Regardless of where we live, the season we're in, how old we are; whether we have a houseful of kids or are kid-free, single, married, divorced or widowed — today's busy lifestyle spells S.T.R.E.S.S.
And, the constant low-grade tension brought on by everything from mismatched socks, to worries about our jobs, and what to make for dinner tonight, causes a constant drip of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
And that can only mean one thing…TROUBLE!
Adrenaline and cortisol can be hero hormones if you're competing in sports, exerting high physical energy or in an emergency situation. But, if you're just driving your car, sitting at your desk, or exerting normal energy, these hormones are NOT being used most efficiently and they become corrosive to your arteries by raising your blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation markers. We’re not talking about your typical muscle tightening and stress headaches here -- we’re talking about increased risk of heart disease, compromised immune system, weight gain and even depression!
Unfortunately, stress can do a number on our eating habits.
In the short-term, stress can actually suppress our appetite. However, if the stress persists, our adrenal glands continue to release cortisol, which increases our appetite. And, what types of foods do we crave? Of course…highly-processed foods high in fat, sugar and carbs. We've all been there…we reach for some chips or ice cream and, before we know it, the whole bag or carton has disappeared. How did THAT happen? These “comfort” foods earned their name for a reason…they provide comfort in times when we are angry, upset or stressed about something. And, let’s face it, our association with food and comfort starts at a young age…remember those fond memories of getting our favorite ice cream or cookie after a nasty tumble off our bike or some other traumatic event?
So, yes, stress eating is a thing!
And many of us deal with it each and every day.
Stress can often mean we lose sleep, exercise less, or may have an extra drink or two. These can also contribute to unhealthy eating. Losing sleep actually releases another hormone, which causes our hunger to ramp up to even higher levels. And, that’s not the worst of it! While these “comfort” foods may provide some short-term comfort, they can actually increase our stress levels further. Because now that we ate a whole bag of chips, we are even MORE worried about our weight, diet and health! It is a vicious, never-ending cycle!
Is it stressing you out just reading this? It may sound like the cards are stacked against us, but there are some surefire solutions for "stress-busting" your life and managing these menacing stress hormones...without medication!
- Reduce the stress (sounds easy, doesn't it?!). It's obvious stress is terrible for our bodies in many different ways. So, get to the source -- identifying and managing the source of the stress can have huge benefits. But, let's be realistic, there is no way to completely eliminate stress from our lives, so there are other things we have to do to overcome the temptation of stress-induced eating...
- Keep comfort foods out of reach. As the saying goes..."out of sight, out of mind." You know the types of foods that you have a weakness for, so get rid of them and the temptation they provide. Instead, keep healthy munchy foods on hand.
- Before you eat something, make it a habit to stop and ask yourself..."Am I really hungry?" or “Am I eating this to try to numb my pain or stress?” or "Is there something else I can do right now?". Often, we are not physically hungry, but the adrenaline and cortisol trick us into thinking we are. If you are truly hungry, have a healthier option on-hand as a “go-to,” such as popcorn, nuts, dark chocolate, fruit salad, or homemade granola (to satisfy the salty or sweet craving). Keeping a constant stash of cut vegetables with a dip, such as hummus, is a GREAT way to snack, and ward off chip indulgences.
- Eat often...at least 5-6 meals throughout the day. If you deprive yourself of meals throughout the day and, at the same time, stress continues to build during the day, you may encounter the dangerous combination of starvation AND stress at dinner-time. This is a recipe for disaster! By eating reasonable servings of REAL food throughout the day, you can eliminate the starvation issue and it will be much easier to stay away from those tempting “comfort” foods.
- Be mindful. If you feel a “comfort food” urge coming on, acknowledge it, and then drink a glass of water, go for a quick walk or grab a healthy snack and see if the urge passes. Often, thirst masquerades as hunger, so a glass of water and a healthy snack can do wonders to allow the urge to pass.
- Indulge in small portions. Especially when you are trying to break the cycle of stress eating, go ahead and indulge, but in smaller amounts and with different foods. This can be a helpful strategy. For example, if you have a habit of indulging in chocolate ice cream at the end of a stressful day, try a piece of dark chocolate instead. You can still get the “comfort” and satisfy the sweet craving while maintaining your good health.
We have heard so many stories of people who overcame stress-induced eating by using the solutions above. They consistently say each time they make the good choice (even though they were tempted to make a bad choice), they feel a huge sense of accomplishment and it increases their confidence to overcome future temptations.
They also say these positive experiences actually reduce their overall stress levels! Of course, they still have stress in their lives, but knowing they are eating healthfully helps them feel less stressed…and these REAL foods actually become a source of comfort. Check out more "stress-busting" tips from Zonya!
It can be done -- we have seen it!
Please share with us! Do you struggle with stress-induced eating or what useful ways have you found to overcome the temptation?