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Conquering Stress Eating

By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD

Sad Woman Eating Chips

“Things have been really crazy recently” is hands down the most typical excuse I hear for poor eating choices. How many times have you said something along the lines of that sentence? We are always in transition, but fall seems to highlight it. Maybe you’re getting back to school, maybe you’re moving, or you’re just settling back into the work-reality after too much fun this summer. Or perhaps you’re dealing with stressful changes, a sick family member, or a bad heartbreak or loss. Changes, no matter how small, can be nerve-racking and stressful and make you feel totally out of control, but guess what? Your eating doesn’t have to follow suit.

Stressful transitions often lead to stress eating (or for some, stress non-eating). I have to remind clients daily that they do actually control what they put into their mouths/bodies (one client has even written that on a post-it for her desk). Your brain is connected to your arm, which is connected to the hand that’s reaching into that bag of cookies. If you can relate to being a stress eater, this is actually an opportunity to optimize nutrition. So consider trying these things:

1. Choose an “anchor behavior”: pick one or two things as your baseline behaviors. No matter what, you do it every single day. Eat breakfast, set an exercise goal, keep snacks on you, stop eating at 9 p.m.

2. Write it down. Anchor behaviors are a good start but if you are a big stress eater, food journal every bite and pick. I would even suggest you log off your computer; at Foodtrainers we find handwritten works best.

3. Be held accountable. A registered dietician can give you a personalized plan and offer advice and services (i.e. unlimited email) to keep you on track. If that’s unrealistic, don’t discount the power of the buddy system, send them your food journal. There are also tons of online communities (WebMD has many you may not have even known about).

4. Get moving. Release some of that pent-up anxiety. Run, do yoga, whatever gets you going. I have a client who hula hoops.

5. Take omega 3′s: When you’re in a chronic state of stress, cortisol (a hormone that helps regulate energy and maintains homeostasis) is released, which causes a state of chronic inflammation. Omega 3′s are one of the best anti-inflammatories out there.

How do you handle stress? Are you a stress eater or do you deal with it in other ways?

Photo: iStockphoto

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