Stress Eating 101

Five tips for maintaining healthy habits in times of stress.

food images via Shutterstock.

food images via Shutterstock.

We’ve all been there. You’re overeating, not getting enough sleep, and you haven’t seen the inside of the gym in weeks. It seems like when life takes an unexpected turn, stress sets in and all your good habits fly out the window. Sound familiar? A common response to stress is turning to food. The facts are simple: the stress hormone, cortisol, can increase appetite contributing to the tendency to overeat. But it isn’t just unhealthy foods that people overeat during stressful times. A small study recently found that people who stress-eat usually stick to the foods they are used to eating—healthy or not. So if you’re used to munching on carrot sticks instead of potato chips, chances are you’ll just eat more carrots. But for people who aren’t as lucky, here are five tips for maintaining healthy eating habits in times of stress:

1. Establish a routine.

This goes for all aspects of your life (sleeping, eating, exercising), but when it comes to food, establishing a routine will help you stick to a healthy diet. Make it a priority to find time to eat each meal of the day and use that time to be mindful of what you’re eating. Eat breakfast outside in the cool of the morning, enjoy lunch away from your desk, or plan dinner with friends or family. Your routine might also include meal prep for the week on Sunday afternoons or planned time to make dinner throughout the week. By establishing a routine you’re more likely to develop habits that will support your efforts to stick to a healthy diet.

2. Be mindful.

Eating in front of the TV or computer is all too common and these habits can contribute to overeating. By practicing mindful eating, you could eat less. That’s right. By just eating slower and more in the moment, you’ll save unnecessary calories. When you’re mindful of your food, you enjoy it more, feel more satisfied, and as a result, eat less. Slow down, notice the smells, textures, and tastes of each bite. Try putting your fork down and breathing in between bites.

3. Don’t fret over slip-ups.

Maybe you overindulged in a bag of chips or ate one too many cookies, but whatever it is, don’t spend time feeling guilty about it. This only creates more stress which can send you further off track. Take the time to think about what happened and learn from the mistake. The next meal is a perfect time for a fresh start.

4. Put tempting foods out of sight (or don’t buy them at all).

I always say that if you have good food, you will eat good food. And having good food starts at the grocery store. Make a list, stick to it, and most of all, don’t go to the store hungry. Grocery shopping while hungry (and stressed) can only lead to bad choices and a blown budget (I’d know). Whatever makes it into your cart will make it home with you, so use the opportunity to buy foods that you will feel good about eating and that your body will thank you for. By removing temptation, you’ll be less likely to go on a calorie binge.

5. Find a healthy outlet for your stress.

This is the most important step on the list. Living with high levels of stress can take a toll on your health. It can increase blood pressure, contribute to obesity, and have negative effects on heart health. Maybe you find that meditation helps your stress or that yoga does the trick. You might try talking with friends, running, or writing in a journal. Whatever it is, make it a habit and do it daily.