In Part 2 of our series on transforming stress, we focus on mindful eating. Stress can trigger unhealthy responses. For some, it’s a one-way trip to the kitchen for a junk fest. When a craving for stress-snacking strikes, try these solutions …
Stressful situations may lead to appetite loss and stomach upset. Others find relief in chocolate or a large order of fries, extra salt. For those who munch their way to stress-relief, follow this simple plan: stop, look, and listen.
Distract yourself before taking action. Stop in your tracks, whether to the vending machine, drive-thru, or fridge– and head elsewhere. Even a brief walk to the mailbox or a trip to the laundry room will disengage you.
Becoming stressed is considered a learned response, as is how we react to it. Food provided as a reward during childhood remains an association throughout life. In order to break the cycle, one needs to derail the thought and create a new association. By stopping a habitual reach for snacks when “the heat is on,” you can create a new thought pattern that leads to a healthier way of dealing with stress.
Here’s an opportunity where getting “sidetracked” can actually be beneficial. We’ve all set out to accomplish one thing, only to finish something entirely different. Follow that same strategy in this instance. Purposefully get involved in other small tasks on your way to the food. Before you know it, you’ll be involved in something else. Try making it a healthy distraction once you get good at it. Then, you’ll be twice inspired.
Examine what is causing you stress. Face the problem directly, not with a Twinkie sandwiched between you and it. Once you’ve managed to avoid the food response (in other words, the munchies are out of reach), practice some deep breathing and focus on the issues at hand. This discovery process often leads to the realization that you are not physically hungry. Instead, brainstorm to discover a real solution to what you crave. (No, that doesn’t include throwing the object of your stress out the window.)
A growling stomach is a good indicator that you are actually hungry. However, stress sometimes causes a release of hormones that truly create physical hunger. Research indicates hunger and sleep influence complex hormonal symptoms involved in appetite. When these hormones are released during a stressful episode, this biological mechanism can trigger hunger pangs.
Hear the growl? Eat these to feel full quickly without bingeing:
- High-protein snacks (soy nuts, peanut butter crackers, yogurt )
- High-fiber treats (fiber bars, dried fruit, whole wheat crackers)
- Puffy snacks (The air-filled nature allows you to feel just as full as if you ate the same amount of a heavier choice. For example, try rice cakes instead of cookies, cheese puffs instead of potato chips.)
Stress exists. It’s a natural part of everyday life. Replace stress-induced eating with an enjoyable activity. Propel yourself farther along your wellness journey, rather than through detours.
Exercise. As emphasized in “Exercise for Stress Relief” exercise is an ideal release for conquering—and avoiding—stress. It is a good outlet for tension. You respond to stress by burning calories rather than consuming them. Teaching yourself to react to stress with a healthy outlet breaks the learned pattern of emotional eating. You can manage the mental and physical aspects of stress in a positive way. Additionally, exercise helps limit the amount of stress we experience over a period of time.
Have fun. It’s simple yet affective. Talk yourself into meeting a workout buddy for a little cycling time or head to the library for a new book. Browse the DVDs for a funny movie. Short on time? A pick-up game of B-ball or catch can burn some steam and bring out a smile.
Write it out. Putting thoughts in writing is a longtime proven outlet for releasing pent-up emotions. Pen it down fast and furious. Then, when a wrist cramp or writer’s block strikes, hit the delete key or shredder. Just venting provides the needed stress reduction.
Perfect the mind-body connection. Rather than eating to appease stress, satisfy your appetite with another activity that engages both the body and mind. Yoga, T’ai chi, meditation, and Pilates are great outlets for soothing stress by nourishing the body and mind. Simultaneously, they can deliver a powerful workout, which is also a great stress reliever.
Are You Hungry?
Determine the reason for a snack-attack (physical hunger or emotionally driven). Then, you can make an informed decision on how to proceed. Here are key indicators of emotional eating:
- Hunger comes on suddenly and for a specific food
- Your craving is strong and demands instant gratification
- You continue to eat beyond feeling physically full
- Your conscience whispers, “You’ll regret this later.”
Stress isn’t the only feeling that triggers emotional eating. People also indulge in comfort foods to maintain feelings of happiness, banish sad feelings, and overcome boredom. Interestingly, research has determined that the snack choice (e.g., chips versus ice cream) varies according to mood.
If you struggle with emotional eating, consider speaking with one of the Center’s nutritionists. With an expert’s insight, you can create a healthy eating plan that fuels your workout instead of sabotages it.
When stress hits, go ahead and treat yourself—to something healthy! A heaping serving of Zumba anyone?
“Emotional Eating: Feeding Your Feelings,” by Heather Hatfield at WebMd.com.
“Filling Food to Speed Weight Loss,” by Madeline Vann at www. everydayhealth.com.
Ice cream (introduction photo): www.flickr.com/photos/weelakeo/3875087712
Rice cakes: www.flickr.com/photos/arriabelli/2277544411/