Is Stress Eating You?

Stress… we all deal with it. It’s unavoidable in fact but there are ways to cope with it and lessen its effects on our minds and the habits that form as a result. Eating is a coping mechanism for stress because when we eat something (Especially satisfying) just to eat it, this is a sure sign of stress eating.

Let’s delve further into the issues of emotional eating and pinpoint exactly why we stress eat and how to stop doing it!

Why We Turn To Food?

A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that about one-fourth of Americans rated their stress levels at about 8, with a 10 showing the most stress. It’s a pretty discouraging statistic as we all know stress is no fun mentally or physically as it can cause a host of health problems.

When stress persists, not only does it alter appetite and cravings, it can also change the chemistry in our bodies. High levels of cortisol, leptin, and adrenaline can negatively impact your sleep to organ function.

Stress eating, sometimes called comfort eating or emotional eating, can be an undesired pattern of behavior of using food to cope with stress, and various difficult feelings, such as boredom, pain, anger, and loneliness. If emotional or stress eating is something you struggle with you might not be surprised to hear that food is not a solution and can eating behind your emotions can lead to serious medical and mental health problems such as the development of an eating disorder or depression.

If you are using food or eating as your primary coping tool, it may be time to take a hard and long look at your eating patterns and to see how food temporarily helps you to avoid negative feelings and emotions, but does not really solve the root of the problem. That ice cream may feel really good going down at the moment, but likely after the binge is over, your distress remains and you probably feel even worse than before because of post-binge guilt and shame.

Relaxation is Key to Managing Stress

Stress is a constant companion, and most of us, through lots of practice, have become experts at elevating our stress levels. The ability to relax is an acquired skill too. Luckily, you can teach yourself to handle stress in a manner that minimizes it. However, the more stressed you feel, the more challenging it can be to relax.

Here are some relaxation techniques you can use instead of emotional overeating that can help you get on a path to better health:

  • Meditation. The art of relaxing your body completely and focusing on your breath and your mind can cause the same release of feel-good hormones in your brain that occurs when you eat junk food, except it has absolutely zero negative effects. There are many types of meditation methods and it may take some time for you to learn the techniques that will help you the best. Learning meditation and practicing it daily can eliminate the impact of stressors in your life so you can finally quit eating to overcome stress.
  • Visualization. This is similar to meditation except that you use your mind to “see” yourself making good food choices and being thinner as a result. If you are overweight or obese because of your eating habits, you can use visualization to help you establish a thin body image of yourself that is unencumbered by the constant need to eat in order to feel relaxed.
  • Exercise. When you exercise for relaxation, you are not simply trying to burn calories but you are trying to find some source of happiness in simply being more active. Exercise can be a simple part of your daily life; you don’t have to be a star jogger or world-class athlete. Taking a simple walk around the block before dinner can relax your body so that you are only eating for good health and because you are hungry from exercise. Exercise releases positive endorphins in the brain that makes us feel better, and is an all-natural stress reducer that also has zero negative side effects.
  • Tai chi. Tai chi is an ancient form of Chinese martial arts that has been found to be a great source of relaxation for many Westerners as well. Tai chi involves going through a series of martial arts type of movements done at a slow and fluid pace. The practice of Tai chi will not only relax you but it will burn calories and give you a better posture and better balance. It can be practiced by people of just about any fitness level.
  • Yoga. There are many different types of yoga you can practice. Some are specifically designed for relaxation and comfort so you feel less of an urge to eat for comfort. Others are more strenuous, involving more complex poses that, when combined with meditation and breathing, serve to relax you and improve your level of well-being.
  • Qi Gong. This is another practice we Westerners have picked up from ancient traditional Chinese medicine. It is similar to tai chi but is not as taxing. You use qi gong to enhance the flow of vital qi energy through your body to encourage balance of self, to feel better about yourself and live a healthier life without overeating. 

Any of these measures, when practiced daily, can help you improve your quality of life and can replace the negative habit of emotional eating and making poor food choices. Try them and you might be surprised at how effective they can be. 

Final Thoughts

It’s true… stress will never completely go away but if you heed to the information about the negative effects and decide that it’s time to end it right now, you’ll thank yourself later in life. How we treat our bodies and minds right now will determine how we function and feel later in life.

Finding food-free ways to cope with stress and getting in touch with our feelings teaches us to not cover them up but to understand why we turn to eating in the first place. It can be important to identify when you need additional help too so reading this post may be helpful as well!

Don’t be ashamed to help yourself overcome stress eating because you have one body and it’s essential that you keep it as healthy and functional as possible!

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