Nutritionist Shares the Eight Steps That Will Help You Quit Stress Eating
When the pressure is on, turning to a sugary treat or a delicious fat-laden morsel can feel like an easy way to get a little relief.
But while you might get some relief in the short-term, over the long haul, this type of eating could result in excess weight.
This is because the body can start to produce cortisol (the stress hormone) and this can ramp up the appetite. Added to this, stress can affect the sorts of foods the body craves, a study from Harvard shows.
Here, Australian nutritionist Jessica Sepel reveals eight simple ways to stop 'stress eating' and shares her tips for developing a healthy relationship with food.
1. Tune into your feelings first
One of the easiest things you can do before eating is to take a few moments to check out exactly how you're feeling, Jessica said.
Start by asking yourself if you are feeling stressed or relax? Is your stomach starting to clench? Are you breathing deeply? Is your heart racing?
The optimal state is calm and present with the nutritionist advising: 'Observe your thoughts and physical responses'.
2. Breathe before you eat
Before tucking into a meal, take the time to breathe deeply first.
This simple action helps to calm the amygdala - the area in your brain that controls the flight or fight response.
'The next time you sit down to enjoy a meal, I recommend practising deep belly breathing, Jessica wrote on her blog.
'Inhale deeply and close your eyes for a moment to feel into your body. Do this at least three times. This simple act helps to bring you into the present moment.'
3. Remove all judgement about what you are eating
In a time when there's so much information available about what we should be eating, it can be all too easy to judge if we don't think we are eating 'right'.
Being caught up in worry or even judgement causes stress and can prevent you from digesting and absorbing nutrients properly, Jessica said.
'Instead, chew slowly and focus on each mouthful and remember 80 per cent of the time your goal is to eat nourishing whole foods.
'Twenty per cent of the time, that allows for more indulgent options. The 80/20 rule allows you to incorporate balance into your diet and to enjoy each meal.'
4. Allow your body to dictate your choices
Tuning into your body means allowing yourself to eat the foods you truly want.
If it is cold you may feel like something warm and wholesome, whereas if you are craving vegetables you may want raw and fresh, Jessica said.
'Whatever it is, give yourself permission to order what you truly feel like eating and know that your body is equipped with the skills to digest your food.'
5. Eat consciously
Eating in a rushed and harried way means there's little chance of enjoying the flavours and textures of your food.
Instead, Jessica recommends taking smaller bites to allow yourself to taste the depth of flavour in the food and savour the experience.
'Also, when you become a conscious eater, you're more able to sense when you're full, which prevents you from overeating.'
6. Allow mealtimes to be a pleasurable experience
It can be all too easy to sit down to eat scrolling on a phone or watching TV, but being in front of a screen puts you into a 'distracted and reactive' headspace, the nutritionist said.
Jessica explained when you are in this zone, your brain isn't able to register what you're eating, which leaves you feeling unsatisfied - and wanting more.
'If you're at home, put your favourite music on, light a candle and sit at a table. If you're eating out, observe the space you're in and the people who are around you,' she said.
7. Check in after you've eaten
According to Jessica, it is just as important to check in with yourself after you've eaten as it is to tune into your feelings before.
The sorts of questions you may ask are: Did your meal make you feel satisfied and energised, or do you feel tired and sluggish?
The nutritionist said observing how you feel after eating is the best guide to knowing which foods make you feel good and which foods don't.
'Keep that in mind the next time you cook or order from a menu, to ensure you're making the right choices for your body.'
8. Take a gentler approach
Feeling the need to eat perfectly can also create feelings of pressure and tension, Jessica said.
Her advice is to remove this pressure and commit to eating well because it makes you feel good.
'Once you do that, then allow some room for indulgence.'