Emotional eating can waylay the best weight loss plans. That scoop of ice cream, the chips eaten out of the bag, the chocolate chip cookies we consume when stress comes calling can add up to unwanted pounds over time.
According to Prevention, stress eating often is caused by a trigger or event that prompts us to turn to food for comfort. The first step in stopping the action is paying attention to the food you are reaching for and deciding whether or not you are truly hungry or just stressed, says Christine Celio, a licensed clinical psychologist in San Francisco.
“Identifying what is driving the behavior will help decide what to do next,” she says. Here are some ways to harness stressful eating:
- Grab a glass of water. While Celio acknowledges this is the oldest trick in the book, drinking a full glass of water when you are feeling stressed is a good start. It also helps you stay hydrated which is a healthy action.
- Write it down. Grab a real piece of paper and write down how you feel. Putting things physically on paper gives you a better sense of perspective about the problem than wolfing down a bowl of pretzels, says Celio.
- Take a tea break. Susan Albers, a psychologist, and best-selling author of Eating Mindfully tames her sugar cravings by sipping a cup of cinnamon tea with a teaspoon of honey. Place a stick of cinnamon in a mug of boiling water and let steep for a few minutes. Cinnamon is great for keeping insulin levels in check, she says. You can add cinnamon to your morning coffee or try spiced chai tea. Other experts suggest sipping chamomile tea to de-stress.
- Take a walk. Celio says that any kind of moderate, regular exercise is one of the best things we can do for our emotional and physical being. Exercise releases endorphins, says Prevention, and the fresh air is also a natural stress reducer.
- Think long-term. Albers say that the pleasure you get from food lasts only three minutes. “Keeping that number front and center in my mind is helpful,” she says. While the sugar high that comes from scarfing down a cookie may make you feel better in the short term, it comes with a crash that leaves you feeling lethargic and low. Think of things to do that will make you feel better, longer, such as eating a healthy fruit or salad.
- Take a bath. Place a few tablespoons of English mustard in a tub of warm water long with Epsom salts for a great way to unwind and de-stress. You can also add a few drops of lavender essential oil to your bath.
- Get distracted. “Keep your hands and mind busy with some sort of fun activity,” says Jennifer Nasser, associate professor and director of the Nutrition Sciences Department at Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions. “Knitting, coloring, drawing ─ all of these help distract your brain from food thoughts.”
- Breathe. There are many breathing techniques that can help reduce stress. One of them is called “equal breathing.” Inhale through your nose slowly to the count of four and then exhale through your nose to the count of four. As you become more proficient, you can increase the count to five or even six.
- Take away temptation. According to the Mayo Clinic, don’t keep hard-to-resist comfort foods in your home. And if you feel angry or blue, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you have your emotions in check.
- Get support. You’re more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a good support network. Lean on family and friends or consider joining a support group.
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