The last two months of the year can be a stressful time, and it’s easy to turn to food to relieve anxiety. But food isn’t the answer, says Lillian Craggs-Dino, MS, RD, LD/N, the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute Support Group Coordinator at Cleveland Clinic Florida.
“Food is necessary to keep us healthy,” she says. “The best philosophy is to enjoy your foods, but don’t connect eating to emotional well-being. If you feel stressed, try not to use food as the solution.”
Ways to avoid stress eating
To help rein in holiday overeating, Ms. Craggs-Dino offers these five tips:
1. Get moving. “To release some of that stress, you’ll feel better if you get physical instead of eating,” says Ms. Craggs-Dino, who suggests going for a long walk or bike ride or challenging a friend to a game of basketball. Visiting a spa for a massage or manicure/pedicure also may help reduce stress. At home, try yoga, meditation and deep breathing to relax.
2. Refocus your thoughts. If you’d rather not work up a sweat, she recommends refocusing your thoughts by reading, doing a word puzzle or watching a movie. Also consider talking with a close friend or family member because emotional support helps reduce stress.
3. Nourish your body to help curb cravings. Don’t skip meals, warns Ms. Craggs-Dino. “Have breakfast, lunch and dinner and healthful snacks in-between,” she says. “High-fiber alternatives such as whole grains, fresh fruit and veggies can keep cravings at bay. Eat sweet treats in moderation and never when you’re hungry — that just leads to overeating.”
4. Enjoy comfort foods in moderation. When we feel stressed, it’s easy to turn to food. “Comfort” foods often link us to happy memories while others, like dark chocolate, may affect neurotransmitters and hormones, giving us a temporary sense of euphoria. Ms. Craggs-Dino cautions that these feelings are short-lived and that we end up feeling more stressed afterward, especially if emotional eating affects our health or weight.
“I believe that almost all foods can play a healthy role in our diets in moderation — if we keep the emotional attachment away from the food,” she says. “You can even make a comfort food like mac and cheese healthier by using lower fat ingredients and watching portion size.”
5. It’s never too late to get back on track. If you do indulge in some stress eating, don’t panic, says Ms. Craggs-Dino. The best thing to do is to get back on schedule. Go to bed at the usual time, get up at the usual time, eat breakfast, go exercise and don’t overindulge the rest of the week. Make a healthier lifestyle a goal, she suggests, and begin by keeping track of your food intake and exercise.