Did you know that April is stress awareness month (as if we needed a month to make us aware of our stress)? Did you also know that stress makes us more likely to gain unwanted weight? Why is that and what can you do today to combat stress eating?
1. Food serves as a distraction: Food is one of the most overly abused anxiety drugs. In times of stress, people often find themselves looking to fill avoid or calm their emotions. Quickest and most convenient friend to turn to? Snacks, of course!
Combat tip: Name that hunger! I often ask my clients to rate their hunger on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being ravenous hunger. I then ask them to rate their emotional hunger. What does this mean? Take a moment to check in with yourself to determine if you are actually hungry of if you are looking for something "just because." If your emotional hunger is stronger than your physical hunger, then find a distraction other than food! Get together with a friend, go for a walk, or take a minute to jot down some thoughts on why are you are looking for a distraction.
2. You crave something specific: In times of stress, our bodies are actually very good at telling us exactly what it is they need. It is important to listen!
Combat tip: First of all, give in to those cravings! If you don't, you are more likely to overeat later. The trick here is to choose the healthiest option for your craving. Looking for something salty? Go for an ounce of mixed nuts, a cheese stick, or some veggies with nut butter or hummus. Sweet? Opt for some berries with whipped topping, light hot cocoa, an ounce of dark chocolate (just one, sorry!), or plain Greek yogurt with fruit or honey. Crunchy? An ounce of trail mix, frozen berries, or veggie sticks with a low fat dip or nut butter is a great way to go!
3. You're physically and emotionally exhausted: Calories are energy. When we get tired, guess what? Our brain looks for energy! While the obvious way to combat this is to get more sleep, I will be a little more realistic and just place some tips below.
Combat tip: Slowly count to 10. Take 5 deep breaths. Pick a few favorite yoga poses to hold. Make a list of everything on your plate (pun fully intended) and prioritize each item. Taking just a 30 second break to check in with yourself will allow you feel more in control, which is likely to carry over to your eating patterns. It is also a good idea to avoid certain situations if you know your willpower is down. For example, it is probably best to skip the lunch buffet if you are only running on a few hours of sleep.
4. You've become too busy to exercise: Stressful times often rob us of time for ourselves. Exercise is often the first item tossed out the window when we're in a crunch for time.
Combat tip: Don't feel like you have to squeeze it all in at once! Try for 10 minutes of activity 3 times a day. What does this look like? Walking the dog in the morning, a short (but brisk) walk after lunch, and a combination of squats/sit ups/jumping jacks while watching TV at night.
5. Once you start you can't stop: Most people believe that this issue is due to lack of self control. Science is showing us otherwise! The inability to stop when you're satisfied is usually due to unawareness and the inability to fill emotional holes! Be sure to slow down, chew food, and something satisfying! It is important to keep something protein-packed on hand, as this will give you a better feeling of fullness.
Combat tip: Pre-portioned items such as cheese sticks, fat free pudding cups, individual bags of nuts or trail mix, and low fat yogurt not only force you to stop eating when the package is empty, but are also great on-the-go snacks! Additionally, do not skip meals, as this will prevent you from overeating later on and consider keeping a food diary to hold yourself accountable.
Keep checking back as I share some of my favorite recipes and tips!