We’ve all heard of the term “stress eating,” and there is a lot of truth behind it. Stress, and the hormones it unleashes, pushes you to eat unhealthy, high-fat, sugary foods. Because these foods are often low in nutrients, they keep you coming back for more. That’s why you can easily sit down with a bag of chips and keep eating until you’re tilting the bag to pour crumbs onto your face.
Stress eating is very difficult to stop, and it can lead to overeating. This is bad news if you want to maintain weight, and it can make losing weight a lot harder. In the short term, stress can shut down your appetite. The nervous system sends messages to the adrenal glands to increase production of epinephrine, an adrenaline hormone. Epinephrine triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response, which is a revved up physiological state that can be beneficial at times.
When you experience stress chronically, though, the adrenal glands start to release cortisol. This stress hormone increases appetite and can drive your desire to eat, and you don’t typically go for healthy foods in this stressed state. Once a stressful episode is over, your cortisol levels should decline, but they won’t if stress doesn’t go away. Should you find yourself in a state of stress, though, employ the following tips to help tame your stress eating.
Eat At Regular Intervals
When you go a long time without eating, you’re much more likely to grab whatever food crosses your path and shove it in your face. The stress of not eating combines with the stress of your need to eat, which doesn’t end well for your health. When you’re hungry, you are more likely to overeat, especially if you had a stressful day. Instead of stuffing your face in one sitting, try to eat balanced meals and snacks every three to four hours. Not only will this help you avoid intense hunger, but it also helps you control your portions. You want to feel satisfied, not stuffed to the point of no return.
Create A Safe Space For Eating
What does this mean, exactly? Well, too often do people eat standing up, walking around, in front of the TV, or scrolling on their phones. Where you eat determines how you eat. Try dining at the kitchen table or in the dining room. The main goal is to be away from a fridge full of food while you’re eating. Once you establish an eating environment, put the food away after you serve it up. This will help limit your trips back to the kitchen to get seconds and thirds. If chips and cookies are out and in your field of vision, you’ll most likely grab them for a snack, especially if you’re anxious or stressed. Designate an eating area and don’t distract yourself during the meal.
Aim For Balance
We aren’t just talking about adding more greens on your plate, although that is never a bad thing. When you experience a lot of stress, it is very common to eat a meal that contains a lot of unhealthy fats and sugar. In a state of stress, you probably aren’t eating a buddha bowl with roasted sweet potatoes, quinoa, and homemade slaw. Believe it or not, sugary or fatty foods can numb your emotions and spike your blood sugar before sending them to an extreme low. You’ll feel hungry all over again even though you just ate. Instead of inhaling a bag of potato chips, eat a balanced meal or snack that contains protein, healthy fats, and fiber. These meals take longer for the body to digest, so you’ll feel full for a lot longer. Plus, you won’t experience the blood sugar highs and lows!
One study in 2017 monitored participants who meditated for 45 minutes a day, almost every day of the week. They also performed other mindfulness practices, including eating a meal mindfully once a day. The results indicated that adopting a daily mindfulness practice was able to curb stress-induced or anxiety-provoked eating. When you focus on eating and exist in the present moment during your meal, you eat with a purpose, putting your fork down between bites and breathing before each meal. You can take time to analyze whether or not you’re actually hungry when you eat more mindfully.