilot’s license by requiring myself to run a certain distance in order to reward myself with an hour of flying. You might also consider “at risk” rewards as an incentive. For instance I might create an informal officepoolwherewecontribute $100 each. Whoever loses the most body fat percentage in a certain amount of time wins the pool (see Group Challenges tip above).
    (If Tony can do it, you can do it)

    (If Tony can do it, you can do it)

  • Mastermind: Many of my male executive colleagues struggle on their own with stress eating. The man-code allows us to joke about stress and eating but we don’t even talk to our doctors about it – much less other men. Women offer plenty of perfectly good advice, but as a guy I just want the objective facts and to be told the actions I can take. I certainly don’t get advice about this in the boardroom (although the board may advocate an EHP, see tip above). My friends are supportive but don’t understand the demands and stresses of an executive lifestyle. Over time I have developed a mastermind network of like-minded executive peers and together we pool our experiences and successes (my group is currently fully subscribed). In fact, you are reading some of their tips and habits here.
  • Tony Soprano: Even when we understand what’s happening, sometimes we could still use an objective perspective in breaking our patterns of stress eating. As a successful executive and a male this is not easy to admit, trust me I know first hand, especially when stress eating has already led to weight and self-esteem issues. Look at it this way: Tony Soprano used a professional coach to deal with his stresses and blind spots as a leader in the Mob. If he can use a coach, perhaps you can do it too. For the record, I use a personal coach and I also offer online health coaching and other men’s health resources.

Read about the first 17 countermeasures you can take against stress eating.

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