Stress and a hectic lifestyle can affect our eating patterns and food choices. The stress hormone cortisol increases appetite and may ramp up the motivation to eat. This can make you crave “bad” carbohydrates which will give you an energy boost followed by a crash. This will leave you hungry for more foods like sweets and fatty, salty foods. This vicious cycle can lead to mindlessly overeating and eating when you are not even hungry.
Try these suggestions to break the stress eating cycle:
Break the cycle, don’t feed emotions with junk food. High-carb, high-fat foods trigger the brain’s feel good response, so over time we start to rely on these foods to find emotional relief. Unfortunately, the long-term result of this habit of eating leads to more emotional distress and chronic health issues.
It may be time to replace your current eating rituals. If a certain time of day or certain emotions such as overwhelm, sadness, frustration or boredom trigger food cravings, try to replace that automatic response with something else. Practice deep breathing, enjoy a cup of green or herbal tea, or recharge your body with a brisk walk or some relaxing stretches. Take a pause and become mindful of your true needs. Automatic urges will subside when you take a minute to focus on your true desires. Take a breath and focus on your future. If your true goal is peace, a smaller waist, a healthy heart, or just looking and feeling your best everyday… what is a better choice to get you there?
Find ways to relieve stress and balance your emotions without overeating. The practice of meditation reduces stress and helps you become more aware of everything you do. The practice can be as simple as taking just a few minutes each day to sit comfortably, tune into your breath, and let tension go with each exhalation. When you notice your mind wandering just return to your breath. Through mindfulness practices such as meditation we become more aware of internal messages and listening to our body. We can then understand when we are truly hungry and the foods that will nourish our body rather than eating on autopilot or because we feel anxious, sad, lonely or bored.
Exercise is meditation in motion. Regular exercise can reduce depression and anxiety, increase self-confidence, and relax you. Even one session of exercise can improve your mood. Consider adding yoga or tai chi which directly combines the elements of exercise and meditation.
Make sure you are getting adequate sleep. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep affects appetite regulation and increases stress on your mind and body. Allow time to unwind before bed with a bedtime ritual that could include things such as reading a good novel, relaxing with a cup of chamomile tea, or enjoying a lavender and Epsom salt bath or foot soak.
Through practicing mindfulness, we will have improved health and sleep. Mindfulness is about calmly accepting the present moment, and it leads to a state of balance. It means maintaining a moment by moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and our surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.
Nourish your body with whole foods. Consume adequate amounts of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates during each meal and snack. This ensures you stay satiated and balances blood sugar levels. Generally, this means choosing whole foods such as nuts, whole grains, raw vegetables and fruits. Avoid foods that are packaged, high in sugar, or fried. One of the fastest ways to calm unhealthy food cravings is by eating protein. Protein helps curb your hunger longer and won’t give you the crash that sweetened and refined foods do.
Find new comfort foods. Do not stock your kitchen with your favorite indulgence foods, the unhealthy foods you crave in times of stress. Discover healthier versions of the foods you crave and keep them on hand. If you have a craving for soda, replace this with fruit-infused mineral water. If you crave cookies or ice cream replace this with berries and cream or an apple with nut butter. Your taste buds will adapt, and these new comfort foods will leave you feeling satisfied and energized.
Be kind to yourself. Find ways to incorporate mindfulness practices and relaxation into your daily routine. Learn to recognize true hunger and satisfy yourself with whole, nourishing foods. These suggestions will not only help you manage stress better but will also reduce your risk for chronic disease.
-Diane Duvall, CLC, CHHC, CPT
Diane Duvall is a Life Coach and Certified Health Coach for the Lifestyle Medicine Practice of Dr. Geni Abraham, Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine. Our Internal Medicine Practices an integrated medical practice with a focus on Lifestyle Medicine to prevent chronic disease and promote health and wellness. We offer health coaching sessions to help you reach your personal goals. Dr. Geni Abraham, Medical Specialists of the Palm Beaches, Inc., 205 JFK Drive,Suite A, Atlantis FL 33462. Phone: 561) 432-8935 Visit DrGeniAbraham.com and Follow us on Facebook