De-stress: Use these techniques to reduce overall stress
Our least favorite red-letter day is nearly here: April 15, tax day. For most of us, wrangling with IRS forms amidst the bustle of busy spring schedules -- Little League has started already?!? -- is enough to send us straight to the kitchen for some comfort food. But stress eating is a trap: Not only can we make poor food choices, but also our anxiety can actually increase once we realize we've "screwed up" our intentions to eat healthily.
The first key to controlling stress eating is forgiveness. Our bodies naturally crave sweet, starchy foods in times of stress, according to researchers at the University of San Francisco. In prehistoric times, our ancestors' stress levels jumped, releasing the anxiety hormone cortisol, when facing predators or hunting prey. But they burned thousands of calories in the process. Nowadays, by contrast, when a stressful message arrives in our email inbox, we don't burn calories solving the problem -- but our cortisol levels still spike, sending us on a foray to the candy machine.
Not only do we reach for unhealthy snacks, but also cortisol itself can make us less healthy, if there's too much of it in our system. Cortisol makes cells more insulin-resistant, putting us at higher risk for diabetes, and directs more fat storage around your waistline -- another risk factor for not only diabetes, but also heart disease.
So when combating stress eating, it's crucial to take a two-tiered approach that not only avoids unhealthy foods, but reduces overall stress. Fixing the fundamental problem pays off, researchers found: A Duke University study found that stress management training helped lower high blood sugar; while at Stanford University, 67% of study participants who reduced stress were able to stick to a healthy eating plan, compared with just 48% of those whose stress levels remained high throughout the study.
To launch your two-tier attack on stress eating:
01. De-stress. Use these techniques to reduce overall stress:
- Take breaks. Give yourself 15 minutes in the middle of a busy day to walk around the block, take a few deep breaths, or call a pal for a lunch break chat.
- Get moving. Exercise is a great stress reliever. It can serve as a form of meditation, and it helps you sleep better so you're more refreshed and ready to face the next day. Getting a half hour of exercise on most days also motivates you to eat healthier foods. And some forms of exercise incorporate meditation and deep breathing, which can be particularly helpful at reducing stress -- yoga, tai chi and Pilates.
- Adjust your attitude. Remember, stress isn't just a matter of outside events that happen to you -- it also comes from how you react to these events. Consider keeping a "stress journal," in which you take a few minutes each day to write down unpleasant events, how they made you feel, how you reacted to them, and how you could react differently next time. If you have a tendency to "go to the dark side," keep a stress rubber band loosely on your wrist. When you have a negative thought, snap the rubber band. That's a reminder to think positively.
- Eat breakfast. Studies have shown that eating breakfast can lower levels of cortisol. Though food may be the last thing on your mind when you're feeling topsy-turvy, it's the first step to starting your day on a positive note. You'll feel satisfied throughout the morning and less apt to reach for a donut from the office coffee cart.
- Drink water; skip caffeine. Often we reach for sodas or coffee when we're feeling the pinch. But caffeine's a stimulant, and when it wears off, you can be left foggy-headed, tired, and less able to deal with stressful situations. Instead, drink water, which brings oxygen and nutrients to tissues. Or if you need a flavorful pick-me-up, try a cup of herbal or decaffeinated green tea.
- Snack on fiber-rich carbs plus protein. When snack time does roll around, treat yourself right with a satisfying little feast of fruit or veggies plus protein. The combination will boost your energy longer than sugary carbs, which will cause your blood sugar to spike and then drop hard. There are plenty of options that provide satisfying textures and flavors as well as nutrients, including:
- An apple with peanut butter
- A handful of nuts high in immune-boosting zinc, such as cashews or pecans
- A cup of low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit
- Baby carrots with hummus
- A hard-boiled egg
- An orange, full of stress-fighting vitamin C
02. Eat smart under stress. When you do reach for food to help you get through the day, ensure your choices are healthy.
To read Cheryl's latest blog entry,click here!