TUESDAY, MARCH 11, 2014
Everyone’s guilty of “eating their feelings,” at least occasionally. Many people are under a lot of pressure at work or school, which triggers the cycle of stress, then eating and then feeling guilty about it. Stress eating may not be so bad if you just need a small piece of chocolate as a pick-me-up, but it becomes a problem once it leads to weight gain and sluggishness.
Why do we stress eat? When people feel stress, their cortisol levels rise, which can cause cravings for carbs, sugar and fatty snacks. Eating these foods after these cravings creates an internal chemical reaction that can enhance happier moods. Other times, people eat as a distraction from an unwanted task or to simply fill up time.
When does stress eating become a problem? You know you’re crossing a line if you eat when you’re not physically hungry, if you keep eating a variety of foods until one satisfies you, if your cravings are triggered by a specific emotion (or even boredom) or if you eat mindlessly as you do something else (such as watching TV).
How do you stop stress eating? It may take some practice, but the goal is to retrain your brain to identify healthier behaviors as comforting. Try some of these tips:
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- When you crave a sugary treat, try an orange instead of a donut. In addition to the health benefits, the activity of peeling also gives your hands something to do that, in itself, is a distraction from whatever is stressing you out.
- If you prefer crunchy snacks, crack open some pistachios or grab a handful of another nut of your choice.
- Kick the soda for some black tea, which reduces cortisol levels by up to 47 percent and can help curb cravings.
- Try eating with your non-dominant hand. The extra time it takes may make you more mindful of your eating behaviors.
- Instead of snacking, try a self-massage by rubbing your feet over the top of tennis ball. This practice can help slow your heart rate and lower cortisol levels.
- Keep a journal of your stress eating habits. Do you snack most at work? How about late at night? If you notice any patterns, you can predict when your cravings will strike and plan ahead with a different behavior to take its place.
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