Tips To Manage Stress Eating
Have you ever felt like eating a piece of chocolate cake or a bag of chips after a stressful day at work? If so, youre not alone. Studies show that stressful events activate systems associated with metabolism, cognition and reward.
What does this mean for your waistline? It means that the candy bar you are reaching for after a stressful event may be driven by a combination of physiological and psychological factors.
Ways To Stop Stress Eating
The key to getting rid of emotional eating is to slow down, identify what’s causing the craving, and make gradual changes. Try to keep those “temptation foods” in the back of the pantry where you can see them, and bring the healthy items front and center. You know your body and mind better than anyone else, so maybe that “out of sight, out of mind” mentality works best for you and keeping junk food out of the house is best. Make sure to eat three balanced meals daily and avoid skipping meals, as this can lead to overeating later on in the day. When it comes to any habit, it’s hard to quit something cold turkey and not replace it with another action. Find something else to do that’s more productive and can foster the creation of new healthy habits, like:
- Going for a walk
- Having a warm cup of tea
- Reading a book
- Crafting, coloring, drawing, or painting
- Brushing your teeth
- Chewing a piece of gum
- Drinking a tall glass of water or naturally flavored seltzer
- Going to sleep
- Practicing relaxation techniques like meditating, stretching, yoga, or taking a bath
Get To Know Our Author
Savannah Hobbs is a fourth year Ph.D. candidate studying Food Science and Human Nutrition. Hobbs is originally from Anchorage, Alaska and grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her dissertation work focuses on the eects of stress on healthy eating and physical activity. On top of this, she also looks at the role of a stress-management component in obesity prevention interventions.
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Bring Out Your Inner Chef
Some good things come along with being stuck at home. Not having the option to eat out at restaurants makes you cook more meals yourself, which has been shown to improve overall health.
For example, a study in 11,396 people found that eating home-cooked meals more frequently was associated with a greater intake of fruits and vegetables.
Plus, it found that people who ate home-cooked meals more than 5 times per week were 28% less likely to be overweight and 24% less likely to have excess body fat, compared with those who ate home-cooked meals less than 3 times per week .
Whats more, planning your meals a few days ahead can help you kill time and has even been shown to improve diet quality and reduce obesity risk (
To combat dehydration, add a few slices of fresh fruit to your water to boost its flavor, which may help you drink more water throughout the day without adding a significant amount of sugar or number of calories to your diet.
Are There Feelings Of Regret Or Guilt After Emotional Eating
Giving in to a craving, or eating because of stress can cause feelings of regret, shame, or guilt. These responses tend to be associated with emotional hunger.
On the other hand, satisfying a physical hunger is giving the body the nutrients or calories it needs to function and is not associated with negative feelings.
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Set Up Your Environment For Success
Put tempting foods behind closed cabinets or up high where you aren’t as likely to see them. In contrast, store healthy foods in see-through containers. It may sound silly, but research finds keeping healthier food in plain sight and less-healthy treats out of sight can help you choose healthier options more frequently. You might not be able to control the fact that you’re stressed, but you can create an environment where you’re less likely to turn to food.
I Cant Stop Stress Eating
Weve all done it: you get dumped, or things are piling up at work, and suddenly that freshly bought pint of Ben & Jerrys is empty. Now you feel guilty for eating something badwhich only stresses you out more!
Stress eating, also called emotional eatingor just eating your feelingsis pretty much what it sounds like: eating because youre stressed, not because youre hungry. You probably already know that overeating can be a health risk, and thats not helpingso what can you do now?
There are two main things to think about here: managing your stress level, and maintaining a good relationship with food.
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How To Relieve Stress Without Overeating
When stress affects someone’s appetite and waistline, the individual can forestall further weight gain by ridding the refrigerator and cupboards of high-fat, sugary foods. Keeping those “comfort foods” handy is just inviting trouble.
Here are some other suggestions for countering stress:
Meditation. Countless studies show that meditation reduces stress, although much of the research has focused on high blood pressure and heart disease. Meditation may also help people become more mindful of food choices. With practice, a person may be able to pay better attention to the impulse to grab a fat- and sugar-loaded comfort food and inhibit the impulse.
Exercise. While cortisol levels vary depending on the intensity and duration of exercise, overall exercise can blunt some of the negative effects of stress. Some activities, such as yoga and tai chi, have elements of both exercise and meditation.
Social support. Friends, family, and other sources of social support seem to have a buffering effect on the stress that people experience. For example, research suggests that people working in stressful situations, like hospital emergency departments, have better mental health if they have adequate social support. But even people who live and work in situations where the stakes aren’t as high need help from time to time from friends and family.
