In this article I'll teach you why stress eating is so difficult to control and tips to help you cope with this. First, to understand stress eating, you need to understand the physical stress response.
Pause for just a moment and reflect on this fact ~ is it any wonder that one of the best ways to relieve stress is to exercise?
in addition to preparing you for the physical challenges of fight-or-flight, your focus is also sharpened. You can see and identify quickly things like hiding places and weapons.
Unfortunately Stress is only a "good" physical response for about 2 minutes, after this you’ve either escaped from the bear, killed the bear, or you have been eaten by the bear.
We were never built for chronic daily stress. Take for example gazelles, a prey animal. Gazelles do not worry incessantly about the possibility of lions eating them, they run around, eat grass and if they see a lion they run but if they don’t see one, they seem pretty happy.
Humans are possibly the only animal to experience chronic stress on a regular basis. We worry often about what might happen. We worry when we are in no actual physical danger. We worry about our safety, our children's safety, we worry about relationships, money, the state of the world and local news.
Stress Desensitizes us to pleasure and deregulates appetite.
Hunger and satiety, or fullness, are a function of two things; one being stomach stretching and the second the body’s needs being met. I thought the second was a hoax. I KNEW scientifically the stretched stomach sent satiety (fullness) signals to the brain. I thought if I ate air in the form of air popped popcorn or rice cakes I could stretch my stomach and be full all the time, it’s just not true.
I finally realized when my very slender 10 year old had a growth spurt that the body somehow manages to make more room. I honestly have no idea how she can comfortably eat so much in one evening, but she does during growth spurts, and when she needs new pants a few days later, it's always length not waist that is the issue. Eating in a state of stress making poor food choices and getting potentially less absorption of micronutrients can make you hungry again sooner.
IN order to escape or kill a bear this would require exercise, however a difficult day at work often does not.
So what is stress eating? Stress eating can be the simple fact of eating too much or too irregularly due to the effects of stress on appetite. It can mean seeking more food to get more pleasure. Stress eating is also form of emotional eating where we try to soothe the feelings with food. Chronic stress genuinely creates more hunger, a greater need to seek pleasure from food, a decreased perception of pleasure, and because it triggers the survival center to kick in, it also diminishes logical thinking.
This makes it extremely difficult to modify your plan under stress. For example when you have a stressful day and get home from work late to hungry children, your dinner plan goes out the window and you order pizza or bring home fast food, rather than checking out the pantry for a quicker alternative to your original plan.
The first step to combat stress eating is to understand it and forgive yourself.
Get enough sleep. Getting plenty of sleep helps stress and also helps to control appetite.
Reduce clutter. Clutter is shown to increase feelings of stress. I am a big fan of the flylady's program for managing clutter. She advocates just 15 minutes a day. Her missions give you additional quick household tasks every day. I personally utilize the COZI calendar system which allows me to VERY easily import the flylady missions into my personal calendar so I have them daily in one organized place with my other to-dos.
Start By Creating a relaxing environment in the Dining Room.
Dining rooms are small, you can do this more quickly than any other room in the house and keep it clutter free. If you work or pay taxes from the dining room table, use a small portable file holder to quickly clean up before meal time. You do not want to be looking at these stacks of papers while you eat. Apply design psychology to this room to create a relaxing environment. Remove extra furniture, for example the plant stand that is really in the way but sits there because there happens to be a window. Decorate nicely with candles and flowers. Use pretty table linens. These are incredibly easy to make yourself if needed. I suggest cloth napkins as they feel more "elegant" in use, they are kinder to the environment, and these can be made yourself in minutes to save money if needed. The colors purple, blue, green, and neutrals such as browns are associated with reduced stress. House plants decrease feelings of stress. Purple in particular can reduce appetite. Red increases appetite, so I generally advise red accents such as napkins, candles, or flowers when entertaining but not so much for everyday.
Take a few deep breaths before you sit to eat. Play relaxing music while you prepare food and take a few minutes to unwind before dinner. Listen to comedy in the car on the way home from work. Most of all declare the dinner table a drama-free zone. If certain topics need to be off-limits declare them off limits. This is the time to enjoy with the people you love. If you eat alone still eat at the table, in your relaxing space, and reflect on things you love that make you happy.
Lastly, always have a back up plan. A written meal plan helps you stay on track. I'll be writing more on this as it is the healthy habit for February. If you do get home late or if you are simply more stressed and cannot stick to the plan, keep a few healthy freezer meals on hand. Since the prep is already done, you can simply run these under warm water and place in the oven then proceed to unwind while you wait.
For more in depth help with stress eating sign up for my 12 week Real People Weight Loss Program.
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