How to Conquer Stress Eating When a Craving Strikes
In time for your post-game recovery, we armed you with tips on how to handle overindulgence. Now, we're looking at overeating that stems from stress, instead of those one-off splurges like on Super Bowl Sunday.
When you're feeling overwhelmed at work, emotional, or downright sad, it's easy to find yourself craving comfort food, which often leads to overeating: a whole chocolate bar instead of just a piece, a full bag of chips, or the entire pint of Ben & Jerry's, for example.
But rather than easing stress, mindless emotional eating tends to make you feel even less in control than you were before the binge.
If you tend to turn to food when under pressure, keep reading for eight strategies to conquer cravings and set yourself up for future success.
The absolute best thing you can do when a craving strikes is to hit the pause button. Tell yourself that in five minutes, if you still want that ice cream sandwich just as much as you do now, you can have it. But give yourself the time to assess whether you're hankering is masking something else (stress, unease, etc.), or it's something that you truly want.
If you want a doubly effective strategy, take five minutes and take a walk around the block. When you get a stress craving, the urge to eat whatever it is you're craving can feel overpowering, and like the only thing that will make you feel better. Oftentimes, a change of scenery offers a perspective shift you couldn't have gotten while arm's-reach away from the pantry. With a dose of fresh air—even when it's cold out—you'll likely feel invigorated, empowered, and calmer. If you return to your kitchen with the same intensity, so be it, but chances are you won't, and at least you give yourself the chance to change your mind.
Spending time with your favorite people is one of the ultimate stress-relievers. Loved ones, whether friends or family, make you feel safe, happy, and comfortable—and they don't come with calories or delayed regret. If you're feeling compelled to grab junk food, try calling someone you care about to catch up. Make plans to meet up for a walk-and-talk, or just FaceTime with a faraway friend. You might find that when the feel-good time is over, you aren't as desperate to devour those Doritoes.
It's possible to outsmart yourself in the stress-craving department by starting with what foods you keep around the house. If you only have healthy options to reach for, you minimize the collateral damage of overeating, and lessen the liklihood of fulfilling a bad-for-you craving. If you want ice cream right away, but don't have it in your freezer, you have to leave to go get it. Oftentimes, no batter how badly you want something, the notion of having to go get it is enough to kill the craving. Or, you might find that by the time you walk to the corner store, or drive to the nearest ice cream outpost, you don't even want it anymore.
Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy options, like crisp veggies and hummus, almonds, and fresh fruit, so that when all else fails, your cravings lose to logistics. Check out our list of 15 things you should never have in your kitchen, here.
Keeping a food journal will help you understand the emotional triggers you have when it comes to eating. The next time a seemingly uncontrollable craving strikes, jot it down in your journal, along with any notes about what happened that day, or immediately before it. You may find that you repeatedly want to eat after a certain weekly meeting or after disagreements. Gaining insight into your triggers will enable you to put alternative strategies in place.
We love Lorna Jane Active Living's Move Nourish Believe Diary ($20), which, in addition to calendar and notes pages, is interspersed with motivational quotes, reminders, challenges, and healthy recipes.
Last but definitely not least, make sure to clock the seven to eight hours of shut-eye you need to function optimally. When you skimp on sleep, you make more of the hormone that makes you feel hungry and less of the hormone that suppresses appetite. For tips on getting better quality sleep, click here.
How do you handle stress cravings? Tell us in the comments.