We all do it – our days are overcommitted and lunch consists of whatever is handy at the local corner store. And guess what? When you’re stressed your body craves salty, fatty, sugary food food––a lot of it––and Harvard researchers have reported that stress from work and other sorts of problems correlates directly with weight gain.
The major problem with stress eating is that it’s a vicious cycle. You’re stressed, so you naturally gravitate towards things like ice cream and mac and cheese, but then feel guilty which leads to more stress. It’s a tough pattern to break and as we continue to pile more and more commitments onto our already busy lives, it only gets worse.
But don’t stress about it. Think about tackling the problem of stress eating as a two step process. First, tackle your stress levels. The root of the problem is that you are leading a stressful life. Second, set yourself up for future success. Stressful situations WILL happen, so how are you preparing for that in a way that keeps you on track with your health goals?
Part 1 – Stress Relief
Until you are able to tackle the problem of persistent stress, avoiding stress eating is just going to be a patchwork job. Depending on how pervasive your stress levels have become, a small series of changes can do the trick, or maybe it’s time to consider seeking professional help. Whatever your path to health, here are a few actions that can make a big difference in the short and long term.
The science is clear. Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. Does it take time? Sure, and when you’re stressed about how to be in two places at once already, choosing to make time for exercise can be tough. But guess what? It’s always worth it.
Exercise pumps up your endorphins. Physical activity helps bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Often referred to as “runner’s high”, a good walk outside or even a quick game of pickup basketball does the trick.
It improves your mood. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, it can relax you, and it can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. All of these exercise benefits can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.
It’s meditation in motion. After a run or several laps in the pool, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the day’s irritations and concentrated only on your body’s movements. As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything you do.
If there’s one mental practice that’s stood the test of time – and rigorous laboratory tests – it’s meditation. It’s proven itself effective in reducing stress and depression, improving attention and cognitive performance, and even increasing grey matter density in the brain. But we know what you’re asking: “How much do I have to do?” Just a little mindfulness training goes a long way, and for most people beginning a meditation practice, that’s great news.
Want some help getting starting? Try one of the guided recordings by Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. They are available for free at www.mindfulness-solution.com.
#3 Be Thoughtful About Alcohol Consumption
When dealing with stressful days or nervous situations, you may be tempted to have a glass of wine or a beer to calm your nerves. Alcohol stimulates the production of the same hormones the body produces when under stress, and research shows that stress and alcohol “feed” each other. So, drinking alcohol, especially heavily and over a long period of time, can actually increase your anxiety.
Part 2 – A System for Success
When stress affects our appetites (and waistlines), we’ll stock up on the things we crave and next thing you know you’re deep into that tub of double chocolate caramel gelato.
#1 Spring clean.
Rid the refrigerator and cupboards of high-fat, sugary foods. Keeping those “comfort foods” handy is just inviting trouble.
#2 Consider tea.
People are discovering that tea as a daily ritual benefits stress levels both due to its specific medicinal properties, but also as a social substitute for alcohol. Try a few new teas, experiment, and keep favorites on hand for when stressful situations arise (or when you just want a cup of tea).
#3 Find some substitutions.
Craving chips? Try kale chips. Need an ice cream? Have some yogurt. Want a candy bar? Go for a low-sugar protein bar. Give the broccoli test a go: Ask yourself, “would I eat broccoli right now?” If the answer is “Nope” than your body isn’t really hungry and you are stress eating. Then go find some yummy broccoli.
#4 Start the day with a green smoothie
Whether you greet the morning sun with a smile or are a big fan of the snooze button, having a healthy routine from the get-go will help you stick to your goals for the rest of the day. So consider a walk, a run, a swim, and nutrition that is going to set your body up to feel it’s best. This Clean Green Smoothie recipe is a great way to get things going on a positive note. Plus, it’s delicious!
#5 Try meal prepping
Meal prep is a solid tool for helping you stay on track, and while it requires a dedicated amount of time at the beginning of the week, you are saving hours overall. In fact, we’re willing to bet that you’re a little stressed about tomorrow’s dinner already. There is a remedy for that. Check out these Meal Prep Tips from Healthy Grocery Girl a try to get started.
BONUS: Keep good nutrition handy!
A big part of leading a stressful lifestyle is being on-the-go all of the time. We work to provide you with high-quality, organic nutrition that is not only delicious, but helps you on your wellness journey. Whether it’s a ready-to-drink vegan chocolate shake, or a Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk gluten free, vegan, soy free protein bar, it’s our goal to make sure you are able to easily eat well, even on your most stressful days.