How to Deal With Stress Overeating?
People often use food to cope with stressful situations, and the more stressed you are — the stronger your food cravings. How to restore the correct diet?
There are a number of physical reasons why stress and strong emotions can lead to overeating, such as high cortisol level, where initially stress causes a decrease in appetite, so that the body can cope with the situation, and then, if the stress persists, cortisol (a hormone that increases appetite) is released, and this eventually leads to overeating. High cortisol levels due to stress can increase cravings for sugary or fatty foods. Stress is also linked to increased levels of hunger hormones, which can contribute to cravings for unhealthy foods.
Physical and emotional hunger
It is very easy to confuse emotional hunger with a physical one, but there is something that sets them apart. Awareness of this difference is the first step to getting rid of emotional overeating. The Fashiongton Post advises you to ask yourself the following questions:
Hunger comes quickly or gradually?
Emotional hunger tends to arise suddenly and feels very strong. Physical hunger is usually not that sudden.
Do you have cravings for certain foods?
A person experiencing physical hunger can eat any food, while a person experiencing emotional hunger wants something specific, usually unhealthy, such as a hamburger or pizza.
Does mindless eating exist?
Mindless eating is when a person eats without paying attention or enjoying food. An example would be eating a whole container of ice cream while watching a movie without being even hungry. These behaviors are usually triggered by emotional eating, not by the actual hunger. When experiencing strong emotions, try to avoid eating at this moment.
Does hunger come from the stomach or from the head?
Emotional hunger does not come from the stomach, and there are no physical signs like rumbling in the stomach. Emotional hunger begins when you crave something specific to eat.
Is there a guilty feeling after eating?
If you overeat because of stress, it can cause feelings of regret, shame, or guilt. These reactions are usually associated with emotional hunger. While satisfying physical hunger, on the contrary, gives the needed nutrients and calories for the body, so it will never be associated with negative feelings.
How to avoid emotional overeating?
Choose nutritious foods, as they not only improve overall health, but also fight stress. Filling your fridge with healthy foods, rather than just empty calories (such as candies and soda) is a smart way to prevent possible unhealthy choices. Nutritious foods are rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fats. These can be nuts, seeds, avocados, eggs, poultry, sweet potatoes, oily fish, leafy greens and broccoli, for example.
Follow a healthy eating schedule
Try not to change your regular diet. If you’re used to eating three meals a day, or if you have two meals and one snack, try sticking to this schedule.
You can adapt your diet to new conditions, just try to maintain a regular regimen based on your individual needs and preferred meal times. If you find yourself constantly snacking when you’re stressed, try creating a schedule that includes at least two full meals a day and stick to it until you feel like it’s easy to follow your eating habits.
Make infused water by adding fresh fruits and herbs to it to enhance the flavor. This will help you drink more water throughout the day without adding a significant amount of sugar or calories to your diet.
Eat warm food
Especially in the evening try eating food that envelops the stomach. When the body is tired and stressed during the day, warm but light food (such as soup) is required to relax the parasympathetic nervous system.
Get rid of temptations
While a bowl of cookies or colorful candies on the table adds a visual appeal, it can surely be a signal for overeating. Having tempting foods in sight can lead to frequent snacking, even when you’re not hungry.
Studies have shown that visual exposure to high-calorie foods stimulates the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, which can lead to overeating. So, it’s best to keep tempting foods (sweet pastries, candy and cookies) out of your sight. It is ideal if these sweets would remain on the shelves of a store or a cafe instead.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a delicious treat from time to time, even if you are not hungry. However, overindulgence in sweets can be detrimental to both physical and mental health.
Move, walk, run
Reduced levels of physical activity lead to stress and increased frequency of snacking. To combat this, be sure to make time for daily physical activity. If you are not a fan of gyms and fitness centers — just do a series of exercises at home or take a walk outdoors. Physical activity helps you focus, reduce stress, and this will reduce your chances of stress-induced overeating.
Be careful with alcohol
A glass of wine is a common way to relax, but be aware that alcohol lifts your inhibitions, increases your appetite, and can lead to overeating as a result of it. In addition, drinking too much alcohol is bad for your health.
And don’t forget about proper and sufficient sleep, because without it the fight against stress will be lost!