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Stress Eating: 7 Ways to Fight It
Because my life is very stressful right now, I am constantly turning to "comfort foods" like ice cream, cookies and
breads. I cannot stick to healthy eating habits. I have lost my self-discipline and I am gaining weight rapidly. How
can I motivate myself to get back on track?
Thanks in advance.
Congratulations for realizing that you need some assistance in dealing with your situation and for reaching out for
help. These are signs that you are on your way to managing your stress. As you know, stress can raise blood
sugar levels and can cause you to change your daily routine. Below I have outlined some tips for managing stress
and finding healthy comfort foods.
First, I strongly urge you to get some professional help, through a support group and your physician.
Second, consider these tips:
Learn to relax. Try deep-breathing exercises during which you close your eyes, consciously relax your body and
focus on your breathing for five to 20 minutes each day. Try to breath deeply and remove all other thoughts from
Try an audio-tape progressive relaxation exercise. Look in your local bookstore for ideas. These tapes usually
have pleasant background music or sounds from nature and they lead you through relaxation exercises.
Banish bad thoughts from your mind. Try placing a rubber band loosely on your wrist. Every time you have a
negative thought, snap the rubber band. This will remind you to think positively.
Memorize a prayer or poem to repeat to yourself every time you have a negative thought or feel yourself under
increasing stress. Look through favorite books of poetry for ideas, or ask your pastor for help.
Exercise. Daily exercise not only helps control blood sugar and also works to reduce stress. Try a daily 15- to
20-minute walk to clear your head. Focus on positive thoughts during your exercise time. If you can't get out to
take a walk, try stretching in your shower or walking stairs. Do what you can, but try to commit to 15 to 20 minutes
of some movement per day. You deserve it.
As for comfort food, make yourself goodie bags. Regarding the snacking on "comfort foods," accept that you
can't go back on what you have already consumed, but know that you can take it one step at a time, one day at a
time. Try to make a commitment to yourself that you will prepare the next day's snacks the night before. That way,
you'll have healthy food already prepared which you can carry with you throughout the day. Your goodie bags
a hard-boiled egg, red-pepper strips and four to six whole-grain crackers
one cup lite soy milk or skim milk and one English muffin topped with a smear of peanut butter or all-fruit spread
three graham crackers and an orange
half a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich on whole-wheat bread
apple slices and one small sugar-free yogurt.
Most importantly, don't give up! If you try one of these ideas and it doesn't seem to work, don't put the blame on
yourself. Try another approach, find a different support group or talk with a different health-care consultant.
You're too important to not give yourself every possible chance.
Lynn Grieger, R.D., C.D., C.D.E.
Belvoir Media Group, LLC
If mental and emotional stress sends you straight into snack mode, you may be heading for weight
problems. But here's the good news: By learning healthier ways to respond when you're upset, you can
avoid weight gain associated with "emotional eating."
People who turn to food when they're stressed are at increased risk for obesity because they tend to
choose food high in fat and sugar, and to eat when they're not hungry, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Leeds in England observed the eating habits of 422 people after they
had experienced one or more minor stressful events, such as losing their keys, or having an argument
with a colleague at work. They found that stressed subjects not only ate many more unhealthy
between-meal snacks, but they also ate less than usual at their main meals, missing out on healthy
foods such as vegetables and fruits as a consequence.
"Many people eat in response to ucomfortable emotional states," explains Anne Becker, MD, PhD, ScM,
Director of the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"People may respond to stressful feelings such as loneliness, negativity, boredom, anxiety, anger or
tension by trying to numb their distress with the momentary pleasure of food. This type of eating
behavior is not related to hunger--people are eating to feel better.
"The problem is, people who eat in response to emotional stressors may feel good while they are eating,
but afterwards they often feel terrible. Their self-esteem suffers, and they may feel guilty, depressed,
anxious, or angry with themselves. This can lead to a vicious cycle, but understanding this can help
motivate people to develop alternative strategies to respond to stress in more healthful ways than
ARE YOU A STRESS EATER?
Symptoms of emotional eating include eating when you're not hungry, eating for comfort or to calm your
nerves, eating very fast, eating until you are too full, thinking often about food, feeling guilty about your
eating behavior, and worrying about your eating habits. If your stress eating has resulted in weight gain,
you may be facing health problems related to obesity such as high blood sugar, depression or
If you are struggling with emotional eating, don't judge yourself. Many people have these problems--and
they are habits that take a while to unlearn. Getting your eating under control takes practice, insight,
motivation, and support from others, too.
HEADING OFF A SNACK ATTACK
You can break yourself of the habit of automatically reaching for food when you're upset. Instead of
being overly self-critical, approach the problem with curiosity: Notice your pattern of eating in response
to stress and work on substituting more constructive ways to address it.
The following eight suggestions may help you overcome emotional eating:
1. Take action--without eating--to eliminate stress. Exercise releases chemicals that counteract the
effects of stress, makes you feel healthier and more fit, and also helps you lose weight. Relaxation
techniques can lower stress levels that lead to impulse eating. Try yoga, meditation, massage or a long,
hot bath instead of tucking into a chips-and-dip snack. Distracting yourself with socializing, hobbies and
other interests can also take your mind off food.
2. Learn the difference between true hunger and stress eating. When you're tempted by food, ask
yourself why. Are you hungry, or upset? If it's the latter, look for another way to handle your feelings.
3. Identify triggers for stress eating. Keep a food diary where you record your eating behavior. Do you
eat when you're angry? Are you eating out of boredom? Once you learn what is causing your emotional
eating, you can take steps to confront the source of your stress and work on a solution to it.
4. Schedule your eating. Having a set meal and snack schedule can help you avoid impulse eating. Try
to eat three regular meals with scheduled nutritious snacks if you find yourself becoming hungry
between meals. Do not try to skip meals to save calories--this will only put you at higher risk of
overeating when you are too hungry later in the day. If you are not hungry but an urge to nibble hits you,
waiting 15 minutes or so may help distract you until the impulse passes.
5. Eat consciously. Chew slowly and savor your food. Paying attention to the taste and smell of your
food makes meals more satisfying and reduces the temptation to eat more later on.
6. Avoid temptation. Don't stock your kitchen with high-calorie junk foods.
7. Eat sensibly. A well-balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and low-fat protein will
keep you full longer and help you resist emotional eating. Instead of depriving yourself of your favorite
foods, eat them in small quantities. That will make it easier to resist bingeing on them when you're
feeling stressed or upset.
8. Seek professional help if your stress continues or you cannot control your eating on your own.
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