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Eating Under Stress? What you should know.

With the disruption in our every day lives, the shift in our routines and the increase in time spent in our homes, let’s put a few things in place to help remove the additional discomfort and anxiety that may be causing you to stress-eat!

So, what is stress-eating? It can be defined in other words as ‘emotional eating’ or eating to compensate or avoid dealing with emotions. And while it’s easy to blame external factors, the real underlying issue is the inability to deal with our own emotions – especially in unknown circumstances.

In the short-term, stress can actually prevent hunger cues but if the stress continues for a longer period of time, the opposite can occur. With this ongoing stress, the body releases higher levels of cortisol, which increases appetite in order to block out those emotions we’re trying to avoid! As you can already guess, this pattern could cause unwanted weight gain, further hormone imbalances or even more serious diseases. The good news is that there are ways to prevent this spiral from bringing you down!

Get to know your stressors

Ok, so right now it may be pretty obvious that there are some pretty hefty social and economic stressors but the only way to truly make progress is to get uncomfortable and be honest with yourself. Write down when you feel overwhelmed and automatically want to turn to food for comfort. Can you divert that energy into something else?

- Go for a walk

- Meditate, yoga or exercise

- Call a friend

- Do an activity with your child

- Watch funny videos

- Work on a passion project for a few minutes

- Enjoy a calming cup of tea

Mindful eating

As easy as it is to recommend a walk or to watch a funny video, it does take a little more understanding in order for those activities to be effective. Simply put, ‘mindful eating’ is when you are actually paying attention and being present while eating. Are you continually digging your hand in that bag of candy while you are sifting through the other 1000 things on your mind? When you finally notice that the bag is empty, it’s too late - ‘empty’ calories, a sugar high and guilt ensue. This is where being more mindful can be really helpful. Even if you recognize that you’re about to dive into a chocolate bar because of an emotional trigger, that is a start. The biggest challenge is allowing yourself to get uncomfortable and recognize those emotions.

- Am I really hungry?

- Did you know your triggers?

- Is there a certain time of day where these cravings or desires pop up for you? Do you know WHY?

- Limit temptation – if your downfall during times of stress is junk food, then you may need to consider the “out of sight, out of mind” approach.

This is just skimming the surface when it comes to emotional eating but let’s lay out a few recommendations that could help with these triggers.

Make a plan

Not only will planning your meals free you from temptation and save you time but it can create a positive habit change which will in turn give you a sense of control. But first, you need to have a plan: what kind of meals do you enjoy, are they ‘balanced’ meals, when is a good time to dedicate to prep? Once you have a game plan, write it down – even if you jot it down on a notepad. Knowing you have a plan of attack will reduce the amount of stress and anxiety you could experience around food.

So, here are a few tips:

- Cook in bulk: choose one or two protein and complex carbohydrate sources to have prepped and ready to eat (ie: slow cooker chicken breasts and quinoa)

- Pick quality foods that last: a small handful of almonds will last longer than fresh avocado, for example

- Frozen fruit and veggies: frozen broccoli or strawberries still pack a nutritional punch while lasting much longer than their fresh counterparts

- Slow cooker meals: a healthy, nutrient-dense soup or stew can last a few days!

Recognizing your triggers in regards to stress-eating is more than the effects it may have on your physical health, it’s taking control of your mental health too. When you start to connect the emotions and thoughts you’re having (anger, sadness, anxiety, stress) and how these could be affecting your body, it could seem like a big task to tackle. But just as you can change your mind one thought at a time, you can change the way you relate to food one bite at a time.

In good health,

Laura Baert

Licensed Health Coach, LHC & RHC

Nutrition Coach & Personal Trainer

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