Stress and eating. Myth or fact? We hear it all the time, and rightly so, since that is our body’s way of coping with long term stress! That’s right. Turning toward food when stressed is a natural reaction, so you’re not alone!
We may turn to food (consciously or unconsciously) as a way to suppress negative emotions such as: stress, fear, sadness, loneliness, anger, and even boredom. Major life events can trigger these negative emotions.
Some of these common triggers include:
• Relationship struggles
• Financial hardship
• Health problems
• Employment/Work stress
• General fatigue
Keep in mind, there is a big difference between sudden short term stress and persistent stress. Short term stress can actually shut down your appetite due to the sudden release of our “stress hormone” cortisol. Luckily, our bodies are smart and will revert back to normal after the stress is over.
On the other hand, long term stress has the opposite effect. If stress levels persist, cortisol levels can stay elevated in that “on” position. When this happens our appetite increases. Stress eating can definitely put a dagger in our weight loss efforts since we don’t typically crave the good lean proteins and fiber-rich veggies. Instead our bodies crave foods higher in fat and sugar!
Whatever emotions contribute to you overeating, the end result is always the same. The comfort obtained from food is only temporary, the negative emotions return and often with an addition of major guilt. This sets up an unhealthy cycle: emotions trigger overeating – guilt arises for getting off track with weight loss – you feel bad and overeating occurs again.
So what do we do to avoid eating when stressed? Well, telling someone not to stress is the natural reaction but generally doesn’t work.
Here are a few tips to help relax the body and the mind to assist in maintaining healthy cortisol levels:
• Meditate. Dedicate time and find a quiet spot to focus on the here and now and work on letting go of things out of your control.
• Exercise. Being active and doing some exercise actually decreases stress!
• Get Support. Having a close friend or even group of friends you can talk to can help level out stress. Sometimes we just need the reassurance of the people who care for us the most.
• Listen to Music. Zoning out to some relaxing music can help you let go of what might be stressing you out. Music can be healing.
• Keep a Journal. Write it down! Sometimes we need to just get our worries, fears and frustrations out on paper and we feel so much better!
• Take Away Temptation. Don’t keep hard-to-resist foods in your house. If you are feeling stressed or blue, delay your run to the grocery store until you have your emotions under control.
• Learn from Mistakes. If you experience a set back with emotional eating, don’t beat yourself up. Forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future.
• Stress is inevitable. We will all experience different levels of stress in our lives but being aware of our natural reaction, going toward food, can help us not to do it!
Recognize your habits regarding stress and eating and find a different healthier outlet to help you handle what you are going through, in certain cases, your health depends on it!
If you have tried self-help techniques, but you still can’t get control over stress eating, consider therapy with a mental health professional. We at Blue Sky MD now offer counseling services with a licensed behavioral health specialist trained in helping patients with managing weight, overcoming chronic pain and reducing anxiety and depression.