Here’s the thing: Stress eating is natural, and it’s nothing at all to be ashamed of in any sense. What’s not OK, however, are the usual feelings that come after you engage in some serious stress eating — more stress, because food probably wasn’t the solution you or your body really needed. It’s challenging to figure out stress eating tips when you are at the absolute peak of your anxiety, because your brain isn’t exactly functioning at an optimal level — it’s really just looking for its nearest fix.
However, when it comes to stress, it’s important to give your body what it needs, rather giving in to impulsive urges that will only satisfy you in the moment, rather than in the long-term scope of things. For one, it’s important to note that it’s not as simple as a lack of willpower that causes you to stress eat. Your brain is actually just looking for anything and everything to make it feel good in the midst of sh*tty emotions and thought patterns.
According to , eating food that’s high in fat, sugar, or salt activates the brain’s reward system. For example, chocolate has a strong effect on mood, generally increasing pleasant feelings and reducing tension.
But if you’re focused on an overall healthy lifestyle, indulging in these comfort foods won’t be so comforting after your moment of stress has passed.
Elite Daily spoke with expert Mindy Lu of Sunrise Nutrition, who gets real on how to treat yourself well even at your worst moment. Let’s just say that the willpower needed for this is certainly strenuous, but nonetheless very possible.
First, Lu explains why your body leans toward such a dense food palate in the first place when stress arises.
She tells Elite Daily,
When our bodies get stressed out, we sort of go into flight-or-fight, mode and when we’re in flight-or-fight mode, our bodies do this thing where it’s like, ‘OK! There’s a bear coming at me, I need all the energy I can to fight off this bear.’ And so that’s why it starts craving carbs and fat — the foods that are more [energy] dense because it needs those nutrients to fight off this bear.
It’s this survival mechanism we’ve conveniently, or inconveniently, derived.
In order to combat your body’s natural inclination to stress eat, you first have to combat the source of stress.
This means ensuring that you constantly have an environment of calm surrounding you, wherever you see it possible.
I recommend looking to other forms of comfort rather food for comfort — taking a walk or a bath, getting a manicure, scheduling a massage, playing with your cat, watching TV, listening to music, and fully immersing yourself in that experience.
If there is less stress, there is less of a chance to stress eat. If even afterwards, you need to eat, I recommend eating mindfully to help your brain and body fully experience the food so it can take in all of the comfort that is needed.
In the event that you can’t simply create a soothing surrounding environment (like if you are in the office in the middle of a project at work, or something of the like), Lu suggests practicing stress-tolerance or relaxation skills, such as breathing techniques, listening to mindful meditation podcasts, lighting a candle, and overall, slowing the hell down — whatever it takes to help you feel centered again.
There’s no doubt about it, when you boil it down, to combat stress eating is to alter your lifestyle, in a sense. It means going about your days more mindfully, problem-solving instead of seeking instant gratification, and checking in with yourself and your body on a regular basis.