Dealing with Stress Eating
I was talking to an event planner a few weeks ago and she could not stop lamenting about how much weight she had put on in the last few months. I asked her what she was doing differently; however she could not put anything concrete to words. I asked her to rate her stress level on a scale of 1 to 10, her response was 11. Then I proceeded to ask her how she handles her stress, her reply “I eat whatever is in sight”. Finally, the culprit was found – stress eating. When you are stressed out, your body is flooded with cortisol, a stress hormone, which makes you crave carbohydrates, sugar and fatty foods. Food is soothing due to the chemical changes it creates in your body. Chocolate is an excellent example. Chocolate boosts the “feel good” neurotransmitters and chemicals in your body that make you more alert and excited.
Everyone comfort eats now and then. Sometimes it is in small ways, such as buying a box of Pizza as a pick-me-up after a stressful day at work or nibbling on plantain chips in traffic on your commute back home. While small doses of stress eating aren’t necessarily physically dangerous, they can quickly develop into a habit. For instance, you reach for a pack of Gala every day in traffic to pass time. This habit can lead to weight gain or prevent you from losing weight. Comfort eating is particularly problematic when it is the primary way you calm and soothe yourself.
How can I tell if I am stress eating? Here are a few tell signs;
- You eat when you are not physically hungry. Consider how long ago it was since you ate. Was it 3 hours ago or a half hour? Is your body sending you any clear signals that you are hungry? Is your stomach grumbling? Are you low in energy?
- It is hard to find food that satisfies you. For this reason, you don’t stop eating when you are full. You may find yourself scavenging for food or eating things you don’t even like.
- Cravings are triggered by an emotion such as anger, anxiety, or boredom etc.
- Comfort eating has a mindless component to it. You may not enjoy or taste the food because you are eating it mechanically, as if in a trance. Imagine sitting in front of the TV mindlessly popping chips into your mouth.
The good news is that there are ways to stop comfort eating before it harms you physically and emotionally.
- Keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you’re feeling when you eat and how hungry you are. Over time, you might see patterns that reveal the connection between mood and food.
- Tame your stress. If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress management technique, such as exercise or deep breathing.
- Have a hunger reality check. Is your hunger physical or emotional? If you ate just a few hours ago and don’t have a rumbling stomach, you’re probably not hungry. Give the craving a time to pass.
- Fight boredom. Instead of snacking when you’re not hungry, distract yourself and substitute a healthier behaviour. Take a walk, watch a movie, play with your cat, listen to music, read, surf the Internet or call a friend.
Weightloss Consultant and Fitness expert who has over 7years of experience. She got her training from University of Toronto. She took an interest in Health and wellness after being able to lose 55kg in a 14-month period. She now works with both men and women teaching them to live a healthier life.