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Weight Loss Tips: How to Avoid Stress Eating

Diet and nutrition each play an important role in our overall health. When working towards certain wellness goals — increased energy, weight loss, better night’s sleep — what we consume on a daily basis is just as important as any other factor. Having said that, during times of greater stress and seemingly endless negative emotions, it’s not uncommon to reach for the indulgent treat or snack. In fact, if you’ve found yourself scouring the fridge for the desert you’re craving or raiding your pantry in all its salty snack glory, know that you’re not alone. Emotional eating, or stress-eating, is a self-soothing mechanism that many of us use, whether we realize it or not. We turn to food for comfort, a way to relieve feelings of fear, anger, isolation, boredom, and uncertainty, all of which are very commonplace during this unprecedented time we face. However, the problem that lies with stress-eating is that we use it as a way to fill emotional needs, rather than our stomach, resulting in an unhealthy cycle that often leaves us feeling worse.

In a time when we are fighting to keep our immune systems protected and our mind uplifted, giving in to emotional eating can be harmful. Breaking the link between our emotions and what we eat can help us maintain our wellness goals. So, how do we get back on track and avoid stress-eating?

Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger

Knowing the signs between being physically hungry and wanting to eat to relieve negative feelings is the first step. When your hunger is physical, it comes on gradually, sometimes with a stomach growl, and is open to many different food options. As opposed to the mindlessness of stress-eating, physical hunger also comes with greater awareness. As you eat, you’re more capable of recognizing feelings of fullness and the amount you’re eating. When we’re emotional eating, on the other hand, we’re more inattentive and not easily satisfied. We consume until there’s nothing left and often feel remorseful afterward. With emotional hunger, we also crave specific comfort foods — ice cream, chips, sweet treats, and other forms of junk food — that are lacking in proper nutrition. It is a feeling that comes on suddenly and with urgency.

With the ability to recognize the difference between the two, we can take steps to avoid stress- eating and feed our bodies in a healthier, more intentional way. When you notice signs of emotional hunger, consider these methods to stay on track.

8 Ways to Avoid Stress-Eating
  1. Keep a food diary — Keep yourself accountable by writing down what you eat, when you eat, how much, and how you felt before, during, and after. Take time throughout the week to look over your journal and track your habits. Linking what you eat with how you felt will help you make important connections.
  2. Incorporate stress-management practices — If your emotional eating is linked to feelings of stress, make it a point to incorporate wellness practices that have been recognized for their ability to reduce stress, such as yoga or meditation.
  3. Fight boredom — For many individuals, stress-eating is a way to deal with feelings of boredom. Instead of heading to the fridge when you’re bored, distract yourself with healthier habits. Try going for a walk, reading a book, or spending time learning something new.
  4. Check-in with yourself — When you feel the desire to reach for a snack or treat, check-in with what you’re really feeling. Do you recognize signs of physical hunger or emotional hunger? If you ate only a short time before, your cravings and desire to eat may be purely emotional.
  5. Prioritize wholesome nutrition and water intake — When preparing your meals or snacks between meals, incorporate satisfying foods that are packed with nutrition and will keep you feeling fuller longer. To keep your body strong and your immune system protected make sure you’re getting your fill of Vitamin C and fiber-rich vegetables. Another tip — focus on your water intake throughout the day. Not only will drinking water contribute to feelings of fullness, but keeping your body hydrated can have a positive effect on your immune system.
  6. Remove tempting foods — Make a list of the foods that are harder to resist when you’re stressed, bored, and anxious, and avoid buying these foods on your next trip to the grocery store. Replacing these snacks and treats with healthier options will help when the cravings set in.
  7. Surround yourself with support — Even in a time of social distancing, we’re not alone. It’s more important than ever to lean on and connect with our support system, even if that is from a distance. When you’re feeling stalled or overcome by negative emotions, reach out to a family member or friend via FaceTime. You might also consider joining or starting a support group online with others facing the same struggle.
  8. Learn and grow — If you find yourself giving in to stress-eating, start fresh the next day. Learn from your setbacks and remember that food and our eating habits fuel our bodies in more ways than one. Take steps to control the cravings and fuel yourself with highly nutritious foods that will keep your body and mind at ease.

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