When you stress eat, you're using food to solve a problem, but it is a problem that food can't solve. Retrain your brain to use a different response.
So many of us turn to food for comfort when the world goes sideways. Reaching for a bag of chips, a carton of ice cream, or a box of cookies when you are feeling spread too thin feels like an easy solution.
The problem is that the quick fix of sugar or other fast foods is momentary and literally leaves you feeling worse once that food settles, which it inevitably does.
The reason we reach for junk food when we are upset, sad, tired, or afraid is physiological and evolutionary.
No matter how loudly your body screams, “FEED ME CRAP!” you know that a stress binge will leave you feeling sluggish, defeated, and usually heavier. So let's learn how to plan for a different solution.
Stress causes our brain to think we are under threat. The brain can’t differentiate from types of threats. It then immediately and automatically sets out to deal with that perceived threat.
These hormones stop your ‘parasympathetic nervous system’, which then allows your respiration rate, blood pressure, heart rate, and the blood flow to muscles dramatically increase - as your whole body goes into what’s known as its “fight-or-flight.”
The first hormone is called adrenaline, which acts quickly then dissipates. The other is called cortisol which remains in your body anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours after the perceived threat occurs.
Too much cortisol in your system — for too long — brings with it a whole host of negative effects, including making you hold onto fat, have trouble sleeping, and increasing your appetite (by suppressing the production of the hormone ghrelin).
Your body knows you need energy and it’s “helping” by keeping you fueled for what it perceives as a fight. So now you are not only stressed, but you are also starving. Your brain wants energy-dense foods high in calories, carbs, fat, and sugar because they provide the quickest boost.
Gotta love nature, am I right?
Legitimately, EVERYONE has their own basket of crap to deal with every day, finances, jobs, relationships, health issues; life is brimming with a never-ending series of triggers.
But we are pretty powerful, as it turns out. We are smart enough to know what’s happening in our heads and in our bodies, and capable of making better choices. If we want to be our healthiest and happiest, we have to make active decisions to take care of ourselves.
1. Get outside. One of the quickest and best ways I know to circumvent a binge eating disaster is to get outside. Go for a walk, a run, a swim. Heck, sit on your balcony or porch with a good book and a cold glass of water. Breathe in the air, soak up some sun, and let nature relieve your stress instead of pushing you to eat. There are no calories in the grass or the sand. Getting away from the kitchen is the key.
2. Attack a project in your home or office. Close your eyes and pick one annoying pile of clutter that irritates you every time you see it.
It could be as small as a drawer or as big as a whole closet in the basement. It could be all those emails stuffed in your inbox, or a hard drive filled with everything you've downloaded thinking you'd 'read it later'. It could be a week’s worth of unfolded laundry or messy shelves in the garage.
Time is precious and we are often too overwhelmed to keep up with little stuff. Then the little stuff starts feeling insurmountable. So go after it! Clean it! Toss it! Give it away! The satisfaction you get from attacking that one eyesore will keep your mind and hands too busy for snacks.
3. Visit a friend. Stress can keep you isolated. Think of the friends you haven’t seen in a long time and make plans for a short walk or a cup of coffee. Getting together with people you love automatically changes your attitude and your perspective. My friends are funny because laughter is really important to me. So when I get together with a friend I can be assured of some great stories and lots of laughs. I can’t tell you how much better that makes me feel than eating. Love trumps food, every time.
Don’t feel like you have the right friends to talk to about your weight loss goals? We got ya covered. Click here to join our ladies-only Facebook group.
4. Run some errands. This used to be my go-to. Every time I had a craving I'd jump in my car.
Make a list of three tasks that you’ve been putting off. Now get your keys and hit the road. Once you are out of your house, you won’t have access to the junk food that was calling your name. Plus, you’ll end the de-stressing session with your dry cleaning, library books returned, and that package finally sent. That’s a win!
5. Take a class. You knew I'd sneak that one in, right?!!
Peruse your gym schedule, pick a class, and go. Surrounding yourself with other people who are taking care of themselves will put you in a better state to do the same. Plus the benefits of exercise include a mood boost and a caloric burn that lasts. That’s way more than I can say about that pint of ice cream.
6. Plan and prep your meals in advance. A fridge/pantry full of ready-made meals will go a long way to stop you from reaching for the phone, or the ice cream. So will the act of re-organizing your recipe collection or planning out your weekly meals and doing a load of back cooking. I make it easy with my Fast and Easy Meal Prep Recipes free eBook. Download it here.
What all six of these techniques have in common is that they remove you from easy access to junk food and they either get your body or your mind moving (or both).
Winning means making active choices to kill the game.
When stress pushes you toward a passive solution and you feel like you are going to give in to a container of ten-ingredient lo-main, you must fight back by making an active choice. The six suggestions above are just that, suggestions. There are about a million other ways to shift your focus, from washing your dog to planting a garden. Think about what fills your cup, makes you happy and contented.
Performing these short-term solutions over and over again serves to give your brain different ideas on what to do when it feels stressed. It also will increase your motivation every time you successfully avoid an episode of binge eating.
Truthfully, it does take a lot of energy to keep this up. But it gets easier and easier over time. Until it becomes natural.
Long Term Solutions take…….longer, but now that you know how to retrain your brain to properly evaluate all the information coming in — especially stressors — and avoid the inevitable physiological stress responses described above, it will give you hope!
Try it and let me know how it goes.