Have you ever rushed to the pantry whenever you were feeling sad? Or have you ever binge-eaten your favourite dishes whenever something went wrong? This impulsive response to emotions is medically termed as stress eating or emotional eating. Taking comfort in food during stressful times is a standard reaction, but overeating regularly can adversely affect both your physical and mental health.
Almost anything can trigger this kind of eating behaviour, especially stress. External reasons like work stress, monetary worries, health issues, and relationship struggles could be the reason why a person eats emotionally in excess. Anyone who follows restrictive diets or has a history of dieting tends to fall into this pattern as well.
Many internal causes may also trigger the tendency of stress eating. If a person lacks contemplative awareness or suffers from alexithymia, emotion dysregulation, reversed hypothalamic pituitary adrenal, or stress axis, then it may also result in emotional eating. It is an automatic behaviour, but luckily we can make it a little healthy.
How to stop stress eating?
The simple meaning of stress eating is that it is a sign of disordered eating. On its own, it is not an eating disorder, but when the habit persists for a long time, then a person may develop this problem. Why food, you may wonder? Eating good food releases dopamine. Since dopamine is the brain chemical that makes us feel good, we tend hog on food whenever we are feeling stressed. There are a few habits you can develop in order to stop stress eating.
Keep track of your eating habits
You can maintain a journal where you record your eating patterns. This record can also include details of when you are eating and what is the reason behind it. This will help you differentiate between you eating when you are hungry and emotional eating. Be kind to yourself and try to figure out your patterns to fix them.
Find alternate ways to cope with stress
Eating good food is not the only way to handle stress. There are several other activities that provide a person with dopamine. It will take you some time to shift your focus from eating when stressed to getting involved in other activities, but with a little patience, you’ll get there.
Keep your body active
Moving your body is a great way to manage stress and anxiety. An active workout routine will help in releasing endorphins. This helps in boosting your mood. Try walking for a couple of minutes or doing yoga.
Be aware of your surroundings
Being mindful of what is happening around you, and being aware of the factors that causes stress and anxiety can help with stress eating. If you are familiar with your triggers and the environment that causes emotional eating, then it will be easier for you to avoid the patterns.
Take note of your appetite
Differentiating between hungry eating and emotional eating is very important. It is hard for people who have been on diets to figure out whether they are eating because they are hungry or because they are bored. If you take note of when you are eating because your body needs it, you will be able to avoid stress eating.
How to make stress eating healthy?
If you acknowledge the fact that food cravings are normal and do not feel guilty about it, you have won the battle halfway. You can be mindful of what you are eating and try and make it healthy. This should be the first step towards a healthier switch. Here are other tips that can be useful.
Use healthy alternatives for your food cravings
To re-train your brain and not trigger cravings, switch to healthy alternatives to your favourite junk food. You can add food items like kale chips, cauliflower rice, roasted sweet potato fries, chia seed pudding, and cauliflower crust pizza to your menu. These are healthy yet yummy alternatives to the pizzas and burgers that we all crave during stress.
Get creative in the kitchen
We tend to cook up our favourite meals when stressed. While cooking in itself is a stress buster, you can make it a healthier practice. Be conscious of what ingredients you are using in your dishes. Avoid preparing foods that are unhealthy and try to replace them with beneficial ingredients. Get creative and prepare new healthy dishes for yourself. Replace your regular oil with healthier oils like olive oil or avocado oil, and purchase more suitable flour such as nut flour. Also, be very aware of the form of cooking — like switching to baking stuff rather than deep frying it.
Replace your regular snacks with nutrient-rich alternatives
It is always so simple to grab a snack and hog on it. You can make this habit healthy by replacing it with nutrient-rich alternatives. On your next grocery run, add items like nuts, seeds, olives, fruits, dark chocolate, dips like guacamole, grain-free crackers or low-sugar protein bars to your list.
Drinking enough fluids is key to a person’s overall health, but it can also help with stress eating. Research has linked dehydration to alterations in mood, attention, and energy levels. This can also affect your eating habits. To tackle this situation, you can experiment with your drinks. You can add fruits, cucumber, lemons and other such ingredients to your water to boost flavour. This may help you in drinking more water and keeping you hydrated.
Practice portion control
Portion control is a great way to manage overeating. We tend to eat much more when we are eating something directly from a container. You can serve yourself small portions of your favourite meal and enjoy it without worrying about emotional eating.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Keep a food diary, tame your stress, fight boredom, snack healthy
Answer: The foods eaten during times of stress typically favour those of high fat and/or sugar content.
Answer: Emotional eating is a pattern of eating where people use food to help them deal with stressful situations.
Answer: Know your stressors, exercise to reduce stress, reach out for help, develop a practice of mindfulness