8 Tips To Overcome Stress EatingApril 19, 2021
Overcome Stress Eating: Stress is a crisis in America that can affect nearly every aspect of life. In its annual Stress in America survey, the American Psychological Association (APA) looks at the sources of stress and how people are responding to stressors in their lives, both physically and mentally.
Overeating Unhealthy Foods
One trend seen year-to-year in the survey results is the effect stress can have on an individual’s eating habits. Eating more unhealthy foods, or “stress eating,” is a common way people cope with stress. Overeating or eating more unhealthy foods during stressful times may be comforting at the moment (there’s a reason we call it “comfort food”), but it does nothing good for our bodies and can lead to weight gain and even obesity.
Why Do We Stress Eat?
Persistent or ongoing stress raises levels of a certain hormone in the body: cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. When cortisol is released by the adrenal glands into the body, it stimulates the metabolism of carbohydrates and fat. In turn, insulin is also released into the body. Increased insulin levels stimulate hunger, which is easily satisfied with high fat, sugary, starchy foods.
Foods that are high in fat, sugar or both may temporarily counteract stress or at least decrease the feelings associated with stress. If eating a certain food helps you feel better when you’re feeling stressed, then a stress-induced cravings pattern can develop.
Recognizing Stress Eating
It’s helpful to keep a food diary and track your behavior, so record not only what you eat and how much, but what you are doing, feeling, and going through at the time. This can provide valuable insight into your eating habits and help you identify if you are eating because of a trigger like boredom, habit, or a social influence vs an emotion and the impact of stress, rather than physical hunger.
Recognizing these triggers and how they impact your diet is key to developing a healthy relationship with food and overcome stress eating.
Tips to Avoid Stress Eating
There is no doubt that we live in a stressful society. While it may be impossible to escape stress altogether, taking conscious action to counter your stress with healthy tactics can prevent stress-related weight gain and help you stay on track with your weight loss goals. Here are some tips to overcome stress eating in a healthy way.
Tips To Overcome Stress Eating
Learn to recognize stress in your life
Recognize the patterns that lead to increased stress in your life. What are the triggers for that stress? Take some time to consider the factors that may be increasing your stress.
When you can identify the source or sources of your stress, you’ll be better able to fight the negative behaviors that result from that stress.
Turn to exercise, rather than food
Exercise releases “feel good” hormones called endorphins into the body. Endorphins lower cortisol levels and help reduce stress. The American Heart Association recommends adults spend at least 30 minutes a day exercising for a healthy heart, and that same amount of exercise each day can also help combat stress.
Find an exercise you enjoy and an exercise buddy to help keep you accountable. When the weather permits, take your exercise outside to get some fresh air, which can also reduce your stress.
Get rid of the temptations
Cookies, potato chips, and other high-fat, high-calorie, high-sugar junk foods will only tempt you in times of stress. But, if you don’t have access to unhealthy foods, you can’t eat them. So keep your fridge and pantry stocked with healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy sources of protein.
The more you eliminate unhealthy food from your diet, the less likely you are to crave it. Before you know it, you’ll naturally gravitate toward the healthy food available.
Make meditation part of your routine
Meditation is simply a practice of quieting your brain to train your attention and awareness, helping you to achieve a calm and stable mental state. Meditation can increase calmness and relaxation, improve psychological balance and enhance overall health and well-being.
Find a quiet, peaceful spot in your home or outdoors to meditate for a few minutes each day. Start by quieting your mind and taking deep breaths. Research shows that taking deep, diaphragmatic breaths and slowing your breathing to five breaths per minute affects the vagus nerve, which controls heart rate, gut function, mental patterns, mood, asthma, and more.
Find a hobby
If stress gives you nervous energy, turn that energy into your hobbies and talents. Everyone needs a hobby.
What activities balance you and bring you joy? Maybe it’s painting, gardening, reading or dancing. Whatever your hobby may be, set aside time each week to dedicate to that activity.
Spend time with loved ones
If you’re a people person, then there’s no better way to help you unwind and de-stress than spending time with those you love. Set up boundaries around the people whose negativity is a drain on your emotions and spend more quality time with the people who fill your cup with positive feelings.
Stop and think before you eat
Before eating, take a moment to ask yourself, will this food make me feel better? Weigh the positive and negative consequences of what you are about to eat. If it’s something you’ll regret, put it back and choose a healthier snack, or de-stress with one of the tactics above.
Make healthier choices
Certain foods, like complex carbohydrates, can help combat the stress hormone in your body. Compared to simple carbs, complex carbs like whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruit will help your body release serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that affects brain cells and is related to functions like emotions, mood, sleep, memory, and appetite.
We all have stress in our lives, so while it may not be possible to avoid stress entirely, it is possible to find long-term solutions to help overcome stress eating. Talking to your doctor, psychologist, or a registered nutritionist can also help you understand your triggers and find strategies to break the cycle of emotional eating.
If you struggle with stress eating, finding positive ways to cope with your stress is key in maintaining a healthy body and keeping your weight loss on track.
ABOUT THE AUTHORDr. Brian Long specializes in laparoscopic bariatric surgery, performing sleeve gastrectomy, gastric bypass, adjustable gastric banding and revisional procedures. With impressive credentials from prestigious hospitals in Washington DC and helping troops in the Persian Gulf, Dr. Long has most recently been with the Nicholson Clinic for Weight Loss Surgery, one the country’s premier destinations for weight loss, since 2015. The Nicholson Clinic has helped more than 25,000 patients, coming from all 50 states and 11 countries.