Reaching for food to deal with stressis a common impulse for many of us and one with consequences for our waistlines.
And it’s not helped by the fact that many of us will continue eating long after we are full – and long after the taste of what we are eating holds any interest for us.
The only thing certain about stress is that it is always there – at some level. So what matters is how we deal with it.
For some, their appetite disappears. But for too many of us, the opposite happens: We eat, snack, consume and then go back for some more. And nothing other than high-calorie, sweet, fatty goodness will do us.
And the cycle begins: Stress leads to eating, which leads to self-loathing, adding to the stress, and – well, you know the rest.
However, there are things you can do to break out of this destructive cycle. Although negative emotions can trigger stress eating, you can take steps to control cravings and renew your effort at weight loss. To help stop emotional eating, try these tips:
15 Tips to Help with Stress Eating
• Develop a strong nutritional foundation. Prepare in advance and you will be better able to cope with stressful events when they happen. And eat regularly throughout the day to help maintain an emotional balance.
• Turn to your support network. Lean on your family or friends or join a support group, as there is a greater chance that you will give in to stress eating if you’re trying to beat it on your own
• Have a hunger reality check. Think about whether your feelings of hunger are physical or emotional. And think about giving your craving some time to pass – for 20 minutes if possible
• Don’t make the mistake of depriving yourself. When targeting a weight loss goal, you may go too far, eat the same food too often, deny yourself treats, and exercise too much. This is a path for food cravings and binges – allow yourself the occasional treat and work on developing a varied diet.
• Remove the source of temptation. Do not store comfort foods in your home if, like me, you struggle to resist them. And don’t go shopping when you are feeling stressed – you are more likely to stock up on snacks. If you feel you have to store some foods for others in the house, then try and make sure they are not visible when you open your food presses or freezer.
• Stock up on healthy snacks. If you need to eat between meals, try and stick to low-fat, low-calorie snacks, such as small packets of nuts or trail mix (without added sweets or salt), apples, or bananas, vegetables with low-fat dip, or unbuttered popcorn.
• Eat complex carbohydrates, including oatmeal, raisin bran, and other whole-grain cereals and breads, as well as brown rice, whole-grain pasta, vegetables, beans, fruits, and nonfat milk. These foods stimulate the production of the feel-good chemical serotonin, which helps with stress
• Consume the right kind of fat. Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, including fish, walnuts, almonds, flaxseeds, and pine nuts, help regulate stress hormones
• Boost your vitamin C levels. Foods rich in this vitamin, including citrus fruits, not only boost your immune system but also reduce stress hormone levels
• Enjoy some tea. An amino acid found in green tea, theanine, may help calm you down while helping to lower raised blood pressure.
• Focus on your food. Eating while watching TV, for example, lets your mind drift, increasing your chances of overeating and making poor food choices.
• It’s not all about dieting. Focus on foods that boost your energy levels, clear your thinking, calm your senses, and offer genuine nutrition.
• Stop eating when you stop tasting it. If you are no longer into the flavor of what you are eating, that really is a good indication that it is time to stop.
• Get some sleep. If you are well rested, which means between seven and eight hours of sleep a night, may help you handle stress more successfully.
• Deal with your stress. If you stress eat, embrace a stress management technique, such as exercise, yoga, meditation, or relaxation.
Shame is Not a Motivator
It would be great if we could all just tick off these tips and put stress eating to bed, but life is rarely so easy.
There will be setbacks, overindulgences, tears and snacking. But don’t beat yourself up about it. The odd slippage will not lead to immediate weight gain. It will not make you a worse parent, partner or friend.
So keep things in perspective. Brush the crumbs off. Start again. Figure out what triggered the slip up and come up with a plan for dealing with it in a more healthy manner next time.
Ultimately, what we are trying to do is develop eating plans that are much less about achieving short-term solutions and more about creating a diet filled with less processed, more wholesome foods that can provide greater health, well-being and energy.
Foods that help us achieve our goals and help us handle the stress that comes with modern living.
This article is one of a series that will deal with the steps and lifestyle changes you can make for permanent weight management.