Stress eating is one of the most common forms of emotional eating.
Maybe the thought of tackling a huge project at work has you craving a cheeseburger and fries. Perhaps you turn to that chocolate fudge cake after a fight with your spouse.
Stress related eating is something we all do at one time or another. The problem comes when stress related eating becomes a habit. This can cause weight gain, frustration and health problems.
Stress Eating does have some biological roots.
When you’re stressed your body releases cortisol – which is a stress hormone that makes you crave sugary, high calorie foods like chocolate, pizza, ice cream,etc.
These foods help to raise the levels of serotonin (a calming neurotransmitter) in your brain. So craving these foods may be your body’s way of stopping the release of stress hormones (which can do damage over the long run) and starting the release pleasure hormones.
Stress also uses up our stores of certain vitamins, minerals, and neurotransmitters.
There’s some evidence that eating lots of calorie rich food actually helps to refuel and restore our bodies after a stress-related event.
But does that mean we throw in the towel and jump into a pile of chips, hot dogs and haagen-dazs when stressed?
Because while binging on junk may help us feel better temporarily, it may be harmful in the long run. In fact, it will probably make us even more stressed with the health problems and regret that comes with extra pounds.
So what can you do instead of eating when stressed?
Here are a few strategies to incorporate so you don’t give into stress eating:
1) Reach for emotional support
Friends or family can help us through times of high stress. Just talking it out with a loved one can help reduce your stress.
Call a friend. Get together with your family for a meal. Go shopping with your best bud. There’s nothing like feeling someone has heard and understands you to lessen the load.
2) Deep Breathing
This may not sound fancy, but it’s incredibly effective. Take a deep breath and repeat a phrase to yourself like “It’s ok” or “You can relax now” over and over.
Do this for several minutes until you start to feel more relaxed. This can calm you down and help reduce the stress hormones racing around your body.
Lauging is one of the best things you can do to relieve stress. Find a funny movie, talk to a hilarious friend or even read jokes online.
Laughing can also help reset your mind from focusing on the negative thoughts to the positive.
Exercise helps to work off the cortisol and other stress hormones in your body. There’s nothing like a brisk outside walk to help you get a new perspective.
But don’t force yourself to do a type of exercise you hate (talk about adding to your stress!).
Choose something that your body feels like doing – even if it means taking a gentle walk or stretching for a few minutes. Many times your body will tell you what it needs in that particular situation.
5) Be Kind To Yourself
Many times, we create the most stress on ourselves. Unrealistic goals, impossibly high expectations and perfectionistic tendencies can cause us to get down on ourselves when we aren’t perfect.
When you feel stressed, stop immediatly and ask yourself if your inner critic is acting up.
We all have bad days. Learn to loosen up and cut yourself some slack – it will probably result in a lot less stress eating.
6)Eat the Chocolate
I’m not saying eat 5 lbs of chocolate. But by giving yourself permission to eat a little chocolate (or a little bit of whatever you’re craving) can be therapeutic.
It can also stave off binging later (when you’ve already eaten 800 calories worth of ‘good food’ but finally give into what you’re really craving).
Those are several ways to handle stress related eating. No matter what you choose to do, recognize that stress eating can become a problem.
When you continually eat out of stressful feelings you develop a habit. This habit can then become deeply ingrained and difficult to break. It can sabotage any dieting or weight loss effort.