Turning toward food when stressed is a natural reaction—you’re not alone! Eating is often used as a distraction from challenges in life and provide a self coping mechanism during uncertain times. 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
- World-wide pandemics! (COVID-19)
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? Here are a few suggestions that might help relax the body and the mind:
- Start Fresh. If you had a rough moment in your day and did not like the way you felt or ate, start over! You can always start over at that exact moment…you don’t have to wait until the next day.
- 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.
- Find your Favorite Tunes. Zoning out to some relaxing music can help you let go of what might be stressing you out. Music can be healing.
- Take up Writing. Sometimes we need to just get our worries, fears and frustrations out on paper and we feel so much better!
- Avoid Triggers. 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.
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.
If you are in need of assistance in developing a healthy relationship with food, while also losing weight, we at Blue Sky MD are here to provide that guidance for you. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our nutrition health professionals to get you on the right path to a healthier you.
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