“If hunger is not the problem, food is not the answer.”
Stress makes you feel sad, angry, uninspired, tired, on edge, and hungry. It can eat you up, and make you want to eat needlessly too. What’s scary is you won’t even realize how it sneakily changes your otherwise healthy relationship with food.
Did you know that stress accounts as a basic cause for about 60% of human illnesses and diseases? And that according to statistics from the American Institute of Stress, 44% of people who are experiencing stress either overeat or consume unhealthy food!
The numbers can be alarming, and you don’t want to be a part of that statistic. Let’s take some time to get to know what stress eating is, and how to avoid it:
What is stress eating?
The desire to eat is a natural response of your body to persistent stress. The stress triggers the release of a hormone called cortisol, which stimulates your appetite. The anxiety related to stress can also cause sleepless nights, which will also amp up your hunger levels.
You’ll know when you’re stress/emotional eating if:
- You just had a filling meal an hour ago and you suddenly feel the urge to eat again.
- The desire to eat comes suddenly and is overwhelming. Physical hunger usually manifests gradually.
- You eat after experiencing a strong emotion like anger, sadness, and even boredom.
- You don’t stop eating even when you’re already full.
How do you avoid it?
1. Know your stress triggers – You know best what causes you to flip on the stress switch and start emotional eating. Acknowledging what those triggers are, and learning to avoid them first and foremost, will definitely help you prevent stress eating. These triggers vary depending on your personality and lifestyle. Write down those triggers and make conscious effort to strategize your response to them.
2. Don’t overwhelm yourself – Stress can happen very easily when you burden yourself with more tasks than you can efficiently handle in a day. Manage your schedule and learn to prioritize. We are capable of doing ANYTHING, not EVERYTHING!
3. Surround yourself with positive people – It’s easy to fall into the stress eating routine when people around you are just on edge as you are. When you find yourself in a similar situation, talk with someone who always sees ‘the brighter side’ of things – they don’t have to change your thoughts, but getting a positive perspective can actually help lift your mood. The latter makes you less likely to stress-eat.
4. Find other ways to calm yourself – When you’re feeling anxious, cortisol levels in your bloodstream become elevated. Dealing with this hormonal rise does not have to mean turning to food. Try meditating, taking a short stroll outside, or even just doing a few stretches by your desk – these can help you shake off some of the anxiety without the need to consume anything. Plus, those options let you get a few minutes of exercise too!
5. Get enough sleep whenever you can – People who often lack sleep not only feel tired, cranky, and stressed – they also feel ‘extra hungry’. This is because your body feels the need to compensate for the lack of energy by triggering your need for food. You can avoid this by making restful sleep a daily priority on your schedule.
6. Give yourself other feel-good options – One of the main reasons why you stress-eat is to feel good, to feel happy. If there are other activities you enjoy, give yourself the time and opportunity to do them instead of turning to food. Do you like singing? Download that karaoke app and have your own mini-concert! Do you like dancing? Cue your favorite beats and start moving! And who doesn’t love retail therapy? Shop for clothes, or just visit your favorite health food store!
7. Call a good friend – Sometimes, you need a friend to help you deal with the stress. Don’t hesitate to give him or her a call! A comforting talk may just be what you need to avoid the urge to grab that sugar-loaded frap or that high-calorie fast food burger. Not only is reaching out to a friend a convenient option, it also helps you strengthen personal relationships
8. Stock up on yummy, clean and healthy treats – If eating will bring you the most comfort in a particular stressful situation, then make sure that when you decide to grab a bite, you have healthy options within easy reach.
Taking the time for food prep will definitely help make this possible for you. Salads in a jar are filling and delightful – make sure to always have a few in your fridge. Need your sweets? There are always clean choices – here are a few recipes:
9. Think about actual solutions to what is causing you stress – Stress eating is a band-aid solution that doesn’t really give you anything good for the long-term. Go to the very root of what’s stressing you out and work on that instead. Is it a work deadline? Finish the task right away, delegate if necessary. Is it a problem at home? Talk it out with family members and get their help if needed. This way, you can make sure it won’t be a recurring dilemma, and you don’t add unwanted calories to your daily diet either.
10. Allow yourself some down time every day. – Stress eating happens when you don’t give yourself – your mind and your body – that much needed break. You can prevent persistent stress from occurring by including ‘relaxation time’ in your daily schedule. Whether it’s spending a longer time in the bathtub, cuddling in a corner with a good book, or going on a quick visit to the spa for a pedi- make it a habit. With something to look forward to everyday, stress eating will take a back seat in your life!
Keep in mind that all stress eating can give you is very temporary comfort. In the long-term though, it will cause even more problems. Long-term stress can lead to excessive weight gain, medical expenses, and a dependence on unhealthy habits.
Remember, you can always choose to effectively deal with stress without compromising your health further.