We all experience stress. It’s a fact of life. When we experience a life stressor there is often an emotional reaction that follows. Then, there is some uncomfortable physiological sensation that comes next. It all happens so quickly we may not even notice. Next thing we know, we are reaching for a donut, a bag of chips, a fast-food meal combo or some other unhealthy foods. We reach for the unhealthy foods in some effort to soothe these uncomfortable feelings and sensations. Those unhealthy foods are most often very high in empty calories, sodium and/or sugar. When life stressors cue us to reach for unhealthy food options we call this stress eating or emotional eating.

Dr. Edward Creagan of the Mayo Clinic advises us that in order to prevent weight gain during stress and reduce the risk of obesity, it’s important to learn how to handle stress. When you have tools for managing the stress you may find it easier to stick to healthy habits.

 Here are some stress management techniques that may help you in addressing stress-related weight gain:

  1. Learn to spot the physiological and emotion signs of stress, such as anxiety, irritability and muscle tension. A mindfulness practice will help you stay tuned in.
  2. Be sure you are getting your 3 square meals in every day and observe a schedule of eating so that your body is getting proper nutrition consistently.
  3. Research shows that sugar, the way many people are eating it today, is a toxin and could be a driving force behind some of this country’s fatal illnesses. Too much sugar will drive your blood sugar levels up and leave you crashing in short time. Stepping away from the sugar is not only a good idea because of the empty calories but it can cause your energy levels and your moods to be unstable.Read more here about why sugar is something to stay away from.
  4. Before you put food to your mouth, check in with yourself as to whether you are hungry or are you trying to soothe yourself because you are feeling uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety, sadness or general unease.
  5. If you find that you are tempted to eat for emotional reasons, try to soothe yourself in another way such as going for a brisk walk, taking a warm bath, watching a funny show or video, or calling a good friend.
  6. Identify those foods that you turn to for emotional comfort and ban them from the house or office. Get them out of there!
  7. Keep a daily journal of your weight, your food choices and your feelings so that you can begin to identify patterns of behavior and emotions.
  8. Move your body every day! Get the heart and lungs pumping regularly.
  9. Learn how to practice relaxation. Take a gentle or restorative yoga class, go for a massage and learn how to meditate.
  10. Get a good night’s sleep. Create a bedtime routine for yourself to cue your body and mind that it is time to wind-down. Turn off all electronics one hour before you turn down the blankets and crawl in bed.
  11. Social connections are so important but surround yourself with people who are healthy in mind and body and who share your common goal to make healthy choices and manage stress positively.

If you try these tips and find that your stress is still getting the best of you, it may be time for some professional support. There are many psychotherapists and wellness coaches out there who can provide a more expanded level of support. Sometimes it is helpful to have a team of support! Always check with your health care practitioner before starting a new exercise or dietary program.