How to Stop Stress Eating and Get Back to Feeling Your Best!
Do you gravitate towards food when you’re feeling stressed?
It’s the middle of the afternoon and you have a work deadline to meet. You’ll need to pick up the kids soon and get them ready for their extra curricular activities. You can feel your stress levels rising. Suddenly, you’re craving for something sweet or salty to help you feel a bit more comforted and relaxed. While enjoying the snack, you feel some immediate joy and pleasure, but after that wears off, you experience some negative thoughts in relation to the snack you had and how it made you feel. Can you relate to this scenario? If so, you’re not alone.
First off – It’s important to note that stress or emotional eating is completely normal and natural. When we are in a state of stress, our adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol, which can ramp up appetite and motivation to eat. In addition to that, when we eat comfort foods- especially those with a higher starch or sugar level, we release serotonin, a mood-boosting neurotransmitter. It, therefore, makes complete sense that during moments of high stress, many people reach for their favourite foods in hopes of feeling better. So, if find yourself googling or wondering “how do I stop stress eating?” know that is normal and that there are ways of managing it and navigating moments of stress.
An Important Question:
Is eating comforting foods the only tool I have to cope with stress?
If you answered “Yes”, that’s ok! Keep reading to help expand your toolbox to support you throughout times of high stress, anxiety, boredom and other emotions which we all experience from time to time.
Laying a Solid Foundation:
It can be helpful to ensure you’re engaging in some behaviours which contribute to overall wellness on a regular basis; which in turn can support how you feel in moments of stress.
- Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day; and select foods which contribute to managing your blood sugars (like protein and carbohydrate foods). You will be less likely to find yourself experiencing blood sugar crashes- and potential irritability and mood swings that follow. To read more about this, read our blog post on nutrition for mental health.
- When we’re stressed our immune systems don’t work as well. Including a variety of things like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes and fish can help bolster your immunity. To read more on boosting your immune system click here.
- Our gut microbiota, or the microorganisms that live in our digestive tracts play a key role in our stress response-system. The book “Brain Changer”, by Felice Jacka who is a leader in the field of Nutritional Psychiatry, mentions that 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in our gut. Including a range of plant foods, high fibre foods and food sources of Omega-3 can help support a diverse gut profile.
Identify the Root:
Now that we have those foundational pieces in mind, let’s look into other coping tools to help you navigate moments of stress. Breaking down your stressful feelings to identify exactly how you’re feeling, and where in your body you are feeling is a good first step.
If what you’re feeling is ‘stress’, can you describe it in any other way? The following list may help:
- Burned out
- Out of control
When you have a handle on what you are experiencing, try determining where in your body you are feeling it. Some examples could be:
- Tense muscles
- Stomach cramps
For more detailed information on how and where stress can affect our bodies, click here.
When you’ve taken the time to pause and reflect on the above, you will be better informed how to comfort yourself by asking: “what do I need right now that will soothe me in an effective way?”
Need some ideas? Some of the following tips might help:
- Remove yourself from the situation and change your environment
- Practice this simple breathing technique: Inhale into your nose 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, exhale out of your mouth for 8 counts. For more details on this technique click here.
- Stretch the area of your body where you’re noticing tension
- Sip some warm peppermint or herbal tea
- Phone a loved one
- Read a book or turn on your favourite show or movie
- Blow off steam by blasting loud music, dancing, ripping or crumpling paper, let out a yell while driving etc..
- Bring yourself to nature
- Vent to a friend
- Play with your pets
Remember, if sitting down and enjoying your favourite soul food is what’s calling you, go for it! The important thing is having the ability to pause, and tune in to what you truly need in that moment to bring you peace for longer than the time it takes to eat!
Whenever you find yourself thinking that you need to stop stress eating, don’t forget that stress eating is completely normal and natural.
Are you ready to find Food Freedom? We can help!
Our Calgary dietitian, online nutritionists, and certified intuitive eating counselors do everything we can to help you move towards your personal best weight and a sustainable lifestyle.
You won’t find any weird fad diets, unnecessary food restrictions and anyone trying to sell you shakes, supplements or so-called miracle cures here.
As trained Registered Dietitians, you can count on us for credible advice and practical meal planning so you don’t have to stress about food anymore. You can achieve a healthy and joyous relationship with food and your body. Let’s talk about what this can look like for you.
Looking for some recipe ideas to help support your mental health and overall wellness? Check out these ideas!
Christine Devaney Towsley B.A.Sc., RD
Registered Dietitian & Online Nutritionist
Specialty: weight concerns, intuitive eating, heart
health, family nutrition, IBS (irritable bowel disease)
A nurturer at heart, Christine will always greet you with a smile and
attentive ear. Kind hearted, empathetic and sensitive to others,
Christine takes the time to connect, build trust and truly understand
each client and tailors her sessions to each person's specific needs.