Stress is a physical and emotional reaction to demanding situations. Stress triggers a cascade of reactions in the body that make you more aware and alert so you can handle the demands. This includes the release of hormones that boost energy, tense up your muscles, and increase your heart rate.
These hormones also trigger your appetite and your brain’s reward system, which is why you may feel the need to eat a bag of chips after a stressful day at work. But turning to food isn’t the best way to manage stress, especially if your stress is a chronic problem.
At Macomb Medical Clinic in Sterling Heights, Michigan, we know all about stress eating. It’s one of the topics we cover for our medical weight management program. Stress eating makes it harder to maintain a healthy weight and puts you at risk of developing other health problems like hypertension and diabetes.
December is a peak time for stress and stress eating. Here, we want to give you some tips on how to avoid stress eating.
1. Identify your stressors
Stress eating is a coping mechanism. Knowing what triggers your desire for sweet, salty, or fatty foods may help curtail the need to eat to cope with the stress. Before you open that bag of chips, think about the events that happened before your food craving. Do you want to eat because you’re hungry or is it something else?
Checking in with yourself makes you more aware of your stress eating triggers. It can also help you develop strategies to change how you respond to stress.
2. Find other ways to destress
We know the desire to eat is strong when triggered by stress, but food isn’t the only way to destress. Instead of raiding the snack drawer, go for a walk, call a friend, or listen to music when you’re feeling stressed.
Creating new healthy behaviors to replace unhealthy habits takes time, practice, and self-compassion. When attempting to find other ways to destress, be kind to yourself, especially when you give into your cravings. Hiccups are part of the journey and nothing is wrecked when you “mess up.” You just need to try again and celebrate your successes.
3. Keep a stash of healthier choices
Keep healthier food options around so you can make better choices. If you need a salty treat when feeling stressed, replace your bag of chips with lightly salted air-popped popcorn. For sweet cravings, try a piece of fruit.
Making better food choices also improves how your body handles stress. Eating large amounts of processed foods increases stress hormone levels, compounding the problem.
4. Add foods that fight stress
Try adding foods that actually help your body fight stress, like a cup of hot tea. Chamomile tea contains phytochemicals that ease muscle tension and pain, helping you relax. Strawberries and raspberries are rich in vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that helps lower stress hormone levels and blood pressure.
Oatmeal, salmon, and dark chocolate also make good stress-fighting food choices.
5. Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating is a practice that puts you in touch with your physical hunger and fullness cues. Physically knowing when you feel hungry and full helps you know when to eat and when to stop eating. You don’t stress eat because you’re hungry.
When you decide to eat, rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, where one means your stomach is empty and 10 is you’re so full you feel sick. Continue to pay attention to your hunger when eating, until you reach a level where you feel satisfied, which rates around 5 or 6.
Use this scale to help you manage your hunger and avoid stress eating.
If you’re struggling to gain control over your stress eating and it’s making it hard for you to get to your goal weight, we can help. Call our office today to schedule a consultation with our primary care experts.