Updated: Feb 20, 2021
It's all too easy to use food to cope with stress. Many of us think of eating, especially our favorite foods, as a reward. Plus, opening the fridge or ordering takeout from our phones makes processed food easy to get. If this is a problem for you, check out my free 15 minute audio program Smile Into Distress to help you overcome stress eating. So it makes sense when times get tough that we might turn to eating to help us feel better or cope. Unfortunately, emotional eating is probably bad for your health. It increases your risk of becoming obese which has loads of health risks. While stress eating is very common, and there isn't one solution to rid yourself of the habit, there are some things you can do to start repairing your relationship with food. WHAT IS STRESS EATING? Stress eating, also known as emotional eating is when you consume food (usually in excess) as a response to negative emotions. · 27 percent of adults say they eat to cope with stress. · Along the same lines, 34 percent of people that overeat list stress as a factor for their behavior. WHY DO PEOPLE STRESS EAT? While there are common triggers that might cause you to eat emotionally, there isn't one reason people stress eat. Interestingly, a 2010 study found that of a group of 666 students, there was no link between emotional eating and gender or ethnic background. Scientists are still searching for a root cause. Examples of common triggers include: · Anxiety (remember form our last week’s newsletter COVID has tripled anxiety). · Depression · Boredom · Chronic or acute stress · Irritability · Bad moods · Excessively restrictive diets · Exhaustion/fatigue · Social gatherings (people always eat more - this is one reason why having a strong support group or accountability partner can be helpful on the path to weight loss) 5 TIPS TO STOP STRESS EATING 1. Know your triggers Be aware of what causes you to overeat, and try enlisting positive behaviors to counteract your triggers. A trigger is an event or situation that causes you to stress eat. Knowing what your triggers are helps you become aware of your patterns, and can help you catch the behavior before it happens. And when you know your triggers, you can enlist positive behaviors to help counteract them. Awareness of your triggers is the first and most important step, because you can't change a negative behavior if you aren't aware of it. The next step is to enlist positive behaviors, such as exercise, to help you form healthier habits instead of stress eating. 2. Don't count calories Obsessively counting calories may do more harm than good. Counting macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats is a more flexible approach, which might help you if you stress eat. Energy intake (the number of calories you eat) plays a role in weight loss. Namely, if you're eating more calories than your body needs, you will probably gain weight over time. Studies show that excessively restrictive diets could ultimately lead to overeating. 3. Eat healthy foods Foods high in protein, fat, and fiber will keep you full longer, which makes sticking to your diet easier. Many self-admitted stress eaters tend to eat unhealthy foods when they're stressed, especially processed and sugary foods. This makes sense, considering one 2015 study found people that are stressed out are more likely to get hooked on eating sugar. But according to a 2010 study in Nutrient Journal, eating a nutrient-dense diet of macronutrients that contains a lot of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals can help reduce hunger even when you eat less calories.
I like a low-carb diet (that checks all three of these nutrient boxes), but any diet that prioritizes nutrient-rich foods like lean proteins, healthy fats, and fiber-dense carbs will work, too. What foods are good for stress? Protein · Chicken · Seafood (salmon, shrimp, scallops, etc.) · Beef · Pork · Eggs Fat · Healthy oils (coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil) · Nuts (almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts) · Avocado Carbs · Broccoli · Cauliflower · Spinach · Berries But keep in mind, it's not just about what you eat. Solving your stress eating problem also may have to do with when you eat. 4. Eat when you're hungry Learning to trust your body's signals and eating when you’re hungry may help you stop stress eating. Our brains see food as a natural reward, as dopamine (the "feel-good" hormone) is released when we eat. This may help you see why stress eating is so common. According to one 2013 study, you're far more likely to overeat if you aren't regularly eating when you're hungry. Your body will try to "make up" what it didn't get if it's feeling deprived throughout the day. Therefore, eating when you're hungry is important. Studies also show that learning to trust yourself with eating is one of the keys to losing weight and repairing your relationship with food. It also may help you stop binge eating. Trusting yourself means listening to your body's signals, especially hunger. Instead of depriving yourself of food, eat when you're hungry, even if it's something small. 5. Prioritize good sleep Sleep deprivation increases the likelihood of you overeating. It sounds simple, but a good night's sleep may be the solution you need to stop stress eating.
Consider: · You're more likely to be overweight if you don't get enough sleep. · A 2010 study found that you're more likely to overeat unhealthy foods, and far less likely to be motivated to exercise. · A 2013 study found that people who under slept ate on average 5 percent more calories (or about 100, if you were on a 2,000-calorie per day diet) throughout the day. The fact is, sleep is important for mental function and total body health. When you rest, your body repairs cognitive function, repairs muscle and other tissues, and balances your hormones. Not allowing your body to rest and recover makes it harder to think and act clearly. This could be why you're reaching for food to cope—you're exhausted, or your brain isn't operating at one hundred percent. If stress eating is getting in the way of your health, or you're trying to lose weight, it might also help to surround yourself with a positive community. You're sure to find people that also struggle with emotional eating, and may find a solution (or the support you need) that works for you. Since stress can lead to emotional eating, please check out my free 15-minute guided meditation Smile Into Distress, as a way to sooth your spirit so you overcome emotional eating.
FUN FACT: Peppers have more vitamin C than oranges. About two or three times as much, depending on the color of the pepper.