Jeanette Terry was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old, and she has since lived with diabetes through difficult life transitions, including the teenage years, college, and having children. She addresses the day-to-day struggles of living with diabetes—going beyond medical advice—to improve overall adherence and management.

I like to eat. I think most human beings would agree with me that consuming food is quite enjoyable. It is a natural survival instinct that is ingrained in all of us. We are lucky at this time in history to not have to rely on the instinct of “eat to live” because there is usually plenty to eat.

But for some of us, eating seems to be an instinct also used to cope with hard or stressful situations in our lives.

I have found that I am one of these people. When life gets hard, I turn to food, thinking that somehow it is going to make me feel better. I don’t really know why I think that. Food can be delicious, but by using logical thinking, I don’t know how it would ever take away the hard things in life that I have to deal with. This, I am afraid, is exactly the problem; when we are stressed, we don’t think logically and we turn to food because it is readily available and it gives us something to do while we fret about our woes.

The downward spiral

Eating to feel better is a terrible coping mechanism. It may seem comforting in the moment, but eating when stressed will almost always come back to bite you. When stressed, I can’t seem to juggle the things in my life that normally I would be able to. In order to get through whatever it is that is causing the stress I have to focus all of my efforts on resolving that particular issue. So the rest of my life tends to come crashing down around me at the worst possible moment. The first thing to go is usually my strict diabetes control. Second is rational thought. Ironically both of these are essential in getting me through stressful situations, so it is rather unfortunate to lose them. That is when very unhealthy eating habits take over, making an even bigger mess of the whole situation, sending me into a downward spiral that is incredibly hard to pull myself out of.

The false sense of comfort that comes from stress eating may seem like it is going to make us feel better, but in all reality not only do we feel worse because of the poor blood sugar control it creates, but often times it will make us feel more down or stressed out.

We have to retrain our brains so that food isn’t the first thing we turn to when feeling down.

Better ways to cope

There are many different ways to cope with stressful situations. Some find that getting out of the house helps relieve stress. Try taking a walk or exercising to blow off some steam. If exercising isn’t really your thing, you could go shopping, or to a show.

The key is to take some time away from life and just breathe and do something that you enjoy, other than eating. Like me, you may have to try a few different things before you find one that really works well. I am still in the process of finding my new coping mechanism. But at least now I don’t have to start the whole process of putting my life back together every time I encounter a hard situation or time in my life.

For us, stress can be even more burdensome due to the havoc it creates on diabetes control. We have to be aware and careful of how we deal with the stress in our lives and try and reduce it as much as possible. It is smart to practice healthy lifestyle habits regularly, including healthy coping mechanisms so that when life throws us a curve ball, we can just run with it and move on.

To learn more about this topic:
Diabetic Dieting: An Easier Approach to Eating Well
8 Worst Processed Foods for People with Diabetes — and What to Eat Instead
Stop Lying about What You Eat