If there’s one word for what we’ve all been through in that last year or so it’s STRESSFUL. Aside from all the internet memes about accumulating pandemic pounds (and sadly, no, I'm not talking about the ones in our bank account) there really is a big issue going on with our coping mechanisms with stress.
It’s a complete perfect storm of the supermarkets being previously our only source of entertainment and a seriously reduced calendar which has meant more of us than ever before are currently struggling with our food intake…
If this is you, it’s important to remember that gaining a bit of weight really is the least of your (potential) worries right now and beating yourself up or embracing negative self-talk isn’t going to help matters. Dietitians regularly challenge their clients about what it really means to put on a little weight at a time when they’re out of their normal routine. Does it mean you’re worse at doing your job? Does it mean you’re any less valuable as a person? Does it mean your family and friends won’t love you as much? The response to these questions is usually a hard and fast ‘no’ but that can be difficult to remember when you’re in the middle of it, so getting perspective is key.
One of the building blocks to achieving this is exploring why we’re prone to eating during times of stress in order to create productive coping mechanisms when the desire to eat the next family sized bar of chocolate or an entire tin of Pringles strikes.
Stress and eating. What’s the link?!
When we’re stressed, we release cortisol (the human fight or flight hormone) which courses through our body to prepare us to either run from the tiger or fight it. For either of these actions the body thinks we need A LOT of extra energy, hence triggering hunger pangs. Often in times of prolonged or chronic stress the physical tole that can take on the body does mean that our system tricks us into thinking we need to replace lost energy reserves. This is often less than helpful when in reality we’ve been sat hunched over a laptop worrying about that email for the past day.
How to avoid it?
Distraction is key. When you feel that stress level rising, anticipate your body’s natural fight or flight response and try if possible, to remove yourself from the situation (and the fridge). Going for a walk away from any screen is great but if that’s not available to you try to do anything that disrupts that stress signal. A relaxing stretch, phoning a friend or making your favourite hot drink all work wonders to increase oxytocin (the love hormone). Speaking of drinks, whilst it’s important to resist overeating where possible you can still be stressed and *actually* hungry. If you’re struggling to know the difference pour a big glass of water first and once it’s finished, THEN go to the fridge. Chances are if it’s stress snacking rearing its ugly head then the water will have kept it at bay.
I’m not hungry but I still want to eat?!
Sometimes its important to remember that we want to eat for other reasons outside of hunger! This can simply be down to the fact that it feels (and tastes good) so the brain releases a chemical making us happy. Hence eating when we’re sad, happy, or bored. Food is intrinsically linked to our mental state and our environment. Sadly, in times where many of the things we love are restricted, eating can become more of an intense focus. Avoiding this tricky mental trick is a tough one but it’s all about retraining your brain to find joy (or support) in areas that lie outside the kitchen.
Exercise can be a great one for helping us regulate our mind and body and with restrictions opening up I intend to get mine from walking backwards and forwards from the nearest pub garden!
Only kidding…. (sort of)!