5 Tips to Overcome Stress Eating

5 Tips to Overcome Stress Eating

By Nick Nicholson, MD

When life gets stressful, do you turn to eating to cope? Stress eating is a common struggle among our patients, and there’s even a biological explanation for your inability to control your appetite when you get stressed.

When we experience stress, our bodies release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol in an attempt to deal with that stress. Adrenaline levels quickly return to normal, but cortisol levels can take longer to normalize after the release of this hormone. Unfortunately, cortisol is also an appetite stimulant.

What is the relationship between cortisol and hunger? Cortisol stimulates the metabolism of carbohydrates and fat. In turn, insulin is released into the body. Increased insulin levels stimulate hunger, which is easily satisfied with high fat, sugary, starchy foods.

If eating (especially unhealthy foods) is your response to stress, weight gain is inevitable. The good news is that stress-related weight gain can be prevented. Here are some tips to cope with your stress in a healthy way.

1. Exercise. When you exercise, your body releases “feel good” hormones called endorphins. Endorphins lower cortisol levels and help reduce stress. Spend at least 30 minutes a day exercising to help combat stress. When the weather permits, take your exercise outside to get some fresh air and balance yourself.

2. Remove Temptations. Keep your fridge and cupboards stocked with healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts and healthy sources of protein. Cookies, potato chips and other high-fat, high-calorie, high-sugar junk foods will only tempt you in times of stress.

3. Meditate. Quiet your mind and take deep breaths. Research shows that taking deep, diaphragmatic breaths and slowing your breathing to five breaths per minute affects the vagus nerve, which controls heart rate, gut function, mental patterns, mood, asthma and more.

4. Find a hobby. Tap into your talents. What are the activities that balance you and make you happy? Maybe it’s painting, gardening, reading or dancing. Whatever it may be, make time to enjoy your hobbies. 

5. Spend quality time with loved ones. There’s no better way to unwind and de-stress than spending time with the people you love. Spend more time with those who fill your cup with positive feelings, rather than people whose negativity is a drain on your emotions.

6. Stop and think before you eat. Before eating, take a moment to ask yourself, will this food make me feel better? Weigh the positive and negative consequences of what you are about to eat. If it’s something you’ll regret, put it back and choose a healthier snack, or de-stress with one of the tactics above.

About the Author

One of the most experienced weight loss surgeons in the country — Dr. Nick Nicholson — along with a full staff of surgeons, nurses and other experienced clinicians, help patients reverse obesity with LAP-BAND, Gastric Bypass, Sleeve Gastrectomy, Gastric Balloon and Revisions.

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