Does stress send you into a spiral of eating anything and everything that’s loaded in sugar or fat like ice cream or chips?
If so, you’re not alone.
A recent Huffington Post survey of US adults found that almost everyone (91%) say they experience some level of stress in their life while 77% say that they’re regularly stressed out.
Nearly half of these who said they’re stressed eat more as a response. What’s more, the foods that we crave when we’re anxious tend to be feel-good foods loaded with sugar and/or fat like chocolate, candy, cookies, ice cream and salty chips. Research conducted at Yale University School of Medicine suggests that stress is a risk factor for obesity and it alters our brain chemistry to make us want more and more highly palatable foods, similar to a drug or alcohol addiction.
The United States of Stress
While we can’t always eliminate all the major causes of stress in our lives like financial pressures, relationship issues, or s sick family member, we can take steps to help deal with it in healthier ways. Research shows that several behavioral techniques can help us better manage stress and will lead to lower levels of stress hormones and weight loss and losses in belly fat. It also helps you learn to eat out of physical hunger.
Stress eating is a form of emotional eating, which is a blanket term dietitians and psychologists use to describe eating in response to positive or negative emotions, like feeling happy, sad, lonely, bored, nervous or angry. Our bodies are designed to eat out of physical hunger (when your stomach feels empty and is growling) rather than external cues or emotional state of mind.
When we use food feed our emotions, weight gain results because you lose the ability to feel real physical hunger and eat appropriate amounts based on how much fuel our body needs. In addition, when you “feed” your emotions with high-fat and high-sugar foods, you may feel good immediately after eating because you’ll satisfy the pleasure and reward areas of the brain, but over time, you’ll need more and more of the food to get the same response. If you don’t implement healthier ways to cope with your emotional needs, it will become increasingly harder to maintain a healthy weight.
5 Slim Solutions to Stop Stress Eating
Just WAIT: When you’re reaching for ice cream, chips or a cookie, think WAIT, which stands for what am I thinking? This gives you a chance to ground yourself and evaluate if you’re really physically hungry or just emotional. It also means wait 10 minutes before you eat something. In 10 minutes, if you still really crave the food, then you can serve yourself a single portion to see if it satisfies your craving. In most cases, just thinking WAIT will help you realize that you aren’t physically hungry but you’re feeding your emotions.
Practice Deep Breathing: Deep breathing is almost always recommended to help reduce stress and it works. Several studies show that focusing on your breath is a simple way to refocus the mind to calm yourself down. Here’s how:
Belly breathing is easy to do and very relaxing. Try this basic exercise anytime you need to relax or relieve stress.
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
- Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.
- Do this breathing times, taking your time with each breath.
Read or Write: Reading a magazine or a book almost immediately helps reduce stress. Writing also works as a way to cope. When you feel overwhelmed or like you want to eat something, grab your journal and start writing. You don’t have to write about anything in particular but just start jotting down your feelings or whatever comes to your mind. Do this for five to 10 minutes and you’ll be surprised how much better it will make you feel.
Move Your Body: Moderate physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce stress and boost the feel-good chemicals in your brain. It may be the last thing you think you have time for when you’re under stress, but getting up and moving your body (go for a walk, try a CrossFit WOD) will not only help alleviate the stress that’s causing you to eat, it has also been shown that it can help you be more productive. Taking several mini breaks to move is your best ally when you’re anxious.
Call Someone: Research shows that speaking with your mother can drop markers for stress, but if mom isn’t available, call a friend or anyone else that has a few minutes to hear you out. When we’re given a chance to talk about our life and the stress we’re facing, it helps us process the emotion and helps to put a plan in place–that’s why good shrinks are good listeners.
Julie Upton, MS, RD
Appetite for Health