Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

Tips to Overcome Stress Eating

Aug 12, 2015

When life gets stressful, do you turn to eating to cope? Stress eating is a common struggle among our patients, and there’s even a biological explanation for your inability to control your appetite when you get stressed.

When we experience stress, our bodies release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol in an attempt to deal with the stress. Adrenaline levels quickly return to normal, but cortisol levels can take longer to normalize after the release of this hormone. Unfortunately, cortisol is also an appetite stimulant.

What is the relationship between cortisol and hunger? Cortisol stimulates the metabolism of carbohydrates and fat. In turn, insulin is released into the body. Increased insulin levels stimulate hunger, which is easily satisfied with high fat, sugary, starchy foods.

If eating (especially unhealthy foods) is your response to stress, weight gain is inevitable.

The good news is that stress-related weight gain can be prevented. Here are some tips to cope with your stress in a healthy way.

1. Exercise. When you exercise, your body releases “feel good” hormones called endorphins. Endorphins lower cortisol levels and help reduce stress. Spend at least 30 minutes a day exercising to help combat stress. When the weather permits, take your exercise outside to get some fresh air and balance yourself.

2. Remove Temptations. Keep your fridge and cupboards stocked with healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy sources of protein. Cookies, potato chips, and other high-fat, high-calorie, high-sugar junk foods will only tempt you in times of stress.

3. Meditate. Quiet your mind and take deep breaths. Research shows that taking deep, diagphragmatic breaths and slowing your breathing to five to breaths per minute affects the vagus nerve, which controls heart rate, gut function, mental patterns, mood, asthma, and more.

4. Find a hobby. Tap into your talents. What are the activities that balance you and make you happy? Maybe it’s painting, gardening, reading, dancing—whatever it may be, make time to enjoy your hobbies.

5. Spend quality time with loved ones. There’s no better way to unwind and distress than spending time with the people you love. Spend more time with those who fill your cup with positive feelings, rather that people whose negativity is a drain on your emotions.

6. Stop and think before you eat. Before eating, take a moment to ask yourself, Will this food make me feel better? Weigh the positive and negative consequences of what you are about to eat. If it’s something you’ll regret, put it back and choose a healthier snack, or de-stress with one of the tactics above.

Next time you are stressed, just remember to B-R-E-A-T-H-E.

Breathe—be present in the moment.
ealistic goals—make these for the moment, the day and celebrate their achievement.
veryday events—notice positive events in everyday life, recognize, share, and celebrate when things go right.
cts of kindness—create positive and even random, unexpected events for others.
urn negative events around—reframe, look for the silver lining, recall the power of positive thinking.
umor—remember a good belly laugh softens social stress, improves immunity, strengthens relationships, and fosters confidence.
nd each day—with gratitude and appreciation, perhaps keeping a gratitude journal for all the good things that happened to you that day, or gratitude for the bad things that didn’t show up.