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Stress Eating: What You Can Do to Keep It at Bay

Nov 14, 2011
Stress, boredom, or any array of emotions can lead to cravings for food. If these cravings take control too often, you might find yourself eating large portions of high calorie, sweet, and/or fatty foods. However, if you find healthy ways to deal with these feelings, you can regain control of your eating and lead a healthy lifestyle.

Effects of Stress

Chronic stress can lead to the repeated elevation of certain stress hormones like cortisol which can lead to weight gain, gastrointestinal problems, immune system suppression, infertility, and increased risk for chronic disease.

Emotional Eating

Emotional eating can be brought on by:
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Frustration
  • Stress
  • Relationship problems
  • Issues at work
  • Poor self-esteem
Turning to food for comfort prevents effectively resolving emotional stressors, creates bad habits, and can lead to weight gain.

stress eating.jpgSoothing Yourself

The best way to handle stress is to be prepared for it when it arrives. Think of how food temporarily soothed you in the past, is there anything else, non-food related, that could recreate these feelings of relief? If you need help, try some of these techniques:
  • Meditation - If you're new to meditation go to YouTube, type in "guided meditation," and choose one that appeals to you. All you have to do is listen, you will be instructed on what to do.
  • Yoga - Besides relieving stress, yoga improve fitness, weight and other health issues like insomnia, blood pressure and anxiety.
  • Journaling - Write down what you're experiencing. This technique has been clinically proven to help with stress and anxiety.
  • Exercise - During exercise the body produces endorphins which create a euphoric feeling.
  • Get support from a friend or family member
  • Talk to a therapist
  • Use soothing sensations to calm and relax the body like:
    • Hot or cold tea
    • Taking a hot bath or shower
    • Aromatherapy
    • Progressive muscle relaxation
Practice these techniques on a regular basis, not only will this keep your mood stable, but you'll create new, healthier habits for helping you deal with stress when it arises.

Stress Relieving Foods

Several foods have been shown to have beneficial effects on reducing stress or speeding up recovery time:
  • Vitamin C - In animal studies, rats given vitamin C had significantly reduced cortisol secretion than those given no vitamin C when exposed to stress. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, and broccoli.
  • Black tea - Researchers from a study published in Psychopharmacology found that subjects who consumed black tea regularly had reduced post stress cortisol and greater perceived relaxation.
  • Crunchy foods - Stress eaters often go for crunchy foods because the force used to chew them relieves tension in the jaw, a place where we often build up stress. Instead of chips or candy, choose carrots, celery, bell peppers, apples, or any frozen fruit like grapes or blueberries. Besides containing an array of vitamins and minerals, these foods contain water and fiber, which will fill you up quickly.
  • Omega 3's - These fatty acids are very important for proper brain chemistry, physiology, and functioning. Omega 3's can be found in salmon, trout, herring, soybean oil, canola oil, and nuts.
In summary, your best defense against emotional eating is to consume a balanced diet, exercise regularly and practice stress relieving techniques often.

Mandy Seay is a bilingual registered and licensed dietitian who holds both a bachelor's degree in nutrition and in journalism. After gaining 30 pounds while living abroad, Mandy worked to lose the weight and regain her health. It was here that she discovered her passion for nutrition and went on to pursue a career as a dietitian. Mandy currently works as a nutrition consultant and freelance writer in Austin, Texas, where she specializes in diabetes, weight management and general and preventive nutrition. She recently published her first book, Your Best Health, a personalized program to losing weight and gaining a healthy lifestyle. Please visit Mandy's website at Nutritionistics.com.


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