We all know what stress eating is because we’ve all done it at some point in our lives. We have a huge presentation coming up at work, or are meeting the fiancé’s parents this weekend… what’s the first thing we want to do? We want something that can comfort us fast. And unfortunately a lot of times, even when we’re not hungry, that something is garbage food.
Stress eating is also sometimes called emotional eating. Basically, we let our stress and our emotions dictate what and how much we eat, and ignore our brain’s true hunger signals. It’s an extremely bad habit, and one that has its consequences. With stress eating, we typically do not want something fresh and healthy. No. When we’re feeling overwhelmed with emotions we crave something greasy with no nutritional value. This can pack on extra pounds, and increase cholesterol levels, putting us at a higher risk of a slew of health problems.
What happens when we allow ourselves to stress out excessively is our bodies go into a sort of survival mode causing our appetites to increase. Chronic stress can increase preference for foods high in calories, and therefore increases our risk for being overweight and obese. To quit this unhealthy habit of stress and emotional eating, we need to figure out a few things and create a plan to combat it. Here are 3 smart ways to avoid stress eating.
1. Figure Out What’s Causing The Stress.
The first step towards eliminating stress eating entirely is understanding your stress. Where is it coming from? And when is it happening most frequently? Are you more prone to going through a drive through during your lunch break at work because you’re exhausted and burned out? One awesome way to help you understand your stress triggers is through a food journal. A food journal can be your way of tracking what you’re eating, and when. But it shouldn’t stop there, because what we really need to know is how we’re feeling when we’re eating. So write down the food you’re eating, when, and how you’re feeling at that moment. This journal will be a great tool in combating stress eating.
2. Create A Game Plan.
After you’ve kept track of your eating habits in your journal for a while, you now have the tools to create a game plan. What are you going to do when you find yourself in a stress inducing situation, and when you want to stress eat?
It’s lunch time, and you are overwhelmed from the morning of work. You’re understaffed and irritable; your stomach is growling and you’re used to your usual burgers, fries, and a soft drink for lunch so that’s what you’re craving. Since you had a game plan already set in motion, you’ve brought your own healthy lunch from home. You made a delicious sandwich full of lean meats, fresh veggies, and whole wheat. You did it! Combating stress eating isn’t easy, but you’re on the right path.
Ideas to use in your game plan are endless. If you know you’re going to want to roll through the drive through and order a large latte with extra whipped cream when you’re feeling stressed out, make a French press coffee at home and bring it with you to- go. Buy a nice insulated mug and make your own coffee, preferably black without all that added fat and sugar. It’ll increase your metabolism, keep you on your toes at work and help you focus. During the day, bring some healthy snacks with you so you’re not suddenly starving. When you’re really hungry, there’s a higher chance that you’ll choose unhealthy food over something healthy.
Meal prepping is an awesome way to make sure you eat healthy even when you’re feeling emotional or triggered. There are so many incredible meal prepping ideas online. Meal prepping will ensure that your refrigerator is packed with the good stuff, so that when you’re feeling like pigging out on something bad, a healthy choice will be an easy one. Now you always have an easy healthy choice to grab out of the refrigerator. Fatty and sugary foods can release pleasure signals in the brain which can offset the feeling of stress, that’s why they’re so addictive. But you can combat it with healthy alternatives!
It’s important to acknowledge when you’re feeling stressed out and have the urge to stress eat. Understand that you are not actually hungry, and therefore can do something else with your time. Find an activity that takes you mind off of food. Go for a walk, play a musical instrument, pray, meditate, exercise, or go out with friends. Just do something other than eat.
Find enjoyment in healthy foods, and learn how to cook. Learn to make interesting meals; sushi or vegetarian dishes. Healthy food doesn’t have to taste bad! Once you get in the habit of eating clean, your body will crave healthy foods and tastes and the way it makes you feel. And the way you’ll feel is energetic and happy, which is far different than what you feel when you stress eat!
3. Manage Your Stress.
So you’ve taken the steps to figure out what’s causing your stress, and you’ve kept a journal and therefore created a game plan. You can acknowledge when your stress levels are high and use a technique from your game plan to combat the fake hunger and unhealthy choices. But what about the stress itself? How do you eliminate the stress? After all it’s the whole reason you started stress eating in the first place.
Chronic stress puts your health at risk. Stress causes the body to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline; it’s a biological response to certain difficult circumstances. It’s OK to be stressed out once in a while, in fact it’s perfectly normal. But being chronically stressed out wreaks havoc on your mind and body. If you are chronically stressed you may suffer from headaches, irritability, difficulty focusing, and frequent infection and illnesses. The long term health consequences of not dealing with your stress include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of obesity. Autoimmune disease, sexual dysfunction, depression, and gastrointestinal problems are just to name a few of the physical and mental disorders chronic stress can contribute to.
So if stress is an everyday part of our demanding lives, how do we eliminate it? Well, we may not be able to eliminate it entirely out of our lives, but we can manage it and use stress reducing techniques to do it. For instance, most of our stress is caused by four things: financial difficulties, demanding job, health issues, and relationship problems. If we learn how to fix these areas of our lives, we can reduce the amount of stress we face each day. If you’re in relationships with negative people causing you stress, have an important conversation with them. You may need to cut them out entirely to benefit your mental health.
Exercise pumps up the production of neurotransmitters, called endorphins, in your brain. This contributes to happiness and feeling good! Instead of stress eating to feel good, exercise! Physical activity reduces feelings of depression and anxiety, that can contribute to stress. Exercise also protects us from a slew of health issues, and reduces our risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. All these health issues that are stressing you out, can sometimes be managed with regular exercise.
Sometimes you just have to leave your world behind and find yourself in nature to relieve stress. If you have a demanding job, and changing professions is out of the question, take some time off. Use the weekend to take a drive to the beach with your family or friends and spend the day doing nothing but relaxing. Head to the mountains and go for a day-hike. You’ll appreciate the beauty around you, and the workout you’ll get! It’s easy to get lost in stress when you don’t stop and smell the roses. Sometimes a day with nature is all you need to help reduce your stress and make you overall happier.