MOST people love food, whether it’s tucking into your favourite dish or a chocolate treat at the weekend.
But some of us turn to food when we need comforting and experts say stress eating is a sure way to pile on the pounds unintentionally.
Experts say we crave sweet treats and fatty foods when are stress levels are high [/caption]
Speaking to The Sun, dietician Jane Clarke says many people tend to reach for unhealthy meals and snacks when they are feeling down.
“If you’re an emotional eater, you may find yourself eating to deal with uncomfortable emotions or craving sweets or unhealthy snacks when your stress levels are high.
“Stress eating is a common coping mechanism when dealing with pressure, but it’s far from a healthy way to handle stress”, she said.
This is while Emma Bullock-Lynch, food science and nutrition specialist at Human Foods said it’s important to recognise food cravings.
Jane, who is the founder of Nourish by Jane Clark, revealed her top tips for resisting the urge to comfort eat and developing healthier eating habits.
1. Have a snack
Jane said it’s important to give yourself permission to have a proper snack.
“Rather than nibbling on various treats throughout the day, the trick is to decide what snack you want, then put the rest away before you start eating.
“If you opt for a sweet treat, try to have a little protein alongside it to stop the classic sugar high then crash, which will make you feel worse.”
Jane suggested sweet dried fruit with a few nuts, or a chopped apple with some full-fat Greek yoghurt as ideal snack that will help you feel fuller for longer.
Getting the balance right with your snacks could make all the difference [/caption]
Emma added: “Research suggests that higher levels of cortisol and insulin are strongly associated with overeating during stressful periods and typically enhance cravings for foods that are high in fat and sugar”
Having helpful snacks on hand is a good way to make sure these levels don’t spike and stay on an even keel.
If you’re on the go Emma suggested snacking on bars that are slightly-sweet have a wholefood taste and high micronutrient profile.
She said foods like this won’t contribute to exaggerated cravings.
2. Keep a diary
There are so many apps available now for you to log your daily calorie intake on and Jane says that keeping a diary – particularly when you are stressed could help you understand what triggers you.
“Sometimes the strongest food cravings hit when you’re at your weakest point emotionally, so you will soon spot patterns that reveal the connection between your mood and food and become more aware of why you’re mindlessly reaching for snacks.
“Additionally, you could try jotting down what you eat right before you eat it, specifying whether your hunger is physical or emotional.”
She said if you have already eaten and your stomach isn’t rumbling then you should rethink your decision to eat unnecessarily.
3. Don’t drink on an empty stomach
Drinking on an empty stomach can go straight to your head and make you feel even more anxious after the initial euphoria of relaxation wears off.
Alcohol also means you are more likely to eat sweet or salty snack foods, which can often affect your quality of sleep and leave you feeling worse for wear the next day.
Jane says you should aim to eat a nutritious and filling meal before drinking alcohol which includes protein, healthy fats and veggies.
If you’re planning on having a few glasses of wine then you should have a nutritious meal beforehand[/caption]
4. Try herbal
Jane said herbal teas are great for kicking sugar cravings as they are naturally sweet and delicious.
“Choose a favourite mug to make a relaxing infusion in such as chamomile, lemon verbena or mint tea.
“Wrap both your hands around your mug and notice how comforting and soothing it is to hold between your hands”, she added.
5. Stock up
Preparation is key and if you cupboards are stacked with healthy snacks then you are on to a winner.
Jane added: “Ensure your snacks contain sources of protein, healthy fats and fibre to help offset blood sugar dips from carbohydrates.
“It’s also worth noting that when our bodies are stressed, they have an increased requirement for certain nutrients.
“These include the B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium, therefore, it’s important that we get more of these through our diet.”
Jane said that eating a rainbow of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables is the best way to do this.
“Especially important are leafy green vegetables, so make sure you include at least 1-2 portions in your meals or snacks every day.”
6. Distract yourself
Jane said there is one key question you should ask yourself before tucking into a high calorie snack
“Ask yourself: ‘Is this going to nourish me and make me feel good?’. If the answer is no, try opting for a healthier alternative or do something completely different to distract yourself from the stress.
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“Social support can go a long way towards helping you process your feelings and gain support, so try a Zoom call with a friend or go for a walk with a family member or housemate.”
She added that a walk around the block will get your body moving and is a great way to blow off steam and get your endorphins going.
“Another great tip for keeping the munchies at bay is to brush your teeth after dinner time to avoid late night snacking.
“Food doesn’t taste the same after you’ve brushed your teeth, and sometimes just a change of taste can do the trick.”