Managing Stress Eating During Lockdown
While at home we tried to cope by picking up hobbies to occupy our time and minds. We turned to baking bread, re-growing vegetable scraps, and even dusting off those knitting needles. As time at home has continued throughout another year, stress levels have stayed elevated. Stress from social isolation, the blurred line of home and work, juggling parenting responsibilities, and uncertainty has taken a toll on all of us.
Stress can affect our lives and health in many ways, especially when it is prolonged. During this pandemic many normal coping mechanisms have been taken away, such as exercising at the gym, getting alone time at a movie, or meeting friends for an outing, leaving us with few options as an outlet for stress. Instead we reached for what was near, food, alcohol, and Netflix to take our minds off of the current situation.
Stress can impact our immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems2. This can cause some people to experience digestive symptoms, headaches, fatigue, or unhappiness. Prolonged or chronic stress can contribute to other health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression or anxiety2.
Emotional eating can be used to cope with negative or stressful emotions. Sometimes it is an involuntary response to feelings that trigger stress, fear, or challenges. Here are some of our top tips to help handle stress eating during the pandemic and beyond.
Try to keep a daily routine:
Get enough sleep:
Make cooking fun:
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Determine Why Youre Emotional Eating
What is it that plagues you? It may seem the root of your problem is the desire to stress eat. But, I propose that there is a driver beneath those cravings.
Pause for a moment and pay attention to the thoughts that run continuously in your mind :
- What worries make your stomach churn?
- Which anxieties make your heart race?
- What thoughts run through your mind as you lay in bed at night?
These are the deeper source of your unhappiness and what ultimately causes you to look through the pantry like a mom whos running late and lost her keys.
Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center Remote Operations
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic , the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center staff will be primarily working remotely. We have limited in-person appointments available, including Body Composition analysis, but have suspended Resting Metabolic Rate testing appointments at this time. We will continue to have Nutrition Coaching appointments via Telehealth in addition to in-person appointments and are accepting new clients.
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What Is Emotional Eating
Using food as an occasional pick-me-up can provide a natural stress reliever. However, you shouldn’t use sugary snacks or junk food regularly as an emotional coping mechanism. Whenever you feel the urge to reach for the refrigerator door, consider how overeating in moments of distress perpetuates an unhealthy cycle. Don’t let emotions like stress or anger get in the way of making a positive change.
Some factors that trigger emotional eating may include
- Stress at work
- Relationship problems
- Financial difficulties
Learning how to soothe negative emotions properly can help break the cycle of eating to satisfy your emotions rather than your physical hunger. Taking specific measures to control these impulses ultimately leads to a healthier lifestyle. These measures help you adequately deal with your emotions by resolving those feelings that trigger overeating,
Difference Between Physical And Emotional Hunger
There are two types of hunger, physical hunger and emotional hunger.
Physical hunger happens when your body needs food. When youre physically hungry, you may experience symptoms such as stomach growling, fatigue, and irritability .
Emotional hunger happens when there is a psychological need that needs to be met. Boredom, sadness, and stress are all emotions that typically drive people to eat, which is usually followed by feelings of guilt or shame .
Emotional eating is normal however, a problem can arise when it becomes habitual. When you rely on food to cope with emotions repeatedly, eventually, it can become a difficult habit to break.
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Common Causes Of Emotional Eating
Stress. Ever notice how stress makes you hungry? Its not just in your mind. When stress is chronic, as it so often is in our chaotic, fast-paced world, your body produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foodsfoods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure. The more uncontrolled stress in your life, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief.
Stuffing emotions. Eating can be a way to temporarily silence or stuff down uncomfortable emotions, including anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame. While youre numbing yourself with food, you can avoid the difficult emotions youd rather not feel.
Boredom or feelings of emptiness. Do you ever eat simply to give yourself something to do, to relieve boredom, or as a way to fill a void in your life? You feel unfulfilled and empty, and food is a way to occupy your mouth and your time. In the moment, it fills you up and distracts you from underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with your life.
Social influences. Getting together with other people for a meal is a great way to relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. Its easy to overindulge simply because the food is there or because everyone else is eating. You may also overeat in social situations out of nervousness. Or perhaps your family or circle of friends encourages you to overeat, and its easier to go along with the group.
Recognize The Behavior Without Self
The first step to effectively addressing emotional eating is to simply recognize that you’re doing it.
