Being stressed can make it seem nearly impossible to lose weight, with the emotional eating, comfort food cravings, and lack of quiet time. When we’re stressed, we tend to put our health on the back burner… at a time when we need to be at our strongest! Here are our top tips to stick to healthy eating, even if you’re feeling less than calm. But remember, combine these food-related tips with an ongoing stress management practice (exercise, meditation, massage, getting more sleep, etc.) that works for you.
1. Take the fruit test: Stress eating usually creeps up on us when we need a break from a situation or task. Food is only a temporary diversion from what’s really eating at you. Differentiate needing a break with needing a snack by asking yourself if you want a piece of fruit. If the answer is yes, then you’re probably hungry and in need of a snack. If the answer is no, then you’re likely in need of a break, not a snack. See #2.
2. Use a Break List: Make a list of things you can do in 10-15 minute increments. These can be fun things (read your favorite magazine, finish a chapter in your latest book, go for a quick walk, call a friend to say hello, etc.) or things that are on your general to-do list (throw in a load of laundry, organize your office supply drawer, run that load of paper to recycling, etc.). When you feel like reaching for food, but aren’t physically hungry, do one or two things from your Break List. This gives your mind a chance to step away from a stressful situation.
3. Take a breather: The 4-7-8 breath can help you center yourself and find your inner calm. And the best part is, you don’t have to leave your desk, car, home, the store — or wherever else you are when you’re feeling stressed — in order to do it. The gist is: breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, and breathe out for 8 counts. The 4-7-8 breath was featured in our latest newsletter with detailed explanation.
4. Make an eating schedule (and dial it in): Skipping meals is not a savvy way to save time when you’re feeling stressed (or ever!) Skipping meals can just lead to less energy, a grouchy attitude, and a risk of binging on less healthful foods later on. Instead, set a schedule of when you want to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and at least one snack… and put those meal times into your phone’s calendar/alarm function to remind you! Even if you’re busy at work, it’s nearly impossible to forget to eat lunch on time when you’ve got constant beeping to remind you.
5. Don’t work-eat: Consider your desk a “no eat zone” and act accordingly. Once you set this rule, it not only forces you to think about what you’re eating before you get up to go get it, it forces you to get up! It’s too easy to crunch through an entire bag of pretzels while responding to emails, or eat lunch at warp speed during a conference call, and that is not a satisfying way to eat. Mindless eating can leave you wanting more. Be more mindful when you eat by noshing away from your desk (even if it’s realistically only for about 10 minutes).
6. Modify your crunch: If you’re hungry and in search of something crunchy, skip the pretzels and chips and opt for popcorn. Unlike many other crunchy snack foods, popcorn is loaded with fiber and nutrients. Pop a bag in the microwave using our simple brown paper bag method (all you need are popcorn kernels and a paper lunch sack) and then sprinkle with cinnamon, dried fruit, and nuts for a sweet crunch, or dried herbs and roasted peanuts for a savory crunch. Other crunchy snack options? Sliced up raw veggies and fruit. Dip raw veggie sticks into hummus or 0% plain Greek yogurt mixed with salsa. Sprinkle sliced fruit with cinnamon or powdered ginger.
7. Hydrate: Sometimes when you’re stressed you crave that soothing hand-to-mouth motion. Instead of satisfying that urge with food, put a glass of water in your hand! To add flavor to plain water, try stirring sliced cucumber and lemon into a bottle or pitcher and leaving that on your desk to pour into glasses all day long. Or, give yourself a fizz-fest with a splash of 100% fruit juice in seltzer water. Remember, you’ll sip what you see — so leave your bottle or pitcher of water right by your computer monitor or out on your counter.
Do you notice your eating changes when you get stressed? How do you handle it? Any favorite stress reducing techniques?