Identify trigger foods
Keep a food diary for a few weeks recording all food eaten and any drinks consumed. Review this diary daily and use it to identify any specific trigger foods or gaps in your diet, which may be leading to stress eating. For example, are you skipping meals and grazing on snack food all day only to come home and turn to food because you are not only stressed but also starved! . This is an easily accessible and simple tool to help uncover your triggers and where improvements can be made to your diet.
Exercise is a fantastic outlet for stress and doesn’t have to mean a gruelling gym session.
The best kind of exercise to lower stress is actually low intensity exercise, which focuses on the breath, for example yoga and pilates. Similarly, taking a leisurely stroll outdoors in a green space, has been shown to lower our stress hormone cortisol. Prioritise you and schedule exercise into your daily routine, keep it achievable and fun so it doesn’t come second place to other commitments.
Eat adequate protein
Adequate protein is crucial for satiety and keeping blood sugar stable. This in turn helps us to overcome insatiable appetite and helps us eat according to hunger and less likely in response to stress. Healthy protein options at enjoy at eat meal include eggs, cheese/yoghurt, nuts and seeds, lean chicken/fish/red meat, legumes and tofu. For those who are busy, hemp seeds are a particularly good source of protein as hemp also contains fibre and essential fats. The seeds can be tossed into smoothies, sprinkled on salads or added to yoghurt/fruit as a quick snack.
Address any nutritional inadequacies
Being deficient in nutrients and minerals, which help with neurotransmitter synthesis and also our body’s ability to deal with stress can be a trigger for stress eating. If you have eaten a restricted diet for years, including an unbalanced vegan diet, go to your GP for a blood test to check your levels and aim to get a variety of foods on a daily basis.
Avoid running on empty
Skipping meals and running on empty takes a toll not only on physical health but also mental health and our ability to cope with stress. If you are guilty of skipping meal, aim to eat every 3 hours. This will also help to stabilise blood sugar, support digestive and energy levels. Its important to not arrive at mealtime starving as you may be risk of overeating or eating past satiety especially if in a stressed state.
Eating mindfully means eating away from distraction and with full appreciation and awareness of the food in front of you. If you regularly eat at your desk or on the run in-between meetings, the body is less likely to register you have eaten. Not to mention being distracted and stressed will impair digestion. Prioritise your nutrition and step away from the office or any other commitment and allow yourself the time and space to eat in a relaxed environment.
Seek professional help
If stress eating starts to impact your daily life, whether this is because you feel physically ill, depressed or start to isolate your self from others, it is time to get help. Seek help from a trained professional such as a GP, psychologist and/or dietitian/nutritionist.