Are you a stress eater? Many of my clients are. They consciously know that long hours at work or conflict with their spouse drives them to indulge in comfort foods but they feel powerless to stop it. While every situation is different, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of making sensible choices in times of high stress. I have some proven techniques that help deal with stress and prevent stress eating.
- Take a tea break.
I love tea. The simple act of stopping and doing something nice for ourselves can make us feel a so much better. We often reach for the bowl of ice cream or a plate of cookies as an easy way to reward ourselves at the end of taxing day. Tea is a much better alternative. Green and herbal teas work especially well for stress reduction. Green can be great for a stressful morning at work because the caffeine can help you focus. Herbals have no caffeine, making the perfect pairing for a good book at the end of a long day. A blend with chamomile, kava kava or valerian will help relax you as well.
Do you practice meditation? Meditation doesn’t take any special skills or courses. It’s simply about breathing. After your next stressful meeting try this simple breathing exercise: breathe in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 6. Do this for at least a minute with your eyes closed. When you open your eyes you should feel more calm and centered. Meditation is also a proven willpower booster. Make it part of your morning ritual to strengthen resolve for the day ahead.
- Exercise of any kind.
The runners high isn’t just for runners. Endorphins, the feel good hormones, kick in after any workout. Green exercise, outdoors, is particularly good. Getting outside and moving for 5 minutes has been proven to improve both mood and health as well as strengthen willpower. My personal favorite stress busting exercise is medicine ball slams! They are fun and great for low impact cardio as well as getting rid of frustration after a hard day at the office.
- Don’t let blood sugar drop.
Have you gone hours without eating and find yourself confused and angry? Eating every 3 – 4 hours with a balance of protein, healthy fats and carbs will give you energy and keep blood sugar levels stable. The world is easier to deal with if we’ve had good fuel. Keep your snack drawer stocked with protein bars and fruit to keep hangry at bay.
- Get plenty of sleep.
To let hormones reset and to feel fresh and well rested we need on average 7-8 hours per night of shuteye. To make sure we do, it’s important to practice good sleep hygiene by creating an environment conducive to sleep and sticking to a nightly sleep ritual that helps you wind down. Try turning off the television and relaxing with a good book and turning in around the same time each night.
Stress burns fuel. Stress cravings are your body’s signal that you are depleted and need to give your brain the glucose it needs to continue to fight (or flight). Here is your stress craving emergency action plan:
- If you’re not too far gone stop and take 10 minutes to ask yourself what you really need. Is it to breath? Is it help with a task? Has it been too long since you’ve eaten? Try to find the source of the stress and the craving.
- Grab a small protein/smart carb snack. Give yourself 20 minutes for the food to register and to ride out the craving.
- If you still crave a piece of chocolate, than go ahead and have a small piece. Or you can try a healthier treat like a Luna bar, chocolate tea or cocoa dusted almonds.
- If you know you can’t have just one cookie don’t risk a binge in the break room. Throw out the temptation or remove yourself from the stressful environment. If the cravings are this strong on a regular basis seeking outside help for stress management or mental health support may be a good option.
What if you’re still having a stress craving despite your best efforts? How do you deal with stress and food cravings?