I was a master at uni on turning to junk food when I was under pressure and felt overwhelmed, even though at times when I felt good and OK, I loved eating the perceived ‘healthy foods’ So here’s what I’ve learnt over the years about this. Surprisingly this has got nothing to do with lack of willpower and somehow not being strong enough to resist the urges.
1. Food Calms Us
This is fact. At the time of feeling stressed our body knows that there is something wrong and is frantically searching for a way to calm and relax you. Food is a great solution (albeit it temporarily). You see when we eat, serotonin is released which the building block to the happy hormone amino acid called Tryptophan. It literally calms us down. Our amazing body knows this so in affect ‘makes us’ want to eat
2. Stress causes us to reach for sugar
Whenever we are stressed or overwhelmed or anxious, we are actually wired to crave sugar! (did you know that??) So out come the ‘stress biscuits’ and the ‘overwhelm chocolate’ and the ‘out of control cake’. It’s almost as if we ahem lost control of our mind and no matter how hard we try we can’t resist the urge and the need to eat such things. You haven’t lost your mind BUT no matter how hard you try to override the chemicals and physiological changes in your body, you’ll never win. The sugary treats will.
3. Stress affects brain function
So carrying on from the point above, when we are stressed we often feel like we can’t think straight or clearly. Actually that’s true, we can’t. Stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) affect our thought process so much, especially if it is prolonged stress, that often our actions and behaviours seem ‘out of control.’ That would explain why on the one hand you know that eating that huge plate of deep fried chicken might not be what your body wants, but you want it anyway. The stress takes over.
So what can you do about it?
RELAX! And I mean that metaphorically, cut yourself some slack and be compassionate with yourself that sometimes chocolate really is the answer and there’s nothing wrong with that (once in a while) but also literally. If stress is a HUGE trigger for you to turn to food then how can you start working on changes your response to stress? The less triggered you are by stress, the less likely you’ll NEED food and the more likely you’ll be able to move through that stressful period feeling empowered and calm.
Relaxation – how do you like to relax? Have you tried relaxation recordings or mediation? Quieting your mind is a great way to learn to relax
Activity/Movement – moving your body releases the same happy hormone which food does but obviously also helps your body become fitter and stronger
Pause your thoughts – often we create our own stress by other thinking and over analysing. STOP! If you find yourself jumping on the catastrophe train of ‘what if this happens’ or ‘what if that happens’ ask yourself, ‘WHAT IS MY REALITY…?’ and focus on the here and now
Learn to be grounded and in the moment – very much like the tip above how can you learn to start living in the moment and become more grounded and less in your head? This was a BIG thing for me as at the peak of my emotional issue with food and myself, I NEVER lived in the moment. I was forever thinking about tomorrow, what I had to do, the future, all the things on my ‘to do’ list. I still have moments when I go off in the future but I’ve learnt to bring myself back to NOW. Feel your feet on the floor, breath in relaxation and breath our stress and learn to trust that everything will be ok. You are exactly where you are supposed to be right now.