Stress can make you crave various unhealthy snacks, especially those extremely high in sugar, salt, or fat, like chips, doughnuts, pizza, and chocolate. That said, if you know you’re susceptible to emotional eating, don’t feel discouraged or hopeless, as there are ways you can fight this harmful pattern.
Eating healthy while you’re stressed is possible, and here are 5 simple tips that will help. The same tips should also be able to help those who have the opposite reaction to stress, where a stressful event makes them lose their appetite and skip meals.
1. Make time for a proper meal
In a world filled with stress and a seemingly never-ending to-do list, it's difficult to give yourself a break and carve out as little as 15-20 minutes to have an uninterrupted lunch or a family dinner. But in this stressful world, it is also extremely important to take a break from time to time to clear your mind of your worries. Let breakfast, lunch, and dinner be the time you spend entirely on nourishment and self-care.
This means putting your phone away during meals and sitting down to have breakfast instead of running to the car with coffee in one hand and a sandwich in the other. It also means closing the laptop or going outside of the office to have lunch and setting up the table nicely instead of sitting on the couch in front of the TV at dinner. Visualize what you would like your meals to look like for them to become a relaxing and stress-free place, and try to realize that as much and as often as you can.
2. Have a food schedule and stick to it
Another essential habit to develop is a food schedule. Building this everyday eating routine will help you divide food time from any other activities, which should help both those who eat too often and those who skip meals when they're stressed. Making a meal schedule, be it imaginary or written, is a great way to make yourself mindful of how much and how often you eat.
If you've never had a schedule and relied simply on your intuition and hunger, try adding a mealtime break every 4-5 hours into your daily schedule, or even set up an alarm clock to remind yourself it's time to eat. With time, your body will get adjusted to your daily routine and you will no longer need the alarms. Keep in mind, however, that you need to stick to your schedule every day, and not only on stressful days, or else this trick will not work and you'll just fall back to your old harmful eating habits.
3. Eat carbs, proteins, and fats in every meal
Eating healthy doesn't have to be equal to counting every calorie. If you are prone to gaining or losing weight, then sure, go ahead and continue watching your intake irrespective of the stress in your life, but keep in mind that doing so can make you a bit more stressed. What's truly essential are your macros - the proportion of proteins, carbs, and fats you eat every day. Try to include all three macros in every meal to keep a balanced diet but without the stress of calorie-counting.
Also, recognize that including protein and fats isn't equal to eating meat and butter with every meal. Foods that are rich in healthy fats and can be easily incorporated in many meals are nuts, any kind of nut butter (with no added sugar), seeds, avocados, and olive oil. Easy-to-incorporate protein sources include beans, nuts, hummus, eggs, and plain yogurt.
Lastly, nutrition experts recommend opting for complex carbs instead of processed ones. Apart from being more beneficial for your overall health, they are also known to promote serotonin secretion in the brain, which will be able to help you feel less stressed. Foods that are rich in complex carbs include fruit, vegetables, oatmeal, brown rice, and even whole grain bread or cereal.
4. Always be well-stocked in healthy snacks
As we mentioned previously, one of the defining characteristics of stress eating is indulging in unhealthy snacks, such as chips, ice cream, cake, cookies, and fast food. To remedy this problem, simply stop buying all of these unhealthy snacks and keeping them in your kitchen. Instead, always have plenty of different healthy snack foods on hand and mix and match them all the time.
Apart from having plenty of snack foods, such as veggies, fruit, and nuts at home, also put some mixed nuts, a piece of fruit, or some dark chocolate in your bag to be able to resist the temptation of vending machines and cafes at work or while running errands. It's also a great idea to keep a bottle of water with you at all times - nutrition experts point out that, in most cases, when you have munchies, you're actually thirsty, and not hungry.
5. Replace stress eating with a healthy habit
Since stress eating or loss of appetite is your response to stress, meaning that it's your way of unknowingly coping with stress, introducing a new stress-reducing habit that will replace it is a great thing to do. So, instead of landing on the couch after a stressful day at work and finishing off an entire box of cookies, do a different activity that you enjoy and that you know relaxes you.
This can be taking a bath, taking the dog out on a walk, engaging in a hobby, or simply going on a walk on your own. You can also call a friend or family member, engage in some mindfulness meditation, or exercise. The possibilities are endless, you just need to find something that will sound more tempting to you personally than eating those cookies or crisps, or falling into a cycle of self-rumination.
Please share this article with anyone who might benefit from it!