Alternatives to Stress Eating

Alternatives to Stress Eating : Colorado Center of Health and Nutrition BlogThere are two kinds of people out there—those that eat less when they are stressed, and those that eat more. If you are the latter, eating for comfort every now and then is okay, but when it becomes a regular thing with chronic stress, maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy relationship with food may become challenging.

The truth is, eating may appear to alleviate the stress for the moment, but as soon as the food is gone, the stress and emotions could still be there. This may leave you reaching for more…and more…and more, and, eventually, feelings of guilt and shame. Try these strategies as alternatives to stress eating.

Drink a large glass of water. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. You may find that drinking a large glass of water satisfies your desire to eat. Your skin, bowels, and kidneys will thank you too!

Make a cup of tea. Drinking a warm beverage will not only add to your fluid intake for the day, it may also lower your stress hormone, cortisol. Black tea in particular has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, but be cautious the caffeine does not disrupt your sleep.

Go for a walk. Even if it is just for 10 minutes after a meal. Getting some fresh air while going on a brisk walk can improve mood and contribute to the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

Curl up with a good book or a new magazine. This will take your mind off things. Better yet, pick up a healthy eating magazine and dog-ear pages with recipes you want to make. Next time you go to meal plan, quickly thumb through the dog-eared pages for ideas.

Journal. Try to think about the true reason why you are wanting to eat. Are you truly hungry, or are you lonely, tired, overwhelmed, or angry? If it is the latter, put it out on paper. You can also journal your daily food intake, stressors, desire to eat, and cravings. This may help you identify certain life triggers or people that leave you emotionally, and not physically hungry. Once you know the triggers, you can develop a plan to avoid or deal with them.

Try some mindful meditation. Look for free guided meditations, like these ones online, or try out a meditation app like Headspace. Alternatively, simply sit in a comfortable seated position, turn off all electronics, close your eyes, and listen to your breath rise and fall for 5-10 minutes.

Get regular massages, ask a partner to give you a massage, or use a massage ball for self-massage. Massage therapy has been shown to reduce the major stress hormone, cortisol, while increasing feel good hormones, serotonin and dopamine. Roll your feet out on a golf ball after a long day, or trade shoulder massages with your spouse after dinner.

While some of these strategies may work for the short-term, it is important to get a handle on your stress level to prevent regular overeating and/or eating foods high in simple carbohydrates and sugar. This could hinder your weight loss efforts or lead to obesity. If you need help managing stress, reach out to a friend, family member, counselor, or someone else who can help.

Field, Tiffany, et al.
“Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy.”
International Journal of Neuroscience 115.10 (2005): 1397-1413.

Jin, Putai.
“Efficacy of Tai Chi, brisk walking, meditation, and reading in reducing mental and emotional stress.”
Journal of psychosomatic research 36.4 (1992): 361-370.

Steptoe, Andrew, et al.
“The effects of tea on psychophysiological stress responsivity and post-stress recovery: a randomised double-blind trial.” Psychopharmacology 190.1 (2007): 81-89.

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