Stress Eating: Why You Do It & 3 Simple Steps to Stop

Undoing it requires both emotional and physical changes.

Stress Eating: Why You Do It & 3 Simple Steps to Stop

Q: I can't seem to stop stress eating. It makes me feel so much better to have that bowl of ice cream. What makes that happen and how can I stop it?

There's a simple explanation for stress eating — but undoing it requires both emotional and physical changes.

The body under stress: Chronic stress may be caused by the pandemic, economic or work-related strains, and personal conflicts, but whatever the trigger, it amps up your body's production of the stress hormone cortisol and affects other hormone-related processes. That can cause a cascade of responses that result in a persistent increase in blood pressure, heart rate and, yes, appetite. Stress hormones also depress the release of insulin and promote insulin resistance, boosting blood sugar levels. That can make you eat more too. Clearly, the solution is to change how you manage your stress response. Here are three simple steps to do that.

1. Get daily aerobic exercise. Try a 30- to 60-minute interval walking routine or joining an online exercise class. Multiple studies show it not only lowers levels of stress hormones, it fights off depression. You may also benefit from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) — a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy with principles of mindfulness that is effective in changing eating behaviors.

2. Practice mindful eating during every meal and with every snack. Eat more slowly and without distraction. Pay attention to the sensations that food provides — taste, smell, texture and colors — and savor each one with each bite. You'll take fewer bites and discover the delights of healthier foods.

3. Notice the effect foods have on your feelings. You may think that sugary treat is a mood-lifter but we bet you also feel sluggish, tired and grumpy. A seven-year study followed 12,400 folks and found those who increased their intake of fruits and veggies were happier than folks who didn't.

Give these steps a try for a month — you'll be less stressed and eating more healthfully.

A Simple Meditation for Mindful Eating

Led by Mallika Chopra

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