Many of us have had those awful days where all we want to do is go home, sit on the couch and indulge in our favorite box of cookies. When times get bad, it can definitely feel good to soothe our feelings with food.
“Your body reacts to stress by releasing certain hormones such as cortisol, which increases the appetite and ramps up the motivation to eat,” says Franceen Friefeld, RD. “In addition, stress increases the craving for foods high in fat, sugar or both.”
Turning to food to help us cope can happen to all of us, but when it becomes a daily habit, stress eating can become a problem. If you find yourself reaching for a bag of chips every time the going gets rough, try one of these six tips to combat your stress eating.
1. Take The Stress Away
Whether you decide to take up yoga, see a therapist, get a massage, or even just confide in a friend, dealing with your stress rather than trying to cope with it through food can prevent you from overeating if you’re feeling emotional in the moment.
“Often times, people use food as an avoidance tactic rather than dealing with the problem at hand,” says Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD. “If you address your stress factor, you may be less likely to stress eat.”
“Exercising releases endorphins, or the ‘feel-good’ hormones, and has been known to decrease stress,” says Kharlamenko. Rather than getting a temporary high from foods like sugar and fat, do something that benefits both your body and mind, and you’ll find that you’re more likely to hit the treadmill than a bag of popcorn after a long day.Photo by Rhettwp
3. Keep Only Healthy Food At Home
Your body starts to form an association between relaxation and junky foods, but if you replace your unhealthy foods with snacks like carrots, nuts, or strawberries, it will start to crave those foods instead.
Plus, these foods contain vitamins and nutrients that have been shown to help naturally fight off stress.
4. Keep A Food Diary
“I always recommend that people keep a diet diary for a week and write down what they’re feeling right before eating,” says Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD.”
Often people learn a lot, and see that the big plate of cookies is right after talking to mom, or the chocolate bars are after dealing with a difficult boss.”
Once you recognize your pattern of behaviors, you can find alternative distractions to deal with your problems, even if that means changing your route home so you don’t pass by your favorite bakery.
5. Get More Sleep
Studies have found that women who report that they get a short amount of sleep per night are more likely to participate in emotional eating.
Lack of sleep can raise your cortisol levels, making you more stressed and even more likely to reach for unhealthy foods out of desperation for comfort and energy.
Aim to get at least seven hours a night to keep your cortisol levels in check.
6. Practice Mindful Eating
Don’t just sit in front of the TV and mindlessly devour a bowl of mac and cheese.
“Take your time to notice the taste, smell, texture and other sensory aspects about the food,” says psychologist Jennifer E. Carter, Ph.D.
“To eat mindfully, sit at a table with no distractions (computer, TV, reading materials) and slowly savor the food.”
This can help you keep your portions in control and eat only when you’re actually hungry.