“By recognizing that the only reason you’re eating right now is because of an uncomfortable emotion you’re feeling, you’re already one step closer to overcoming it,” says Kilpatrick. “If you have the emotional capacity, you can make this a bigger step forward by taking a moment to write down a word or sentence that describes what you’re feeling.”
This step may sound simple almost too simple. But, to truly be successful, you need to accept the behavior without passing judgement on yourself. This is where the hard work comes in.
“Judgement isn’t serving us here. In fact, it makes things worse,” explains Kilpatrick. “Self-judgement is accompanied by shame and guilt, strong emotions that further add on to your load and make it even harder to properly process what you’re feeling.”
As you take the step to recognize and acknowledge that you’re emotionally eating, Kilpatrick recommends reminding yourself: I am a human going through something very stressful, and I’m dealing with it in a very human way.
Next, it’s time for Step 2.
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How To Handle Stress Eating
Busy days full of work, kids, appointments, errands, sports. Meetings or phone calls with people who leave you feeling less than relaxed . Youre stressed, tired, agitatedwhat do you dograb the first delicious looking thing you see and eat it.
This was something I really wanted to kick. Because most times when I was having a crazy day, it was NOT a healthy choice I was picking. And many times I wasnt even hungry. From talking with many friends and clients, I hear that this is a common struggle, so I know that you probably can relate.
I talk a lot about stress reduction to help with overall health as it relates to things like high cortisol, sugar cravings and adrenal fatigue. Constantly elevated stress levels can be really hard on the body.
While reducing stress in your life is ideal, there are often things we cant eliminate and also times when we have to ride it out. In these cases, its so important to create more space mentally to allow your body to handle the stress and recover from it. Finding a self care relaxation technique is key to reducing the effects of stress. This is an activity you can work into your daily schedule that helps calm your mind & body.
These are my favorite ways to take a moment, step back from the situation, and refocus:
- Go for a walk
- Take deep breaths
- Meditate for 5 min
- Grab a journal and write out some thoughts or even better make a list of 5 things youre happy about or grateful for today
- Drink some water
Stress Eating And Depressed Eating Are Common When Life Takes A Turn Here’s What You Can Do
If you’ve ever found yourself eating a lot when you’re sad, anxious, stressed, nervous, or angry, you may be an emotional eater. When your intense emotions take over and your escape is through food, it is called EMOTIONAL EATING. One phase of your life of emotional eating can ruin your entire diet. Emotional eating can become very difficult to break free from it but there are things you can do.
One of the most common tropes in romantic comedy movies is that after a breakup, the woman will watch sad Lifetime movies and eat an entire bucket of ice cream.
Emotional eaters often turn to food because of other emotions as well such as stress, anxiety, anger and boredom.
Another is that after a rough breakup, a man will not be able to take care of his health and ends up gaining weight. He gains so much weight that he becomes unrecognizable.
These are tropes because they are very reflective of real life. When were sad, we like to find comfort any way we can. One easy way to find comfort is through FOOD.
Food is essential for survival. It can also be very delicious, especially when its junk food. It give us the DOPAMINE, the feel good hormone, that we need when were feeling depressed. Unfortunately, not only does the food provide no nutritional value, it makes us gain weight, and we feel worse after eating it.
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Ways To Prevent Stress Eating When Youre Stuck At Home
Though self-isolating is the best way to protect against COVID-19, being stuck at home can lead to some unhealthy behaviors, including overeating due to stress and boredom.
While taking comfort in food during times of stress is a normal reaction, overeating regularly can negatively affect your health and increase your stress and anxiety levels.
Here are 13 ways to prevent stress eating when youre stuck at home.
Indulgent Snacks Can Be Healthy Too
- A piece of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate
- Mixed berries with whipped cream
- Creamy spreadable cheeses such as Boursin or Allouette. “They are high in fat and calories, but just a little goes a long way to add flavor and fun,” O’Neil said.
- Chocolate syrup with fruit or yogurt: “Drizzle chocolate syrup on vanilla Greek yogurt. Or dip fresh strawberries in it, or chunks of frozen banana,” O’Neil advised.
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Why We Eat To Cope With Emotions
When we experience negative emotions, we want to fill that void somehow to feel better, and food is something that can fill that void.
The problem with this is that food is only a temporary fix, and using food to cope with negative emotions can create an unhealthy relationship with food, weight issues, etc.
Hormones can also play a role in emotional eating. When were under stress, this increases cortisol levels , which may increase cravings for food .
Some of the tips below are proactive tips to help you manage stress. Youll also find some tips you can use when youre on the verge of stress eating.