We often discuss food in terms of the nutrition it provides. Yes, food fuels us. Yes, food powers our cellular functions. But food is also much more than that. If you think about it, food is institutionally embedded in our emotional lives, too. Got that promotion? Let’s celebrate over dinner! It’s your birthday? Let’s eat cake. Broke up with someone? Pass the Nutella jar. Sometimes our food intake is not because of physiological hunger. It’s to commemorate a moment, add a sense of specialness, or even to soothe or comfort us. You’ve probably heard of emotional eating. It can be both positive and negative, i.e. eating to heighten positive emotions or eating to decrease negative emotions.
An example of emotional eating is stress eating.
What is stress eating?
Stress eating is consuming food in anticipation of, during, or after a stressful event or situation. We usually do it to suppress the sensation of stress, or to soothe it, or as a reward for getting through it. Stress eating is a human thing to do. It’s normal. In fact, we’ll go ahead and guess that pretty much everyone does or has done it at some point. What if stress eating has become too regular a habit, though? Let’s face it, it’s not usually veggie sticks or dark chocolate we’re reaching for during these times…is it? Speaking from experience, it’s more likely to be types of foods or quantities of foods that, if compounded over time, may not be beneficial to our health and wellbeing.
So, how do we stop stress eating?
Here are some useful tips:
1. Tackle the stress itself
Why are you stressed? What can you do about it? Acknowledge what you’re feeling. Whether it’s speaking to a professional, calling a friend, stepping out for a walk in the fresh air, or brain dumping in your journal – the quickest way out of stress is to move through it. Don’t sweep it under the carpet.
2. Have healthy options on hand
Whether at home in the pantry or in your desk drawer at work, have snacks on hand that won’t derail your health goals.
3. Eat enough, of the good stuff
Are you actually eating enough, and are you eating balanced meals and snacks? Wonky blood sugar levels can alter our mood. Eat regular meals and snacks. For the average person, we suggest including the following nutritional elements:
- Quality carbohydrates
- Healthy fats
- Colour (fruits and/or veggies).
4. Keep a short-term food diary
This can be a useful tool for helping to identify food-related patterns. Are you making a beeline for the vending machine every Thursday after your tense 9am meetings with Nancy? Are you stressed on Sundays in anticipation of another busy week? Is there a task you need to complete each afternoon that you dread? Awareness is key.
5. Try including foods or drinks in your regular intake that could help to reduce stress and boost mood
Think fatty fish, eggs, natural yoghurt, chamomile, dark chocolate, turmeric, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables.