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Are You Stress Eating?

Did you know our ancestors would eat as much as they could during a crisis because of the lack of food security? They endured some very psychologically stressful times: famines, diseases, harsh weather conditions, and hungry predators, from whom they literally had to run for their lives.

These situations required a great deal of physical energy to survive, so it was super beneficial to seek out and eat high-calorie foods.

There is a lot of truth behind the phrase “stress eating.” It makes sense that we would feel the need to eat fun, sugary foods when we feel under physical or emotional pressure.

Back in the day, the people who turned to sugar in stressful conditions were more likely to survive the famine, the predators, the rampant diseases, and the severe winters. Now, in the 21st century, the daily demands of work and home life (plus a pandemic) - and, yes, the constant presence of electronic devices - put people at high risk for stress eating.

When we are in a state of constant anxiety, our stress hormones spike (hello cortisol!), and we store more fat in our bodies.

The rise of cortisol can also lead to an increased appetite. So, when you get stressed out, and you have irresistible urges to reach for the cookies and ice cream, have some compassion for yourself. You’re craving these things because it’s in your DNA, and they really will relieve your feelings of tension and angst, at least, for the moment.

Sugar is dangerous precisely because it’s such an effective short-term fix.

Eating nourishing foods and taking care of your body is an act of self-love. In moments of crisis, we often forget to give ourselves that love. So, if you have put aside your own needs and forgotten to give yourself some love, here are six tips to get you started.

6 Tips to Deal With Stress Eating

1. Stabilize Your Blood Sugar

The term blood sugar is likely something you have heard before, without knowing exactly what it means.

Although many people recognize that their blood sugar is important, few recognize how it affects them daily and how balancing their blood sugar is key to managing so many day-to-day symptoms and feelings.

Sugar, or glucose, is one of two main energy sources for humans. It refers to the amount of energy (sugar) present in our bloodstream at any given time. Sugar is produced when we break down any form of carbohydrates, from oats to candy, and is absorbed from our digestive tract into our bloodstream, to be used as a source of energy for the body. So, the term blood sugar refers to the amount of sugar (or glucose) in your blood at a given time.

The simplest way to balance your blood sugar is to focus on whole foods that contain protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Whole foods usually won’t include copious amounts of refined sugars, which are detrimental to blood sugar.

It’s important to focus on quality over quantity. Berries, like raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries, stabilize blood sugar and are high in vitamin C, which helps to reduce cortisol (your stress hormone).

Try adding berries to your smoothie or in overnight oats to stabilize your blood sugar and reduce cortisol.

2. Limit Sugar

While ditching the sweet stuff can result in a physically healthier you, we also need to take a second look at the effect of sugar on our mental health.

Refined sugar makes us anxious and sad because sugary foods can weaken the body’s ability to respond to stress.

As well, refined sugar causes neuroinflammation that compounds the anxiety that we are feeling. In the short term, eating sugar might relieve feelings of stress because it basically scratches an old evolutionary itch that’s still hanging around in our brains. However, in the long run, consistently high sugar intake is actually dangerous to the brain.

Instead, reach for natural sugars like sweet potatoes, or unsweetened applesauce in your baking, or delicious nut butter on dates. Not only are these tasty, but they are incredibly stabilizing and nourishing.

You might also want to check out: The Important Link Between Sleep & Food

3. Love Up Your Gut

Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach? Or had to visit the bathroom several times before giving a speech or going into an interview? When you are stressed, your gut flora is stressed too. The gut is especially vulnerable to the presence of chronic (and acute) stress.

Nearly 90% of your serotonin is made in your gut; you need all the good bacteria you can get!

How do you get good bacteria into your gut? Eat fermented foods!

Fermented foods include unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir. Enjoy 4 tablespoons per day of fermented foods, and your gut will thank you. Probiotic supplements can help as well.

4. Support Your Nervous System

The nervous system is a complex network of neurons and cells that carries messages to and from the brain and the spinal cord to various parts of the body, which then creates and releases stress hormones through the nervous system’s reactions.

We’ve all experienced stressful situations and noticed the immediate impacts on our bodies, whether we watch a scary movie, hear a loud noise, or feel emotionally triggered by an event.

Our hearts start racing, and we enter what’s known as “fight or flight” mode, which is our nervous systems’ response to stress. A person under stress burns through vitamin C, which means it’s important to replace this during calmer times.

Foods such as berries and red peppers are great sources of vitamin C. Leafy greens, which are full of B vitamins, are also very important. Every B vitamin plays a specific role in your nervous system. Specifically, vitamins B6 and B9 are especially critical for your brain to cope with anxiety. Broccoli sprouts, which are easy to digest, and dark leafy greens are great sources of these B vitamins.

Make sure to read this next: All About Vitamin C, the Heroic Vitamin

5. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is defined as paying attention to the present moment experience, purposefully and without judgment.

Mindful eating, the practice of being mindful or aware during meals, has been found to “rewire” the brain’s response to food, helping you distinguish between hunger cues and emotional arousal.

This reduces eating behaviors such as “stress eating.”

You can eat more mindfully by adding in these steps:

  • Avoid watching TV while eating.
  • Avoid responding to text messages and emails while eating.
  • Eat your meals with your household, or at least one meal a day together.
  • Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing
  • If you were engaged in a stressful activity or conversation before a meal, give yourself time to decompress before eating.

6. Stay in Communication With Your Loved Ones

Be a lifeline and connect with the ones you love during times of stress, which is a normal part of life.

However, when it becomes overwhelming, stress can cause us to suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally. The good news is that we have power over many of the things that contribute to our stress- including the quality of our relationships.

It’s important to prioritize spending meaningful time with our loved ones.

You’re Not Alone With Stress Eating

Every single one of us, at some point, has engaged in stress eating. In fact, maybe you’re engaging in it right now.

While the urge to calm our anxiety with “comfort food” is very real and has been passed down through generations, trust that by adopting these six tips (or starting with only one or two of them), you can become more energized and have a more positive mindset for coping with the pressures of life.

This is a great opportunity to create new habits and to build a stronger, more resilient you!

Related article: Why You Need to Build Resilience

Kat Vernelli

Kat Vernelli

Kat is a virtual, Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant. She has a serious passion for holistic living and loves educating people on nourishing foods and well-being. She believes in eating fresh, whole foods, cooking with real ingredients, keeping chemicals out of daily care products, and doing what makes you happy as... Read More

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