Stress is difficult enough to grapple with on it’s own but unchecked, it can have a slew of unpleasant and sometimes unhealthy, side effects, like weight gain.
For many people, eating is a natural response to not just stress, but a whole range of emotions like anger and sadness. One of the main causes of this is that cortisol, a stress hormone, often triggers your appetite while unhealthy foods often produce the most “feel-good” hormones. While some weight gain and fluctuation and totally normal (and you shouldn’t put too much empahsis on your weight, anyway) if you’re just using eating as a crutch to deal with stress, it can become an unhealthy habit. Luckily, we’ve compiled some of the most important steps to understanding and taking control of stress eating.
Find your triggers
Stepping straight into a strict diet and exercise plan might not be the best path for you to take. Self-reflection and awareness of your own moods are crucial to getting the long-term results you want. Sometimes, something as simple as an argument with a co-worker can trigger stress eating at the end of the day, but other times, something more serious like chronic depression could be causing it. Talking with a mental health professional, or keeping a daily diary, can be helpful first steps to uncovering triggers.
Your trigger could also be a certain time of day. found that people exposed to chronic stress or those with binge eating disorder will eat way more during the late afternoon and evening.
Keeping a food diary could help you figure out if this is true for you. What do you eat and when? Could you choose healthier options at the times you find yourself eating sweets or junk food? This method, or seeing a mental health professional, can get you on the road to control.
Get Involved with Stress-Reducing Activities
Exercising is often viewed as a chore or an activity that you’re engaging in just for physical results. But exercise can have a postive mental impact as well.
Engage in physical activities that improve your mental wellbeing, not ones that just get you thinner. Focus on your mind first, then your body. Here are some of the best activities to consider to target stress specifically:
- Walking in nature
- Tai chi
The goal should be to have fun, relax and even get your friends or family involved. Working towards a healthier mindset will result in healthier eating habits and lower cortisol levels.
As mentioned before, the foods that make us feel better in the moment are often the most unhealthy. It’s vital to understand that avoiding those foods is not just a matter of willpower, sometimes a real addiction can form. A study by the University of Michigan even compiled according to something known as the Yale Food Addiction Scale. Many of the most addictive foods had:
- High glycemic load
- High fat
- Processed foods
- High sugar
Not only are these foods bad for you but they contribute to an ongoing cycle of emotional eating. There is even considerable .
Some More Helpful Tips
Making small choices every day will lead to better food choices overall. Here are more ways to help you minimize emotional eating.
- Prepare snacking portions; don’t eat just straight from the package
- Swap out white bread for whole-grain or multigrain bread
- Incorporate more nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables in your meals and snacks
- Find an exercise routine that works for you
- Get enough protein in your diet
- Get a blood test to find out if you have any nutritional deficiencies
- Don’t skip meals- you might overeat later in the day
- Aim for smaller portions of processed foods and larger portions of nutritionally dense foods
- Don’t eat while distracted by work, TV, etc.
- Seek guidance from a therapist or dietitian
- Stay hydrated with water throughout the day. Your body can sometimes confuse hunger and thirst.
Benefits to healthy eating
We know healthier eating is always a good idea, but there are so many benefits beyond the physical that we had to mention them.
Following a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight will:
- Decrease risk of
- Result in more mental clarity and energy
- Decrease joint pain. Less weight means less pressure for joints to carry.
- Lower your
- Improve your confidence
- Decrease risk of
- Improve skin, hair and nails. High protein and getting enough Omega-3 fats in your diet is sure to give you a healthy glow.
- Improve blood sugar levels. Even if you’re pre-diabetic,
As you can see, health is a priority above all else and we understand taking control of it is sometimes a little tricky. Though, with a positive outlook, knowledge, and the help of a professional, you can absolutely overcome emotional eating and build a healthy lifestyle.