Stress is one of the most common causes of overeating and weight gain. Can you relate? Your day gets busy, life feels overwhelming, and you find yourself (without much thought) inhaling a sugary fatty “treat” because you think it’s going to make you feel better – and it does for about a minute. Maybe you turn to junk food to “boost energy” or to help you deal with your feelings of anxiety, frustration, anger, or sadness. All the while you’re gaining weight and feeling worse instead of better.
As much as you want to stop stress eating, it’s hard to control because (ironically) it happens when you’re stressed. It’s not enough to just tell yourself not to do it. In fact, trying NOT to stress eat can actually intensify stress and make you want to eat more. It is possible however, to break the cycle of stress – stress eating – more stress with the right plan.
A plan to successfully control stress eating is not just about food. In fact, it doesn’t start with food at all. A few non-food strategies and a bit of practice can make a huge difference. It takes persistence and creative ways to calm and successfully soothe yourself. The goal is to rewire your brain to identify certain non-eating behaviors as comforting, and to use those behaviors when things start to feel stressful. These three stress busting strategies can help you to calm down and take control.
STRESS BUSTING TIP 1: Be Aware and Take Care
Much of stress eating is so unconscious that it happens automatically and you may not even realize it. Before you can make changes in your behavior, you need to be aware of what you are doing. Keeping a journal can help. Write down where and when you stress eat. Was it during work or late at night when you are alone? Do you notice any patterns? Try to determine whether or not you were physically hungry. At first you may be journaling after the fact, but eventually you’re awareness will increase and you will catch yourself before you stress eat. This is the goal; and then you can decide to NOT stress eat and do something else to cope.
STRESS BUSTING TIP 2: Stop – N – Swap
If you remove stress eating from your life, you have to replace it with something. Write down a concrete list of all the healthy, non-food related activities that give you a quick pick-me-up on a tough day. Here a few simple examples.
STRESS BUSTING TIP 3: Practice Yourself Calm
In addition to the techniques mentioned above there are many other ways to calm yourself without eating, such as journaling, meditation, connecting with others, distraction, guided imagery, aroma therapy and other ways to pamper your senses. Try out these techniques when you aren’t craving food so you know exactly what to do before you really need them.
Now, let’s talk about a few stress-busting foods. There are certain foods that have calming properties based on how their specific nutrients are used by the body. Here are a few you can try:
Tea. Green, black, and white teas are packed with flavonoids; natural antioxidants that may help blood vessels relax and lower blood pressure. If you are sensitive to caffeine, go for decaffeinated varieties. And be sure not to add sugar or an artificial sweetener to your tea. Dark chocolate, red peppers, citrus fruits and berries are other flavonoid-rich foods.
Dark green vegetables. Veggies such as broccoli, spinach, kale and other greens are high in B vitamins, which can help fight anxiety. Research suggests people with low levels of these vitamins are more likely to have depression than those with normal levels.
Nuts. Almonds and cashews are rich sources of magnesium, a mineral involved in production of serotonin – a chemical produced by the body to help it relax. Like dark green veggies, nuts are high in B vitamins. They are also packed with healthy fat and some protein to reduce cravings and keep hunger at bay.