It’s human nature, to celebrate holidays and birthdays and weddings with foods and sweets and treats. You may have seen the scale rise and dip with the seasons, as you indulge for a few days and then return to your usual eating programming.
The pandemic and work and school from home have changed that rhythm for a lot of Americans.
About 40% of people say they eat when they are stressed. Put in the additional stress of the pandemic and completely new cadence to life and parenting and school, and that’s a recipe that has had many of us eating more than usual to cope.
There’s also the phenomenon in the work from home lifestyle of having the pantry right around the corner, with comfort foods readily available to devour.
It’s no wonder that many of us find ourselves struggling with eating habits that feel out of control. According to a recent article from Harvard Medical School, stress eating is a cycle that does seem to reduce stress levels…for a time. The article states, “Once ingested, fat-and sugar-filled foods seem to have a feedback effect that dampens stress related responses and emotions. These foods really are “comfort” foods in that they seem to counteract stress — and this may contribute to people’s stress-induced craving for those foods.1
So how do we break the habits we may have developed over the course of the last few stress-filled months, while also not veering into the similarly unhealthy habits of overly restricting foods and calories?
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Ask yourself, “Am I hungry…or am I stressed, bored, or upset?”
It’s been the understandable norm to reach for comfort foods in this time of high uncertainty and challenge. We often do it to round off the sharp edges of our emotions. But as you look to make changes in your eating habits, take a moment to ask yourself what you’re feeling as you reach for that sugary, salty, high-fat food. Becoming aware of why we engage in the patterns we do can help give us better insight into the cycle, making it easier for us to make more conscious choices about food, rather than simply mindlessly eating.
Start with fruits and vegetables when you fill your plate.
When we give our bodies what they need, rather than what ‘sounds’ good, it goes a long way in creating a sense of satiation. And it functionally satisfies what our bodies are truly longing for, in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It doesn’t mean you have to completely avoid foods you love that don’t make the healthy choices cut; it simply means that you are prioritizing the foods that you know are best for your body.
Drop the sugary drinks.
According to health care experts, 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.2 Even with all the coffee and soda swilling that we engage in, it still leaves our bodies craving hydration. Not only is water critical in the healthy functioning of our bodies, hydration levels are also central to our bodies’ interpretation of if we are hungry or not. If we’re not drinking enough water, our bodies will signal a search for water by telling us we’re hungry, as food sources often have levels of water in them. Simply by drinking more water, you may find that some of your food cravings are easier to manage. And when you focus on water over sugary beverages, you’ll also be easily cutting the calorie load.
Don’t put it off.
It’s all too easy to tell ourselves that we’ll start on better habits after the weekend or the family picnic or the holiday or the night out. And then the next day rolls around and then the next. Commit to making simple changes today, right in the center of whatever is going on. Even in the middle of a stressful day, even in the middle of a holiday celebration, it is possible to stay better hydrated. It is possible to load up on greens on your plate. It is possible to ask yourself if you’re truly hungry or eating out of habit. Those simple changes can take place no matter the day or the season.
And make a note of this; the above habits aren’t focused on weight loss. While being able to track changes through the scale can be helpful to see if your new habits are making a difference, it’s important to realize that healthy habits, including changing your stress-eating habits, benefit you regardless of weight. For the person who is slim but is living off of sodas and candy, more veggies and water make their health more vibrant. For the person who is wanting to drop a few pounds, focusing first on changing the eating patterns that may have contributed to unwanted weight gain, rather than getting caught up in calorie counts. Pick one thing to focus on first, whether that’s your water intake or getting more greens in your daily food. Those first steps can go a long way in impacting your overall health.