How to curb stress eating
Since stress – and by extension, stress eating – cannot be eradicated entirely, because we’ll always face changes that will bring with them positive or negative demands on us at one point or another, our how-to guide is designed to help you reach two ends: awareness and management.
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Why do you stress eat?
The short story: Stress eating is your body’s way of helping you cope with something that needs to be soothed.
The low-down: One of the immediate effects stress has on your body is that it demands an increase of oxygen and energy when it releases its distress signal – the stress hormone, cortisol, and adrenalin – into your system. Thinking it’s under immediate threat, your body subsequently kicks into a stress response, what is otherwise known as ‘fight or flight’ mode, boosting memory retention, improving your focus and increasing your heart rate. In small doses, the by-product is a hunger or craving that you unknowingly want to quell with sugar and refined carbs – foods that subdue stress by causing your brain to release serotonin, a ‘feel good’ chemical.
How to curb it
When your stress eating is no longer done in moderation, opt for these methods:
#1 Track your changes
Keeping a diary that tracks your relationship with emotional eating is a worthwhile way to recognise trigger points and form a strategy against them. To start, make note of your hunger levels when you stress eat, what you were doing and/or what happened prior to when you started eating, and what you were feeling when you reached for those comfort foods.
#2 Incorporate stress-management nutrients in your diet
Actively include antioxidants, B and C vitamins, calcium, magnesium and zinc into a well-balanced diet. While antioxidants, such as those found in blueberries, play a part in reducing cortisol in your body, Vitamin C supports the function of the adrenal glands. Similarly, Vitamin B, commonly found in fish and eggs, improves coping mechanisms and reduces any of the potentially harmful effects of stress hormones.
Another way to combat stress eating at the source of the problem is to integrate deep-breathing, or ‘paced respiration’, exercises into your weekly routine. According to authority Harvard Medical School, it encourages your body to fully exchange oxygen, bringing with it a sundry of benefits that reduce your stress response.
We’ve all heard the marvels of meditation, which has been championing the benefits of this technique - specifically breath focus - since time immemorial. Don’t know where to begin? Download a top-rated mindfulness app, such as Calm, The Mindfulness App, or Headspace.
#4 Do progressive muscle relaxation
When you know you’re about to turn to food in reaction to a stressor, instead take ten minutes to do some progressive muscle relaxation exercises. It’s a positive distraction strategy that’ll have you pouring your focus into isolating and tensing muscle groups. Work your way around your body in whatever sequence you’re most comfortable with, tensing each group of muscles for 5 seconds and then relaxing them as much as you can for 30 seconds.
#5 Chew gum
If the pleasure of stress eating for you is grinding your teeth, the motion of chewing or the feeling of texture, chew gum. The added benefit: in a small-scale study in 2011, chewing gum was even shown to reduce anxiety levels in stressed-out participants over the course of two weeks.
Note: Always consult a therapist, psychologist, nutritionist or doctor if stress eating becomes a detriment to your health.
What's your food of choice when you stress eat?