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're feeling frustrated, stressed, or overwhelmed feels like an easy solution.
The problem is that the quick fix of sugar and carbs is momentary and literally leaves you feeling worse once that food high settles, which it inevitably does.
The reason we reach for junk food to mend a broken heart, ease the stress of a high-demand job, or quell our fears is physiological and evolutionary. And those are pretty serious motivators so let’s start by getting understanding the why and then get a game plan for what to do instead of loading up on sugar and carbs.
No matter how loudly your body screams, “FEED ME CHOCOLATE!” you know that an eating binge will leave you feeling sluggish, defeated, and unhappy.
So why do we do it?
Stress causes your body to automatically increase respiration, blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and the blood flow to your 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 B.S. 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're starving, stressed, and pretty much off the leash when it comes to food. Your brain craves energy-dense foods high in calories, carbs, fat, and sugar because they provide the quickest boost. Thanks a lot nature.
So what do we do about it?
Legitimately, EVERYONE has their own basket of crap 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 we're capable of making better choices. If you want to be your healthiest and happiest, you have to make active decisions to take care of yourself.
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 an emotional eating disaster is to get outside. Go for a walk, a run, a swim. Have a sit on your balcony or porch with a good book and a cold glass of water. Breathe in the fresh air, soak up some nature, and let your surroundings relieve your stress instead of pushing you to eat. There are no calories in the grass, trees, or 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 closet. Maybe it's a week’s worth of unfolded laundry or messy shelves in the garage. Time is precious and we're often too overwhelmed to keep up with the little stuff. Then the little stuff starts feeling insurmountable. So clean it up. Toss it. Give it away. The satisfaction you get from organizing 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 coffee, arrange for a FaceTime or Zoom call. Getting together with people you love automatically changes your attitude and your perspective. My friends make me laugh and always know just what to say to pull me out of a funk. Perspective is important to me, so when I chat with a friend I can be assured of some great perspective and a few laughs. I can’t tell you how much better that makes me feel than eating. Friendship and love trumps food. Every time.
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're out of the 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 meal prep groceries in hand, library books returned, and a full tank of gas. That’s what I call a win!
5. Take a class. Take a look at your local community center, gym, or private studio schedule, pick a class, and go. Surrounding yourself with other people - in person or virtually - 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 Ben & Jerry's.
6. Change your sheets. Okay, here’s one that might seem a little odd but hear me out. Fresh sheets feel like a new beginning. They smell good. They feel good. And I don’t know about you, but I sleep better on fresh sheets. I wake up feeling renewed and recharged. The simple act of stripping the bed and putting on clean sheets says, “That’s over and I’m ready to start fresh!” Plus, if you flip the mattress you get a little strength training in. Clever am I right? I call that “multi-tasking minutes.”
Bottom line: 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. Action is distraction my friend. And you deserve to feel like the winner you are by making active choices to kill the emotional binge eating game. When stress pushes you toward the pantry, fridge, or freezer and you feel like you're going to give in to a slow swim in a pool of sugar and salt, you can fight back by making an active choice. These are just six suggestions. There are a gazillion other ways to shift your focus, from bathing your dog to planting a garden.
Are you a busy man or woman who's ready to live healthy, strong and fit? Discover how to simplify food and fitness, one small step at a time. Come join me inside my free online Facebook Community - The Healthy Habits Club. It's where men and women go for the tips, tools and support they need to eat healthy, move daily, and live happily so they can feel good for life!