My good friend Jean is an emotional eater. When under stress, she mindlessly shovels in any food that isn’t nailed down. I have watched her polish off an entire dessert tray, and then later when I’ve asked her about it, she seems to have no recollection of having eaten those 3 pieces of pie. Sound familiar?
If you can identify with my friend, there are steps you can take to help make sure this doesn’t happen to you next time you’re stressed.
If you know you’re an emotional eater, acknowledge it – not just to yourself, but also to others. Having a support system is one of the best ways there is to change habits. Tell your co-workers, friends and family that you reach for food when you’re stressed, whether you’re hungry or not. Let them know that if they see you inhaling cookies, or veering toward the nearest fast-food take-out window, they have permission to call you on it. When you’re in that stress-induced fog, sometimes you just need someone to call your attention to what you’re doing.
Take a Moment
Before putting something into your mouth, be still for a moment, close your eyes, take a deep breath and then ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Physiologically, when you’re under stress, one of your body’s responses is to slow down the digestive system, resulting in reduced hunger. If you take that moment to check in with yourself to find out if you’re really hungry, chances are the answer will be “No”. Your tummy doesn’t need to be fed, something else does. Don’t feed what’s not hungry! Eating when you’re not physically hungry can lead to feelings of guilt, disgust and more stress.
If you really are hungry, or you’re going to eat regardless, be prepared with healthy, stress-reducing foods. I know you’ve heard this a million times, but planning ahead and being prepared is SO important! At the start of each week (or day), assemble some healthy snacks to have on hand. I have a friend who has, in her car, a small cooler – in it she has berries, nuts, raw vegetables, and a few pieces of dark chocolate. She’s always prepared for a stressful day.
- Have available foods that are proven stress busters. Foods high in magnesium have been shown to have a soothing and calming effect – try almonds, cashews, black beans, white beans, pumpkin seeds, spinach, sesame seeds, halibut, dry roasted soybeans, and dark chocolate.
- Vitamin C-rich foods can also be beneficial. Studies have found that vitamin C can reduce both the physical and psychological effects of stress on people. Go for citrus fruits and berries, as well as papayas, cantaloupes, and tomatoes. Orange, grapefruit, or tangerine juice are all super convenient. Raw red and green peppers, as well as cooked broccoli, asparagus and Brussels sprouts are also good choices.
Instead of eating, engage in an activity that will take your mind off eating. Do something – anything! If you’re at home, get out of the house or call a friend. If you’re at work, take a few-minute break and go for a quick walk, practice some deep breathing, or jot down your feelings in a journal – sometimes just getting your feelings down on paper can help de-stress you.
Finding time to engage in some type of exercise every day will also go a long way toward helping reduce feelings of stress.And basing your daily diet on guilt-free, healthy foods de-stresses your body as well as your mind. For more advice to help you make wise food choices, check out these Healthy Eating Guidelines.
I’ll share with you a simple phrase I heard many years ago – “You are the captain of your own ship”.It’s so true!Regardless of what’s going on around you, you are in control of you.If stressful circumstances around you make you feel as though you want to eat when you’re not hungry and make unhealthy choices, take back control! Follow the suggestions above and in no time you’ll be sailing in calm waters!
Michelle Belill is a Registered Nurse, Certified Wellness Coach, and the Creator of HealthyLifeToolkit.com, a website devoted to helping people realize they can take back control of their health. “I created my website to give people the tools they need to make lasting lifestyle changes. I’ve seen so much suffering in my line of work, and my focus is now on helping to alleviate that suffering through education, inspiration and empowerment. Everyone deserves to live a happy and healthy life! ”
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