Last week I was contacted by the editor of a magazine that I contribute to & was asked to write an article on Stress and Emotional Eating. She said she would need it from me within the hour! I grabbed my iPad and started to type. But with the tight deadline, I couldn’t think. I kept looking at the clock. I started to stress. My heat rate increased and my brain stopped functioning. I had no idea what to write!
Without even thinking, I found myself in the kitchen, rummaging through the pantry and fridge, looking for something to calm my stress and frustration! I was about to stress eat!
Does this situation sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself mindlessly devouring a box of chocolates? A tub of ice-cream? The jar of peanut butter? A bag of salted nuts? Emotional and stress eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realise what you’re doing, you’ve already finished the whole pack of biscuits.
We all eat food for reasons other than physical hunger. It might be for social reasons, boredom, emotions, Stress, as a reward or out of habit. Even as a dietitian, I turn to food when I’m stressed or emotional. Maybe its a primal instinct; a coping strategy? Whatever the reason, we need to learn to control it. This non-hungry eating. Non-hungry eating can is ok at times, but if it occurs on a regular basis, it creates unbalanced eating habits and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.
Luckily for me, I did. I stopped myself just in time! How? I took control and used my non-hungry eating strategies! I grabbed a punnet of blueberries, my iPod, ran out the front door and walked around the block eating my berries smiling! My strategies worked! So here are my top 7 strategies for taking control of stress and emotional eating. Try these next time you are feeling stressed and you too can take control!
7 Strategies to Manage Stress Eating
1. Stop & Think
Ask yourself if you are physically hungry? Do you have that grumbly, empty feeling in your stomach? Or are you simply eating to entertain your mind? Take a moment to pause and reflect what you’re doing and give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision. You might need to put a reminder up for yourself. I use little post-it notes. I have one of the fridge and pantry that says “are you really hungry?”
2. Don’t Keep “Comfort Foods” in the House
Think of the foods you automatically reach for when you are stressed or angry. Don’t bring these into the house. It’s much easier to avoid them if they aren’t at home! Now some of you might say that you buy them for your partner or the kids. If that’s the case, buy flavours or varieties that you don’t like. And if you will eat anything sweet when your stressed, Place all the comfort foods in a box/container. Put it away in the tallest cupboard, right at back, out of sight. If its difficult for you to get to it will reduce likely hood of you having it.
3. Remove Yourself from the Stressful Environment
If you are stressed at work, leave the office for a minute. If you are stressed at home, go outside. Get some fresh air, take a walk, play with the dog, go to the beach. Sometimes removing yourself from the stressful environment and allowing yourself to think clearly is all you need.
4. Exercise – walk, stretch, run, box, skip, hop, jump, ride. Anything!
Exercise suppresses your brain’s stress response & strengthens your ability to control anxiety. It also helps lower cortisol levels, which is stress hormone. Reduced cortisol levels also reduces your hunger and aids in weight loss, so its a double hit!
5. Schedule Some “Me-Time”
It’s important to regularly take some time out and give your body and your mind a rest. Find something that you feel is relaxing and allows you to unwind and switch off, & do this regularly. My favourite way to de-stress is getting a massage. Recently I found a company called Blys Massage who are professional massage therapists that come to your own home to give you a massage! You book online (click here) & they can be at your home in as little as an hour! I love using Blys Massage because it means I can stay nice and relaxed and enjoy a massage in the comfort of my own home (you can even track your massage therapist as they are driving to your appointment, which is really handy!). I booked a Swedish massage and it was amazing! My therapist was both incredibly professional & super nice and gave the me best massage. She even brought relaxing music. Not only did she help release a lot of the stress tension in my back & neck, but she also found some trigger points in my legs and glutes that had been causing me some pain when I train.
6. Keep a Food & Feelings Diary & Talk to Someone
If stress eating happens on a regular basis, try keeping a food and feeling diary, keeping a note of how you are feeling and what you ate. You may be able to notice certain patterns. And don’t be afraid to seek professional help such as a psychologist, or at least talk to a family member or a friend.
7. Take a Few Deep Breaths & Smile
Take a breather – yes, take a deep breath. I hate or when people tell me to calm down and take some deep breaths when I am freaking out. But it actually works, on a physiological level! When we feel stressed, our breathing becomes shallower & occurs in the upper chest – which can result in hyperventilation. Abdominal breathing (using your diaphragm) soothes the nervous system and can help with reducing anxiety, stress and panic attacks. Try it, I guarantee it will help! It’s even a good idea to try this every time before you feel like stress eat. And smile. This one might sound silly, but it really does work! Smiling releases realises feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin that fight off stress. This not only relaxes your body, but lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. Remember the beautiful things in life. Listen to your favourite song, look at a picture of your favourite place & smile.
“Remember, you are in control.”
Editor’s Note: This is an independent article and I have no conflicts of interest to declare.