It’s not uncommon for a hard day at work or a difficult conversation with a loved one to drive you to the ice cream, candy bowl, or drive through. Before you give in to stress eating again, it’s important to know why this is a common phenomenon and how to better direct your negative emotions.
Why it happens?
Stress eating is not an indication that you lack will power or self discipline, but rather a biochemical response that happens in your body when you feel stressed. Stress releases the chemical cortisol into our bodies and makes us feel hunger. Not only does stress make you feel hungry when you don’t need to eat, but it makes you crave high-carb, high-fat junk foods that release dopamine into the body making you feel good. The more often you give in and reach for junk when you’re stressed, the more the reaction becomes a habit and the harder it is to resist.
How can you stop the cycle?
Now that you know that it’s a biochemical response to stress, you can unlearn stress eating and make healthier decisions when you feel overwhelmed or stressed.
- Recognize the stress. The problem in that moment isn’t that you want junk food, it’s really the root of stress. Identifying why you feel stressed is the first step in preventing an unhealthy binge that will set back your healthy lifestyle. Journal, reflect, meditate, or workout to relieve the underlying stress before you consume a bag of french fries. Experimenting with stress-relief techniques can help you find what works best for you. If you need cardio, strength training, or yoga, try going to FitClub next time you feel stressed and before you give in and go straight to food.
- Prepare healthy foods. When stress makes you feel hungry, the best response is to eat a healthy snack and move forward. If you make healthy foods as easy and handy as vending machines make junk food, you can ward off the cortisol-induced hunger and save yourself hundreds of calories. Start by cleaning and cutting fresh vegetables and fruit and storing the foods at your home or workplace. Having ready-to-eat, healthy options gives you a leg up on ravenous stress hunger. You can also get ahead of week night stress that leaves you feeling short on time by taking the time on weekends to prepare healthy meals in advance. Bake your chicken, boil your eggs, and have salads ready to go when you walk in the door. By making healthy food convenient, you eliminate the feeling that you don’t have time to prepare healthy foods.
- When a craving for junk food strikes during a stressful day, make a point to wait it out and see if you’re still hungry when the crisis passes. Snap decisions may be the reason that you opt for junk food when the stress is at its peak. Commit to waiting on the junk food until after you’ve worked out and identified your stressor. If you can wait even just a few minutes, you’ll likely find that you feel better prepared to not only deal with the stressor, but also to make a healthy meal or snack a priority.