Stress Eating - Tips on How to Avoid Doing It

As adults we all go through it, busy at work, stress with the kids, an argument with a loved one. Reaching for food to calm down is now more than ever an all-too-common coping mechanism. Juggling life’s demands and other stresses is fraught with pressure that we put on ourselves. Research from the American Psychological Association suggests; 

“Twenty-seven percent of adults say they eat to manage stress and 34 percent of those who report overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress say this behavior is a habit. In the past month, 30 percent of adults report skipping a meal due to stress.”

It’s not rocket science, but the impact on your appetite goes one of two ways, feast or famine. Stress eating potentially serves as a soothing distraction and for many people, it’s become an unhealthy habit. When we are stressed, our levels of cortisol (aka the stress hormone) go up, which can increase appetite and cravings for foods high in fat and sugar. Fatty and sugary foods (the so-called comfort foods) seem to subdue the part of the brain that sends stress signals.

Truth be told, emotional eating only acts as a quick fix for stress, thereafter stress returns and can often be compounded by guilt from overeating or making unhealthy choices. So the cycle continues. 

On the plus side there are ways out of the stress-eating spiral with smart strategies; it’s never easy, but these include being more considerate with yourself and putting together a plan to better help deal with stress in the future.


IDENTIFY THE TRIGGER

The next time you have an urge (and yes I mean to stress-eat), take a moment. Stop and ask yourself, “Why am I so stressed out?”  In order to break the habit, it’s important to identify what’s triggering your stress eating in the first place. 

Common factors include; work, personal conflicts, financial struggles and lots of other things that are simply out of your control. Identifying your stressors can take your mind off food and truly empower you to work out the root cause instead of eating to make the issue go away.


SHOP CLEAN

What do I mean by this? For many of us, stress eating is automatic and habitual, so we don’t even think we are doing it. Consequently, we grab the first thing we see in the fridge or on the worktop. So to combat it, try to keep less nutritious foods out of sight. 

However, if you shop clean and keep the indulgent treats to a minimum then you can guarantee that your poor food choices will be limited. If you must buy some treats then be strategic, store things like ice cream in the back of the freezer underneath all other items. Keep high-calorie junk food in an under counter corner space if you can, as far out-of-reach as possible. Better still, pre-prepare healthy snacks that you enjoy and place them at the front of the fridge or front of a cabinet. It’s time consuming, but well worth it! 


IMPLEMENT CHANGE

If you continue doing the same thing, you get the same results. As such unless you can substitute an activity with another (think eating with exercise) it’s almost impossible for our brains to say “no” when we tell ourselves “don’t eat the double chocolate chip cookie”


If your unwind routine involves a pack of biscuits in front of the TV when the kids are in bed, try swapping it out for something that isn’t food-based. A brisk walk works wonders during lockdown. Change is great when applied in the right way. 


EXERCISE

Putting in 20 minutes a day can help ward off stress eating. The endorphin release that I often refer to in other articles is scientifically proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce stress. In a study by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise - Students who did 15 minutes of HIIT after mental work ate 125 fewer calories when offered all-you-can-eat-pizza than those who rested. Making regular exercise a habit is another mechanism for avoiding stress eating.


SUPPORT NETWORK

When times become stressful, it helps to have a support network. If stress eating is a challenge for you, share it with a trusted friend or loved one. Having someone to talk to can help you discuss your thoughts and feelings and remind you to stick to your nutrition goals. 


SLEEP QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

Sleep deprivation is known to bring about hunger-inducing hormonal imbalances. If you’re low on sleep, you’re more likely to reach for low-nutrient, high-fat foods. What might seem like a quick fix will undo all of that hard work you have been putting in. You become more susceptible to emotional eating due to an increase in cortisol. Studies suggest aiming for 7–8 hours of quality sleep each night. Try and stick to the same schedule and cut off access to distractions (blue light from your phone, laptop and TV) at least an hour prior to going to sleep.

 

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