Healthier life: Controlling stress eating

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

We all have multiple stressors in our life, whether it be due to work, home, over exercising or not eating a nutritionally adequate diet. 

As Americans we have become accustomed to stress, but learning how to manage stress seems to be more difficult and often we turn to food for comfort. Any type of stress can cause our body’s hormones to fluctuate, which can lead to becoming overweight.

Our stress hormone, called cortisol, is elevated during stressful times. After a stressful event, it should fall back to normal levels.

However, if we continue to place more stress on our body, cortisol remains elevated. When cortisol is elevated, it increases appetite and cravings for high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt foods because these types of food create “comfort” and may help counteract the elevated stress hormone.

Eating more of these “comfort foods” will also lead to weight gain. When we are under stress, we tend to eat more comfort foods, drink more alcohol, not get enough exercise and lose sleep, all of which lead to excess weight gain and other negative health consequences.

When we overeat due to stress, our emotions may be subdued for the time being, but they will return and often we feel guilty about overeating, which can create more stress. It becomes a vicious cycle that needs to be remedied by combating stress and emotional over eating.

There are plenty of ways to do this, such as the following:

Find support. The first thing is to tell supportive people around you what your goals are. If your goal is to lose weight, tell someone! They can help you stay on track by stopping you when you reach for that doughnut or piece of candy from your coworker’s cubicle.

Tame your stress. Try stress management techniques such as yoga, Tai Chi, meditation or abdominal breathing. If you feel stressed out at work or home, go for a five-minute walk and take time to breathe, and then come back and continue your day.

Take away temptation. Don’t keep high-sugar or salty foods at home or at your desk. Instead, replace them with healthy snacks. Try a low-sugar, high-fiber granola bar or fruit instead. Encourage your family and co-workers to do the same. After all, healthier snacks lead to higher workplace efficiency, more concentration and lower stress on your body.

Check your hunger. Are you really hungry? Emotional hunger comes from the neck up. Before you take a bite, make sure that you feel hungry from your stomach, not from your brain. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly and is usually for only one particular food. When you are truly hungry, you are more open to different kinds of foods.

Exercise regularly. Exercising will reconnect you with your body. Focus on how it makes you feel physically and mentally. This will decrease depression and stress, which in turn will reduce emotional eating. It has been shown that regular exercisers experience fewer cravings than those who do not exercise regularly.

Try stress-relieving foods. Do you know that some foods can help with decreasing stress? Herbal teas, blueberries, yogurt, salmon, turkey, nuts and seeds, and even chocolate all have health-promoting properties that can combat what we feel when we are stressed out. Remember, it takes a lot of time and practice to control stress eating. Give yourself a pat on the back next time you reach for a healthy food or say no to your junk food temptations.

Having self-control will make you feel good and eventually become a healthy habit for life!