Written by Lara Fuhrer | Reviewed by Janet Lau RDN, CDN, Holistic Coach
Feeling a bit stressed out and maybe under some pressure at work, school, or home and you instantly search for a snack to help lift your mood and then suddenly feel guilty- does this sound familiar? Food is often where we turn our attention to when feeling stressed. We crave alleviation, which is temporarily solved by our pleasure centers in our brain being activated by tasty treats and cortisol (the stress hormone) being lowered. However, that feeling of euphoria is fleeting and soon many of us feel overcome with guilt for indulging, which acts as a new form of stress and ultimately starts the cycle over.
Listening to our bodies is important, because we might think when we are stressed out and craving something that it means we are hungry, but if we take a pause and get in tune with our mind and hunger we can figure out that sometimes it is just stress talking. Take a moment to listen to your body is not always enough to curb cravings and prevent stress eating. There are other strategies that can help combat stress eating:
Non-food related stress strategies:
-Make a cup of tea instead of munching on something. Much of the time we just need a hot cup of tea or lemon water to calm down our nerves. Many teas can help to combat stress like chamomile, peppermint, stress relief tea, green tea and more. Adding spices like cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric can add an extra boost of flavor and stress relief too!
-We are often confined to a seated position at a desk hunched over. Try taking a 10-15 minute walk to clear your mind and if it’s nice out get some fresh air! Taking a walk can help to raise endorphin levels and lower cortisol levels.
-Take a warm bath with some infused oils like lavender and bubbles. A bath can help us to unwind our minds and reduce stress levels helping us to avoid eating out of stress.
-Performing a 10 minute mindfulness exercise to either meditate, perform a thankfulness exercise, or just 10 minutes to stop and relax cna help us to refocus in a positive way.
-Getting enough sleep is important. Studies show that people who obtain less than 7-8 hours a night of rest feel more stressed in their day-to-day activities. Cortisol levels are shown to be elevated in those who are sleep deprived. Try getting into bed at around the same time each night to help regulate your sleep patterns and get back on track with your circadian rhythm. A normal sleep schedule will help to reduce stress in your everyday life, which will help to reduce hunger levels and stress levels. Many other studies show a correlation to sleep deprivation and obesity too.
Food-related stress strategies:
-If you are in fact hungry opt for a nutritious snack that is composed of some fat and fiber like a yogurt and a piece of fruit with some cinnamon, a piece of multigrain toast with avocado, or a piece of string cheese and some vegetables. Snacks like these can help to prevent a binge by keeping you satiated.
-Many offices have a kitchen or drawers filled with unhealthy snacks. The office can be a high stress environment and we often immediately go to those unhealthy treats. Bring in your own snacks like crudite, a piece of dark chocolate, or home popped popcorn to turn to when you feel stressed.
-Why do I have butterflies in my stomach when I feel stressed or anxious? Our enteric nervous system, located within the walls of our digestive system, communicates in a bidirectional pathway with our central nervous system (our brain and spinal cord). Opting for anti-inflammatory foods like green-leafy vegetables, beets, blueberries, salmon and more can help to reduce stress and IBS and therefore, that tingly gut feeling of butterflies.
We hope these tips help!