With so much going on in the world right now, stress is certain to be at an all-time high. Stress is the body’s reaction to any change, good or bad, that requires a reaction or response.
When our brains sense an active stressor, it signals our bodies to release a burst of hormones that increase our heart rate and raises blood pressure. This "fight-or-flight" response allows us to deal with stressful situations. This response is meant to turn off after the situation is over but, unfortunately, the constant stresses of modern-day life (especially during a pandemic) means that this response can be running continuously.
When stress is poorly managed, it can lead to increased health concerns, and the hormonal responses associated with stress can negatively affect our diet by contributing to emotional eating and poor eating habits. Stress is a normal part of life which often makes it hard for us to deal with. Instead of trying to manage the stress or control a situation, which is not always realistic, we should aim to control our reactions to it, including our behaviors around eating.
Here are a few tips to remember next time you are feeling stressed:
1. Disrupt the Chain.
There is a chain of events that lead up to emotional eating. If we can disrupt this chain, we may be able to mitigate it or stop it completely. For example, you can:
- Portion out servings into a bowl/plate instead of eating from the bag/container
- Minimize skipping meals so you’re satisfied throughout the day
- Eat at the table instead of in front of the tv
- Keep healthy food options close by
2. Be Active.
Exercise increases your overall health and sense of well-being, which can lower stress. Being physically active helps bump up the production of the feel-good transmitters in your brain, otherwise known as endorphins. This helps improve your mood and can give you a sense of command over your body and your life. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress. Try not to think of exercise as just one more thing you need to get done during the day. Find an activity you enjoy — whether it's going and hitting pads or walking down to the local park and back — and make it a part of your regular routine.
3. Find a Balance
If you want a donut, have a donut! Don’t deprive yourself of your favorite foods or cut out certain food groups all together. Aim to eat well the majority of the time but give yourself some leeway to have some balance; the goal is working towards having a more positive relationship with food. Restricting calories and dieting can be extremely draining and when a little bit of stress gets added to that, you might not be able to control yourself. Set yourself up for success by eating enough throughout the day to keep you satisfied.
4. Forgive Yourself When It Happens. Don’t dwell on it! Beating yourself up and feeling bad only perpetuates the cycle. Try to learn from the situation and figure out a plan to handle your stress more appropriately next time. It’s best to feel what you need to feel to deal with the root issues. This can lead to new ways to cope with stress that doesn’t involve food.
5. Seek out Support
We all feel better after we vent about something that’s bothering us. This situation is no different. So instead of turning to food, turn to family, a friend, or a significant other and ask for their support. If you are still feeling overwhelmed, think about hiring a registered dietitian or counselor to work with you through these stressful times.
Overcoming stress eating is tough but you’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process. You can make progress with practice. Just take it day by day!