How to Avoid Anxiety Eating and Improve Your Health

anxiety eating"

When stress strikes, turning to food can feel like a quick fix for emotional turmoil, be it boredom, loneliness, depression, or anxiety. Unfortunately, stress eating is a tough habit to break and often leads to overeating, complicating weight management efforts.

Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that can increase your appetite. Consuming food can momentarily lift your mood, providing a sense of reward and pleasure similar to that experienced with certain drugs, according to Melissa Majumdar, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Food also serves as a distraction from stressors.

However, using food to manage stress rather than hunger can lead to a cycle of overeating. Whether you suffer from an anxiety disorder or are facing ongoing stress, these tips can help curb stress eating.

Aim for Nutritional Balance

People tend to crave foods high in sugar or fat when stressed, not healthy options like carrots or broccoli. Such choices can numb emotions but also cause blood sugar spikes followed by crashes, leading to more hunger and stress eating.

Instead, aim for balanced snacks that combine protein and fiber, which are digested more slowly and help stabilize blood sugar levels. Instead of reaching for sugary or fatty snacks, try eating berries or melon paired with hard-boiled eggs, low-fat Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese for sustained energy and satisfaction.

Eat at Regular Intervals

Skipping meals or going long periods without eating can increase the likelihood of overeating, particularly after a stressful day. “It’s a perfect storm,” says Dena Cabrera, PsyD, executive clinical director of the Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders. To avoid this, eat balanced meals and snacks every three to four hours. Regular eating helps control portion sizes and reduces the urge to eat out of stress. The goal is to feel satisfied and avoid turning to food for comfort.

Practice Mindfulness

A 2017 study published in the journal Appetite found that daily mindfulness practices can reduce emotional eating in people with high stress levels. Participants who meditated for 45 minutes daily and practiced mindful eating reported lower levels of stress eating. You can incorporate mindfulness into your eating habits by:

  • Eating slowly and with intention.
  • Taking several deep breaths before starting a meal.
  • Putting your fork or spoon down between bites.
  • Assessing your stress level before eating using the HALT method: determine if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired to see if your urge to eat is emotionally driven.

Create a Supportive Eating Environment

Avoid eating in front of the TV or while using your phone. Instead, eat at your dining table to focus on your meal. Also, limit the temptation for second helpings by putting away food after serving and not storing snacks in visible places. If a bag of chips or cookies is easily accessible, you’re more likely to grab them when feeling anxious, explains Majumdar, who also works as a clinical bariatric dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery in Boston.

Change Your Routine

If you’re stressed, altering your routine can help avoid triggers. For example, avoid driving by fast-food restaurants if they tempt you. Sometimes, even small changes at home can make a difference. Cabrera recounts working with a woman who would binge eat when walking through her kitchen to let her dog out at night. Cabrera suggested using a different door to bypass the kitchen, which significantly reduced the woman’s night-time snacking.

Summary

In addition to the above strategies, consider incorporating stress-relief techniques such as physical activity, hobbies, or talking with a friend. These can provide non-food outlets for managing stress and anxiety.

Conclusion

Stress eating is a common response to emotional turmoil, but it can lead to unhealthy eating patterns and weight management issues. By aiming for nutritional balance, eating at regular intervals, practicing mindfulness, creating a supportive eating environment, and changing routines, you can reduce stress eating and maintain a healthier relationship with food.

A Quick Review

Anxiety eating is a common response to stress, often leading to overeating and poor food choices. To combat this, aim for a balanced diet rich in protein and fiber, eat at regular intervals, and practice mindful eating techniques. Creating a supportive eating environment and altering routines to avoid triggers can also help reduce anxiety eating. By adopting these strategies, you can improve your relationship with food and manage stress more effectively

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