Is stress about the coronavirus affecting your eating? If you’ve eaten to deal with stress or emotions, you’re not alone. It’s common for Americans to experience changes in their eating patterns during an infectious disease outbreak.
How to Stop Emotional & Stress Eating
Emotional eating involves eating as a means of dealing with or suppressing uncomfortable feelings, including stress. High-calorie foods with low nutritional value, like sugary and salty junk foods, are typical choices for emotional eating. Sugars and fats release opioids, so the calming effect we get from those “comfort” foods is real and addictive. This can present challenges at any time in our life, but it can quickly derail a healthy diet or weight loss effort.
Emotional eating is usually triggered by everyday life events like those encountered in relationships and the workplace, as well as problems with our health and finances. Fatigue brought on by lack of sleep can be another trigger. Major life events, though occurring less frequently, can also spark emotional eating.
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Tactics to Stop Emotional Eating
Awareness of emotional eating is a necessary first step. Taken a step further, mindfulness is a focused awareness of any activity. Train yourself to be mindful in your eating, by noticing whether or not you’re eating because you’re hungry. If not, is the food in front of you helping suppress something that happened today? “I am eating because I’m hungry,” is different than “I’m eating because I had a disagreement with my boss.” A food diary can be a useful tool in strengthening awareness of the relationship between emotions and eating.
Expressing emotions is generally frowned upon in our culture, so we tend to suppress them with food or other negative behaviors. If you’re not practiced at it, acknowledging and addressing feelings can be difficult, especially at first. Try talking about them with a trusted friend or family member who will empathize with your feelings. It doesn’t have to solve your present issue, but just sharing your burden can lighten it as well as provide a new perspective.
Replace food with healthy distractions. Take a walk, go for a run or read a book. Even laughing at a rerun of your favorite sitcom will alleviate your emotional discomfort temporarily. Even a temporary distraction can put some space between you and the trigger, providing a different perspective than when you were initially impacted.
Making sure you sleep 7-8 hours per night goes a long way in reducing stress. Lack of sleep can heighten existing stresses or create new ones. Cortisol is the hormone released to help our bodies deal with stress. It also triggers cravings for fried, sweet and salty foods. Over long periods of time, cortisol also increases blood sugar. This could intensify other factors of emotional eating that lead to type 2 diabetes – including unhealthy eating and being overweight.
Life comes with a wide range of challenges, creating stress and other emotional discomforts. Positive and healthy coping with those discomforts can make a big difference in how we get through them.
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