Stress and eatingStress and eating. Myth or fact? We hear it all the time, and rightly so, since that is our body’s way of coping with long term stress! That’s right. Turning toward food when stressed is a natural reaction, so you’re not alone.

However there is a big difference between sudden short term stress and persistent stress. Short term stress can actually shut down your appetite due to the sudden release of our “stress hormone” cortisol. Luckily, our bodies are smart and will revert back to normal after the stress is over.

On the other hand, long term stress has the opposite effect. If stress levels persist, cortisol levels can stay elevated in that “on” position. When this happens our appetite increases. Unfortunately, we don’t crave the good lean proteins and fiber-rich veggies, instead our bodies crave foods higher in fat and sugar!

We all know convenient food sources high in trans-fat and sugar are not good choices but if we are so stressed to the point of not caring, it’s hard to say no and if this behavior lasts, weight gain will happen.

So what do we do to avoid eating when stressed? Well telling someone not to stress is the natural reaction but generally doesn’t work. Here are a few tips to help relax the body and the mind to assist in maintaining healthy cortisol levels:

Meditation – Dedicate time and find a quiet spot to focus on the here and now and work on letting go of things out of your control.

Exercise – Being active and doing some exercise actually decreases stress!

Social Support – Having a close friend or even group of friends you can talk to can help level out stress. Sometimes we just need the reassurance of the people who care for us the most.

Listening to music – Zoning out to some relaxing music can help you let go of what might be stressing you out. Music can be healing.

Journaling – Write it down! Sometimes we need to just get our worries, fears and frustrations out on paper and we feel so much better!

Stress is inevitable. We will all experience different levels of stress in our lives but being aware of our natural reaction, going toward food, can help us not to do it! Recognize your habits regarding stress and eating and find a different healthier outlet to help you handle what you are going through, in certain cases, your health depends on it!