Thursday, March 2, 2017

Are You A Stress Eater? A Look Into Emotional Eating

Stress and emotional eating go hand in hand. They are two of the main culprits that can derail even the best laid out diet plan and can wreak havoc on our daily lives in such crazy ways. At some point in our lives all of us have faced some form of stress.  Whether it be work related, relationships, financial, school, health or family, we have all faced some form of stress. The stress can make us irritable, jumpy, tense and even hungry. As the heart rate rises during a stressful moment the body starts to look for ways to "fix" the problem and get everything to calm down and feel better. And one of the ways it tries to "fix" the problem is by sending off hunger signals. These signals can get so intense that it is nearly impossible to ignore and they don't stop after the first initial rush. The brain keeps telling the body it needs more and before you know it, an entire bag of potato chips is gone or the whole darn pie was eaten down to the last crumb. The dopamine high you get from a junk food "fix" can be as strong and likened to that of a hit of cocaine or puff of a cigarette. It becomes addicting.

As with any type of addiction learning what triggers the addiction is key to combating the problem. The second step is learning a new way to deal with the trigger that won't lead to feeding the addiction. This second step is quite challenging but not impossible. It requires relearning stress responses and keeping yourself in check and aware of how your body is responding to certain situations. It also requires an action plan. Here are a few action steps to take when faced with stress and emotional eating:

  1. Ask the BIG question: Is this healthy for me and will it help to fuel my body rather than fuel a junk food craving? Believe it or no, this one simple step can be very helpful in stepping away from stress eating. It may not be fool-proof but it is a giant step in the right direction into identifying triggers and realizing you are in an emotional eating state of mind. Just by taking the time to ask yourself, Is this healthy for me? gives your mind and body a moment to really think about what is happening in that moment. It may just be enough to be able to talk yourself out of a junk food eating binge. 
  2. Be proactive in fighting off stress: Taking the time to be proactive in fighting off stress can be one of the biggest tools you can give yourself to fight off emotional eating. Are you getting enough sleep at night? Exercising regularly? Eating nutritious foods? Are you giving yourself enough time at the end of the day to unwind? By taking some of these proactive steps to help reduce stress you are giving yourself an edge in the emotional eating battle. By taking care of yourself and giving your body what it truly needs you will not only start to feel better but the cravings and desire to emotionally eat will start to subside.
  3. Keep a detailed food journal: Keeping a food journal is a great way to help identify stress triggers and how they make you feel. In your food journal you should write down EVERYTHING that you ate during the day, and I do mean everything. Underneath each food item write down how you were feeling before you ate and how you felt after. This will be a very helpful tool in examining what triggers you to eat and help identify when you are eating out of hunger or from emotions. It will also help to form better habits and menu planning.
  4. Keep healthy "snack" foods close by at all times: When a food craving hits or an emotional stressor occurs having healthy foods to go to instead of all the junk will be a game changer. Some healthy alternatives are: berries, apple, celery, cottage cheese, almond butter, broccoli, nuts, seeds, carrots, greek yogurt, and peppers. It is important to note that in the case of nuts and seeds it is important to have them in portioned packets so as to not over indulge. While nuts and seeds are full of healthy nutrients and fats they are also extremely caloric. A little bit goes a long way. These types of foods will help to appease a craving or a stressor without fueling your body with the wrong types of fuel.
  5. Be Social: Getting out and being with friends and family can be a great de-stressor. Maybe you can go on a hike together or go shopping or even go on a bike ride together. The point is.....being social and actually being with people can be one of the best stress fighters. Ever notice how good you feel after having a great evening with friends? How relaxed you feel? Being social and laughing and having a good time sometimes is the best medicine. Even if you just went out for coffee and just talked that simple act alone can take away mountains of stress and make you feel better and like you are not alone.
As I stated above, no one method is ever going to be completely fool-proof but if you can implement a few of these strategies and become more aware of emotional eating habits it is a step in the right direction. Learning how to overcome emotional eating is a journey to better health and self care. It is a journey on learning how to break free from food addictions and letting go of things that bog you down. As always, if the journey becomes to over whelming you can always enlist the help of a professional counselor, dietitian, health coach or personal trainer to help better guide you in learning better coping methods. I am a certified health coach and would be happy to help in any way I can so please feel free to contact me. All initial consults are free.

What are some ways that you combat emotional eating? Have you ever had a binge session and felt horrible afterwards? How did you cope? Share in the comments section.

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