How to Curb Stress Eating

January 13, 2024
3 mins read

By Bridget Kelly
Monday, February 28, 2011.
Are you eating from stress or stressed out from eating? Maybe the answer is both.
One thing is for certain – research shows a relationship between stress and eating. And if you’re dieting, that relationship could make the going particularly tough. Here’s how to sort out which came first – the stress or the eating – and what you can do to prevent each from getting in the way of your weight-loss progress:
When you’re eating because of stress…
Research shows that people – particularly women – tend to eat more under increased pressure. Stress releases a hormone in the body called cortisol, which has been associated with increased food intake. But it’s not just the amount of food we eat that can be altered by anxiety. The types of foods we choose may be affected as well.
In the same study, women who had the strongest reactions to cortisol chose more sweet foods during times of stress. Some s believe women tend to seek out sugary foods or those high in carbohydrates because carbohydrates boost levels of a brain chemical that provides a calming effect. But it may be more than mere carbs that satisfy a stress-inspired craving.
In fact, a study conducted in Finland last year found that women under stress often eat fatty foods, including sausages, hamburgers, pizza and chocolate more often than eaters who were unaffected by stress. And there are long-term consequences. Those women who were identified as stress-driven eaters had higher body mass indices (a measure that combines your weight and height) than those who were not.
How do you know if you’re eating because of stress?If you’re not sure whether your snacking is stress-induced, keep a food diary and jot down the details about your day: how you were feeling at work or home – particularly right before you ate a meal or snack – and what and how much you eat. Review your writings to see if patterns in your diet emerge on those days that are particularly hectic or anxiety-ridden. Once you have identified the patterns, they will be easier to control.

Stopping stressThe best way to put a stop to stress eating is to reduce the stress. Use these techniques regularly and you’ll be less susceptible to anxiety-driven eating:
· Get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five to six times per week. · Try mind-body activities like yoga, tai chi or Pilates. · Practice deep-breathing or visual relaxation techniques, in which you close your eyes and imagine yourself somewhere beautiful, calm and quiet; remain there for five minutes to soak up the sights, sounds, smells and feelings.· Get a massage. · Get organised – write down everything you need to do and cross each item off the list as you accomplish it.· Find a new hobby that takes your mind of the stressors in your life. · Try progressive muscle relaxation techniques, such as this one: Sit in a chair with your eyes closed and, working from head to toe, purposely tense each muscle for several seconds, then relax it. Start with your face, then shoulders, arms, hands and so on, until you reach your toes. Feel the tension leave each muscle group as you relax it.
When you’re stressed because of eating…
Does the idea of trying to lose weight fill you with anxiety? Do you worry about whether you’ll make it through the week without indulging in your favourite dessert? Do you get nervous before a meal, hoping you’ll be able to keep from spooning out a second helping? Your stress may be a result of your eating habits.
Some nutrition experts believe that putting tight restrictions on what you eat can make you even more prone to binge eating. And some research has even identified a possible physiological link. A study in 1995 showed that restricted eating decreased levels of the brain chemical dopamine. Low levels of dopamine have also been linked to binge eating. But the good news is, there are ways to diet without being so restrictive.
Re-thinking restricted eatingThe key for getting out of the restricted-eating mentality is to stop thinking about what you can’t have and consider your diet as an opportunity to explore new foods and learn healthy habits. If you slip up once, just get back on track at the next meal.
And when you crave a particular food, scan your list of choices for something that will satisfy you (reduced fat crisps or pretzels when you want something salty, a low fat mousse when you’re craving sweets or a low cal hot chocolate when you crave chocolate). You don’t have to deny your cravings altogether. Just find less damaging ways to satisfy them. If you do this, you’ll stop feeling deprived and alleviate the temptation to binge on all those things you ‘can’t’ have.

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