So many of us turn to food for comfort when the world goes sideways. Reaching for a bag of chips, a carton of ice cream, or a box of cookies when you are feeling spread too thin feels like an easy solution.
The problem is that the quick fix of sugar and unhealthy carbs is momentary and literally leaves you feeling worse once that food high settles.
The reason we reach for junk food to mend a broken heart, ease a high-demand job, or calm our fears is physiological and evolutionary. Those are pretty serious motivators so let’s start by getting educated and then get a game plan for what to do instead of loading up on empty carbs and calories.
No matter how loudly your body screams, “ LET ME EAT WHATEVER I WANT!” you know that a stress binge will leave you feeling sluggish, defeated, and chubby.
So why do we do it?
Stress causes our bodies to automatically increase respiration, blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and the blood flow to our muscles. Your whole body goes into “fight-or-flight response.” And that triggers your body to release a hormone called cortisol which increases your appetite.
Your body knows you need energy to deal with all the stuff causing you to stress out and it’s “helping” by keeping you fueled for your fight. Worse, all that stress you feel suppresses your production of ghrelin which helps keep your appetite in check. So now you are starving, stressed, and pretty much off the leash when it comes to food.
Our brains crave energy-dense foods high in calories, unhealthy carbs and fats and sugar because they provide the quickest boost. Thanks nature.
So what do we do about it?
Legitimately, EVERYONE has their own basket of junk to deal with on the daily— finances, jobs, relationships, health issues; life is brimming with a never-ending series of triggers. But we are powerful beings, smart enough to know what’s happening in our heads and in our bodies, and capable of making better choices. If we want to be our healthiest and happiest, we have to make active decisions to take care of ourselves.
Here are six ways to keep a bad day from driving you to the kitchen:
1. Get outside. One of the quickest and best ways I know to circumvent a binge eating disaster is to get outside. Go for a walk, a run, a swim. Heck, sit on your balcony or porch with a good book and a cold glass of water. Breathe in the air, soak up some sun, and let nature relieve your stress instead of pushing you to eat. There are no calories in the grass or the sand. Getting away from the kitchen is the key.
2. Attack a clutter project. Close your eyes and pick one annoying pile of clutter that irritates you every time you see it. Grab a trash bag and a box and go after it. It could be as small as a drawer or as big as a whole linen. It could be a week’s worth of unfolded laundry or messy shelves in the garage. Time is precious and we are often too overwhelmed to keep up with little stuff. Then the little stuff starts feeling insurmountable. So clean it. Toss it. Give it away. The satisfaction you get from attacking that one eyesore will keep your mind and hands too busy for snacks.
3. Visit a friend. Stress can keep you isolated. Think of the friends you haven’t seen in a bit and make a quick date for a short walk or a cup of tea. Getting together with people you love automatically changes your attitude and your perspective.
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4. Run some errands. Make a list of three tasks that you’ve been putting off. Now get your keys and hit the road. Once you are out of your house, you won’t have access to the junk food that was calling your name. Plus, you’ll end the de-stressing session with your dry cleaning in hand, library books returned, and a full tank of gas. That’s a win!
5. Take a class. Peruse your gym schedule, pick a class, and go. Surrounding yourself with other people who are taking care of themselves will put you in a better state to do the same. Plus the benefits of exercise include a mood boost and a caloric burn that lasts. That’s way more than I can say about that pint of Haggen Daaz.
6. Change your sheets. Okay, here’s one that might seem a little crazy but hear me out. Fresh sheets feel like a new beginning. They smell good. They feel good. I don’t know about you, but I sleep better on fresh sheets. I wake up renewed and feeling clean. The simple act of stripping the bed and putting clean sheets on it says, “That’s over and I’m ready to start fresh!”
What all six of these techniques have in common is that they remove you from easy access to junk food and they either get your body or your mind moving. You deserve to win and that means making active choices to kill the game.
When stress pushes you toward a passive solution and you feel like you are going to give in to a slow swim in a pool of calories, you can fight back by making an active choice. These are just six suggestions. There are about a million other ways to shift your focus, from dancing to our favorite song to planting a garden. What is your favorite way to de-stress?