Have you ever turned to food when feeling overwhelmed by work, family or life?  Well, you’re not alone.  Everyday life can weigh down on us causing us to feel stressed and anxious.  This is a common trigger for us to then turn to a big bag of potato chips or that donut, seeking comfort in food.

However, doing so does very little to relieve stress for us in the long-run.  Instead, it can have adverse effects on your weight, health, well-being, overall self-esteem, and further stress.

Stress and Cortisol

When we experience stress, it triggers a response in our body you may have heard called the fight or flight response. From this response, the production of hormones named adrenaline and cortisol are produced. Adrenaline triggers your body to take action. Stress-related levels of cortisol triggers an increase in appetite.

So whether its pizza, fries, or chocolates you reach for – the common denominator will be high fat, high sugar and high carbohydrate.

Why?  Well, foods that tend to have a high fat, sugary or carbohydrate content trigger bursts of the positive mood-enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin within your brain, this happy hormone satisfies us initially. Studies have found that stress not only increases consumption in certain individuals but also shifts their food choice from lower fat to higher fat foods.

Frequently reaching for these food groups as a way to cope with life’s stressors will in turn lead to a lack of mindfulness with our food habits, weight gain and low self-esteem.

So it’s important we recognise that this is not the best way to cope. Instead, develop an awareness between real, physical hunger versus emotional hunger for when we need it most.

A few ways to differentiate PHYSICAL HUNGER from EMOTIONAL HUNGER:

Physical Hunger Emotional Hunger
Physical hunger develops slowly over time

There are no negative feelings about eating

You feel full and take that as a cue to stop eating

You desire a variety of food groups

The hunger comes on suddenly or abruptly

You tend to feel guilty or ashamed about eating it

You may binge and not feel the a full sensation

You crave specific comfort foods

Shift your mindset.  3 ways to outsmart your cravings:

  1. Practice Mindfulness.

Outsmart your reptilian brain which urges you to eat when you don’t want to.

Practicing mindfulness enables us to take on deep breathing and body awareness. By slowing down, we are able to make better decisions that may serve us well in long run, instead of providing us with temporary distractions and satisfactions.

  1. Try a Food Diary.

Keeping a log will allow you collect personal data on your eating habits.

By paying attention to this and recording what is going into your body is great self-monitoring tool to keep yourself accountable. This also may be useful in helping to identify the stressors that lead you towards emotionally charged eating in order for you to make real, long-lasting changes to your eating habits. Apps like MyFitnessPal can be filled in whilst on the train, bus or during your lunch break.

  1. Prioritise Exercise.

When stressed, it’s easy to say we are too busy to exercise.

However, studies have found that exercising is a great tool in keeping stress levels in check as it produces a feel good chemical called endorphins. Exercise can blunt some of the negative effects of stress. Try a class at Leap to prevent or diffuse negative emotional states – some call our classes their daily stress therapy!

Regain control and give yourself the power to prepare for stressful situations in the future with a healthier option. From there, you’ll develop a little more resilience for the next time life throws adversity your way.

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