8 Tips to Stop Stress Eating

As humans, eating is more than just about fueling our bodies. A scoop of ice cream or a bowl of creamy pasta after a hard day of work has an emotional impact on the mind and affects our stress responses.

However, being overwhelmed may cause us to lose control over our impulses to eat more than what we intended to and may lead to a cycle of shame and regret.

If you suffer from bad eating habits and stress eating, you might kill your gains in the gym. In addition, losing control over the quality and quantity of foods you eat can add unwanted calories to your diet, making it harder for you to reach your goals.

This article will discuss how you can stop binge-eating when stressed to protect your gains and help ensure success in your fitness journey.

Stressful and negative events affect our metabolism, and eating can be an effective coping mechanism to dampen the effects of stress on emotions, hence, the term "comfort foods".

Eating promotes dopamine release in the brain, bringing pleasure and satisfaction to your tummy and mind. Basically, it means that the brain rewards you for taking care of yourself.

However, eating can also be quite addicting, and chronic stress pushes the body to eat more food. The brain releases a hormone called cortisol during stressful situations and increases the appetite to overeat fatty and sugary snacks.

For some, it could be harder to control their impulses when they are stressed or faced with negative emotions such as guilt, anger, jealousy, and frustration.

Here are some helpful tips to stop stress eating:

It is often challenging to deal with our impulses when overwhelmed. Therefore, it is best to deal with the root of the problem and determine your triggers.

Keeping a food diary is a great way to keep track of your food choices and the emotion behind them. You might be surprised how much you rely on food for distractions from different stressors in your daily life.

Use a phone application or personal notebook to write the details of your emotions, the foods you ate, how much, and how hungry you are. The more detailed you are at writing them, the better you will understand your triggers and become better at dealing with stress eating.

Binge-eating when stress fills up your mind can be comforting at times. However, if stress eating is your only known coping mechanism, it will be harder for you to avoid it.

The key is to find other pleasurable habits that bring you comfort, such as the following:

  • Calling or hanging out with a friend
  • Listening to music
  • Meditating
  • Yoga or mindfulness practice
  • Casual Gaming (in moderation)
  • Exercising
  • Sports

The habits above are known to stimulate dopamine release in the brain and provide relief from stress. So by changing your distractions with productive and positive habits, you'll be able to spin an adverse event in your life in a positive direction.

Here’s a workout program that will distract way for a good reason:

Your environment is crucial to how your mind works. A cluttered living or working space can quickly add stress and overwhelm the mind. One study found that a chaotic environment may influence your impulses and trigger unhealthy eating behaviors.

Another strategy is to eliminate unhealthy food options in your home. Studies show that seeing high-calorie foods stimulates the part of the brain that controls impulses leading to cravings.

As simple as it sounds, not stacking chips and other unhealthy snacks in your fridge is a cost-effective method to cut bad food habits. By adding friction to your environment, you make unhealthy habits difficult.

We are creatures of routine. The body may have difficulty dealing with irregular schedules or abrupt changes, particularly in our diet. It is vital to have some normalcy when it comes to meal frequency and timing.

Regular eating patterns based on your preference and schedule can prevent you from feeling peckish and constantly reaching out for unhealthy snacks. This also prevents you from being extremely hungry and avoids being too stressed during busy days.

Depriving yourself of food or subscribing to highly restrictive diets can mess up your metabolism, especially during stressful times. Research shows that overly restrictive diets are not effective long-term, and you are more likely to gain more weight instead.

We are prone to making mistakes and breaking our own rules. Chopping out too many calories in your diet has a high chance of leading to binge eating.

Enjoying tasty snacks is okay if you are not overindulging and are always mindful of your habits. The key is to follow a lifestyle rather than a diet and always to find a balance to manage your satiety.

Stress may lead to dehydration, and dehydration can cause stress. Stress raises your heart rate and breathing which leads to fluid loss. Fluid loss, in turn, raises the cortisol levels in the body, making you even more stressed.

If you are feeling hungry, try drinking a glass of water first. The hypothalamus controls both thirst and hunger, and sometimes we get mixed signals making us feel hungry when we only need a few glasses of water.

In today's digital age, we are constantly bombarded with tons of information and distractions every second. As a result, we often combine our meal time with other activities, such as watching TV shows or surfing the net, which might contribute to overeating.

Studies show that people who eat while distracted tend to consume significantly more calories. Brain scans show that being distracted during mealtime alters taste perception and often leads to overeating.

Behaviors are complex aspects of our lives, and it is counter-productive to downplay these issues. That is why it is essential to acknowledge that there are things that willpower alone cannot solve and has to be addressed with proper intervention.

Stress eating disorders, or other medical conditions can affect one's quality of life. If you frequently have problems controlling your impulses and overeating is affecting your physical and mental health, it is best to consult your doctor or mental health provider for help.

Eating can be an effective coping tool to relieve ourselves from stress and overwhelm. However, too much and too often can also kill your gains in the gym. Identifying your stress triggers and modifying how you deal with them can help stop stress eating.

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Bert Bauzon is a licensed physiotherapist specializing in spinal care and sports rehabilitation. He writes articles and books about exercise science and health care.
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