Reaching for food to calm down is a very common coping mechanism when dealing with intense stress. Whether we are dealing with worldwide issues, work stress, at home confinement or regular life stress, many people tend to overeat or eat unhealthy foods. Stress eating tends to feel like a soothing distraction, and for many people dealing with stress, it becomes an unhealthy habit. When dealing with intense stress, our levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) go up, which can boost our appetite, cravings for foods high in sugar and fat. Fatty and sugary foods (common comfort foods), tend to chill out our brain that sends stress signals. Unfortunately, emotional stress eating can block our stress level for a very short period, and right after the stress comes right back and sometimes with higher levels due to feeling guilty of overeating unhealthy foods.
Luckily, you can successfully avoid stress-eating by following some smart strategies that include being passionate with yourself and making plans to handle stress more easily in the future.
Tips to Avoid Stress Eating
1. Embrace a new de-stressing routine: The best options to be able to follow a new de-stressing routine, is to replace our over-eating comfort food with different activities. It’s almost impossible for our brain to listen to the “don’t eat your treats now” while we are going through life stress. When our brain wants to follow the typical stress-eating strategy, a good option is to replace it with a self-care routine that’s not food-based, like a short walk, reading a book or article, doing some yoga exercises, listening to music we love.
2. Making time for meditation: Meditation is a very efficient tool for stress management as it calms our body and mind by slowing our heart rate and breathing, which reduces the stress level. If you have been struggling with emotional eating already, mindfulness eating and meditation can help you avoid these issues.
3. Stop and take time to breathe: When we feel like we are losing control of our stress and cravings, to take a few minutes to practice deep breathing and diaphragmatic breathing will reduce the stress level intensely. Breathe in through your abdomen and let it fill up and expand, hold the breath for a few seconds, then release and repeat for several minutes. Focusing on the rhythm and quality of your breath can help take your mind off the stress and fight it by improving oxygenation in your body and releasing muscle tension. Breathing techniques are so helpful, it can help you relax and significantly reduce the cortisol levels, which can also provide benefits for better quality sleep.
4. Exercise: If you start feeling stress-eating and comfort food issues, doing some exercises for even 10-20 mins can help discard stress-eating. The endorphins “feel-good hormones” released from the body and sweating are one of the most effective ways to reduce stress. According to some research, people who did 15 minutes of HIIT exercises, ate fewer calories after the training, people who didn’t exercise ate more calories. To include some regular HIIT training sessions will help reduce the stress levels.
5. Run/cardio training with a friend: Again, the endorphin hormones get released from the body and sweating through running and other cardio exercises to help reduce intense stress. To perform these good cardio exercises with a friend or running partner, can also add extra stress relief benefits. To chat about your thoughts and feelings with a friend while running or exercising can help you get rid of some emotional issues, which will help you feel better less stressful, so you can avoid craving comfort foods for stress relief.
6. Follow your real hunger: Some people going through intense stress tend to avoid eating for long periods of time, and then by the end of the day the hunger builds up intensely, and causes major over-eating issues. Eat a balanced diet throughout the day, according to your physical activities and moving time. It’s important to eat to replenish our body to feel satisfied and to avoid eating in response of starving hunger later, which can be affected by stress. Plan and prepare healthy meals and snacks that will make your body and mind feel good. Focus on balanced meals with all the essential nutrients- protein, healthy complex carbs, healthy fats, fiber-rich foods and make sure you eat lots of green vegetables and healthy fruits (berries), nuts and seeds regularly.
7. Get enough sleep- Sleep deprivation can cause more hunger-inducing hormonal imbalances, and can increase stress levels. When we are low on sleep, we’re more likely to reach for low-nutrient, high-fat and high-sugar foods, which will affect the cortisol level and increase emotional eating. Make sure you get 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night by creating a smart bedtime routine. Try to follow the same bedtime schedule, try to avoid screen time at least 1 hour before bedtime, instead try to read a nice book.