Stressed? Here's How to Address It... Without Overeating

If you’ve ever had a stressful day (or month!) that affected your eating habits, you are NOT alone.
The APA’s annual Stress in America reports have for years reported that stress plays a role in eating habits, with nearly half of adults indicating stress played a role in their eating during the past month. And the problem impacts our younger generations too. Nearly 60% of Gen Z’ers reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods the past month due to stress.
Stress eating may include overeating, eating junk foods, or skipping meals. Many people who report stress eating behaviors indicate doing so frequently, on a weekly or daily basis. These eating behaviors make us feel sluggish, unmotivated, disappointed in ourselves and even irritable.
The good news is that there ARE ways to combat stress … without overeating. Below I’ll walk through several strategies to stop stress from getting in the way of your health goals and nutrition habits.
But first: It’s important to know WHY stress affects appetite. Knowing why can help you manage the situation when you’re in it! Harvard Medical School put out an interesting article summarizing the stress response:
When you get stressed, your body releases hormones to help you deal with it. Short term your appetite may dampen, but persistent stress triggers other hormonal response. Cortisol is released by our adrenal glands, often increasing appetite, and can stay elevated long after the triggering event.
Not only do these hormones impact appetite, they also affect our preferences. Stress often influences the types of food we seek out. Studies show that negative stress increases intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both.
Not cool, hormones!
What does this mean for you? Stress eating is not just a willpower issue, but an actual physiological response. Knowing this can help you pause when stress inevitably arises and mitigate giving into unhealthy behaviors.
4 Ways to Stop Stress Eating (or Not Eating)

Acknowledge it
If you’re feeling stressed and notice your appetite is gone OR you start craving junk food, remind yourself that you're stressed. Identify the emotions and feelings you are experiencing. Focus on dealing with whatever is driving the feelings.

Go for a walk, do a workout, basically just get up and MOVE – it’s one of the fastest stress relievers and mood boosters there is. Plus, it can get you out of the situation and into a new perspective. Stepping outside for your movement break can further support this shift in perspective. Your movement need not be vigorous. Rather, some people favor a relaxing stretch routine or yoga practice.

Meditate or engage in deep breathing
Just 5 minutes can help you feel calmer, more focused, and less stressed. There are apps aplenty to guide you through breathing exercises if you’d rather not fly solo. Calm and Headspace are two of the most common and easy to use.

Talk it out
Taking a few minutes to get some support with whatever is bothering you can help you take back control. Share your feelings with a friend or loved one. If no one is available or you prefer to process on your own first, you can also implement this strategy via journaling. Grab a pen and paper and jot down your experience in writing. By the time you are finished, the craving may have passed. Or you may be able to look at the situation more clearly and select foods that nourish your body rather than feed the frenzy.
At Santana Health Coaching, our clients take a holistic approach to improving their health. Stress management and mindfulness are together 1 of the 4 pillars of health we work on. Clients report that reducing stress extends a beneficial halo to the nutrition, exercise and sleep improvements they are working towards – increasing likelihood of goal success and sustainability of healthy habits.   
I hope these tips provide a few enjoyable options for addressing your stress without overeating. I invite you to consider what other strategies have worked for you in the past, and test them out next time you are feeling overwhelmed.  
Your partner in health,
Need more support with your eating habits? Get my (free) Easy Peasy Portion Guide here. This helpful resource includes strategies to support nutritious eating in moderation. Enjoy!       
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