Are You Eating Your Stress?
Stressed out? Me too! Let’s talk about stress and specifically how we react to it with food. Whether it’s the hurricane coming to our area, a job situation, busy family or any chronic stress, our bodies are under attack. Sadly, many people report a high level of stress on a daily basis over very long periods of time.
As we are glued to the weather reports tracking Hurricane Irma, I find all this time around the house a huge temptation to grab something and snack. I am not at all hungry, but as the news reporters ramp up the impending danger and we are trying to make a decision on whether to leave town or not, I find myself wondering if we have chips and salsa or looking for the cookies I know we don’t have. Actually, we have cookies that I hid from the kids, but I really hide them from myself. I open the pantry and fridge several times an hour thinking something new and delicious will suddenly appear to make me feel better. Salt, sugar and fat become our go to stress relievers. In fact, my stomach is in knots, so why would I want to put anything in there? Interestingly enough, initial stress puts a hold on appetite, but if stress persists, we feel like eating and end up eating too much.
I have not slept well in a couple of days trying predict the storm’s path along with everyone else in Florida and flip flopping on our plans to stay or leave the state. Anyone who doesn’t sleep well regularly knows how the brain fog and lethargy set in. My face is breaking out like a teenager. Eating well and drinking water get pushed aside to deal with whatever issue is at hand. Ironically, now is the exact time we need be healthy and take care of ourselves.
Not to mention that if we have a power outage, most people rely on processed and canned goods and sugary packaged food if no refrigeration is available. I was no different when shopping at the grocery store picking up canned goods that we could heat up quickly. Obviously, safety and surviving is first, but lack of real food pushes our bodies further into an unhealthy spiral that eventually will need to be addressed. I thought it was interesting that all the processed ravioli, soups and cookies were picked over, but the cans of vegetables and fruit were still stocked up in the store. It tells you where people’s minds go during stressful times.
Eating too fast, mindlessly and too much can make us feel worse even if it feels good at first. Stress eating adds pounds, but also brings shame and guilt after the eating. Mentally it makes us feel bad and not in control. Filling the hole of stress with unhealthy food does not fix the problem. After we eat, the stress is still there. Emotional eating of any kind will hurt your weight management and weight loss efforts. That also is stressful and becomes a vicious cycle.
The other reaction is to have a glass of wine. That is dangerous, because even if I am not stressed, drinking makes me consume more food. Research shows alcohol reduces inhibitions and many people consume not only more calories, but choose salty and sugary foods more. Both the alcohol and unhealthy food can cause sleep issues in addition to the weight gain.
What’s going on and how do we deal with it?
Interestingly enough, there is a lot of science behind this response. Our flight or fight mode is kicking in and we need comfort and soothing. When we are stressed, hormones like cortisol go up. Insulin levels can also rise. Those combined with our hunger hormone, ghrelin, very often make us want fat and sugar. Those preferences tend to soothe us very temporarily and elicit a reaction in our brain that may calm us or bring pleasure for just a short time.
Stress can cause our food to move too quickly through our digestive system, so even if you are eating nutritious food, your body may not be able to absorb the nutrients. When we destroy our gut with processed food, it contributes to emotional distress and anxiety because the gut is so connected with our brain.
During times of stress, we also tend to get less sleep. When that happens, our bodies want a boost to feel awake and energetic. When cortisol is low, we reach for anything to get that stimulation from food or caffeine.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, it's hard to choose the right nutrition for your body because those hormones take your system hostage. Stress will always be there so we just have to learn to manage it. Here are some ways to stay on top of your stress before it gets too bad.
Get up and get moving.
Exercise has been proven to help curb cravings. Moving your body diverts your mind and endorphins are produced that improve your mood and energy. Exercise also improves sleep. And who wants to ruin a great exercise plan with poor eating?
Drink more water.
Keeping our bodies filled with water is very important on a cellular level. Staying hydrated can help our cluttered, stressed brains be more clear and make better decisions. Lack of water can also contribute to low energy levels which will make us snack and use caffeine to gain energy. Sometimes we think we are hungry, but we are really thirsty. Drink up!
Meditate and breathe.
Breathing is so important on many levels. It not only slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure, but can help calm the chatter in our brains. It can also give us peaceful, quiet time so we make good food decisions and don’t mindlessly eat. It is also amazing to help you get back to sleep if you are waking up in the middle of the night. Meditation, even just 5 minutes a day, has been shown to reduce stress and help manage cravings.
Talk it out.
Find someone who can help you talk through what you are stressed about and help you stay accountable to working on your health. Friendships and support systems are a great way to get your mind off all your troubles. Find people who will help you stay positive, will work out with you and encourage you to eat a clean diet. Laughter is one of the best stress relievers. You are a product of your 5 closest friends so make them upbeat, happy and healthy ones!
Put away the electronics an hour before bedtime, read a book and don’t wait to go to bed. As soon as you are tired, get into bed and relax so you don’t miss your sleeping window. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day helps keep a natural rhythm for your body. This is your body's time to heal. Limit caffeine to mornings only. Getting sleep refreshes your system and helps your body cope with everyday stress and make healthy decisions.
Do something nice for yourself every day.
Find some pleasure in life each day to negate the stress. Go for a walk in nature, read a fun book, take a bath, do crossword puzzles, watch your guilty pleasure TV show, or unplug from your phone and social media. You know what makes you happy so do at least one thing that brings you contentment every day.
If hunger is not the problem, then eating is not the solution. Eat when you are hungry. Don’t worry about the clock. Don’t eat if you are not hungry. Easier said than done when you are stressed. Get busy doing something away from the kitchen. Help yourself out by reducing the temptation and cleaning out the unhealthy food. Keep your home stocked with food that is nourishing, fresh, tastes amazing and fills you in a healthy way. Have fun cooking, trying new recipes and tasting fruits and vegetables that are in season. Have gratitude for your food, chew slowly and enjoy every bite.
Find your stress triggers.
Is it at the end of the day? Because of work? Because of the kids? When you talk to someone in particular? Keep track of what makes you turn to food therapy and find a new way to deal with your trigger. Emotional and stress eating is often just a habit that needs to be redirected. Stress is good thing in small doses to motivate us to get things done. In higher doses, it is destructive. When you work on the causes and on reducing that stress, you will be able to manage the reaction and choose healthier ways than eating to feel better.
If you would like a free consultation to chat about your emotional eating and how I can help you change those habits, just message me or email me at email@example.com. One conversation could change your life.