Dieting in order to lose weight or to get healthy in general requires a lot of dedication and some amount of will power. Ideally, one should show restraint around high-calorie food (especially junk food) and basically all sugary delights (ice cream, cupcakes included), but most of us, resort to comfort eating/emotional eating under stressful situations or when we are anxious about something, to calm down jittery nerves. We all tend to indulge in binge eating – whether it is an extra slice of cake or a few extra French fries, and it’s okay to do so once in a while, but when you attach emotional ups and downs to food and term the ones that make you feel good as “comfort food,” – it’s a major roadblock when you are actually trying to lose weight and get into a healthy shape. Stress eating can be considered an eating disorder where one turns to food to overcome stress, anxiety, loneliness, trauma, etc., and experiences severe guilt over the same once the binging is done. It’s called an emotional cycle where – something upsets you and you are stressed out -> you find comfort in sugary and high-calorie food (basically unhealthy food -> you binge eat and lose control on the amount of food you are consuming -> you feel guilty and powerless with food. Stress eating is particularly a concern in the current scenario where almost everyone seems to be leading a stressful life, and a large population is turning to unhealthy food habits to find solace. For people who find it hard to detach their emotional ups and downs with food, we have compiled a list of food items that they can eat whenever they are feeling stressed out without falling off diet or indulging in unhealthy eating practices, and preventing weight gain.
What is Stress Eating?
Stress eating or emotional eating is a situation where one eats to feel good and pleasant, to cope up with trauma, to relieve stress, rather than to satisfy hunger. The food that emotional eaters choose are usually high-fat, high sugar, calorie-rich food full of transfat and other toxic ingredients, extremely unhealthy for the human body. When someone depends on food to cope with certain situations or to relieve stress, preoccupation with food takes over that person’s life and before he/she realizes, and they would end being obese with a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Most comfort foods have loads of calories, sugar, unhealthy fat, and simple carbohydrates. You may feel good while eating them, but your body is going to store most of such food as fat, as a result of which, your weight will shoot up. Food with high sugar, sodium, transfat content have a direct impact on the brain. When you eat such food, your brain rewards you by releasing “feel-good chemicals” such as endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. Such feel-good chemicals makes one feel happy by elevating mood, and calming down nerves. Such type of food may cause sharp insulin spikes that provide instant energy but the subsequent drop in blood sugar level is just as steep, causing fatigue and lack of energy, making you crave for “unhealthy food” all over again. You start to depend more and more on such unhealthy food to deal with jittery nerves because processed and junk food releases a huge amount of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals compared to healthy food. In short, people resort to emotional eating to feel better, relieve stress, and cope up with traumatic situations.
Symptoms of Emotional Eating:
1. You eat when you are under stress, not really when you are hungry.
2. You are unable to portion control.
3. Gulping down food instead of chewing it.
4. Feeling guilty right after eating.
5. Food is your “only” option to calm down and get out of hard situations.
6. Unable to control binge eating.
10 Common Comfort Foods that Trigger Emotional Eating:
Are you an Emotional Eater?
Let’s find out whether you are emotional eater by answering these questions:
Do sugary food help you to calm down and relieve stress?
Do you tend to eat when you are feeling down?
Do you eat till the time you are actually feeling sick?
Are you unable to control frequent cravings?
Do you eat frequently because you are lonely?
Do you eat non-stop when someone humiliates you?
Do you binge eat when something upsetting has happened?
You do not stop eating even though you are completely full?
Happy Hormones That Get Released when you Eat Comfort Food:
Eating, particularly sugary, high fat food, triggers the release of “feel good” hormones from the brain’s reward center. Serotonin, which helps to regulate mood as well as appetite is one of them. Another set of hormones called endorphins are released relieve pain and are produced in response to stress and its levels shoot up upon eating or exercising. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gets released with various stimulants and also food.
Eat These Things When You are Stressed Out without Falling off Diet:
We have listed out natural and healthy foods that help to trigger release of mood-improving serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and also would help lower cortisol. Under stressful situations, the levels of serotonin drop down and it’s important to eat healthy food that would take up this level. Other major nutrients to look for in food to improve mood and cope with stressful situations is tryptophan (a type of amino acid), magnesium, vitamin D – all of which are important in the release of these “feel-good” hormones without causing any side effects.
1. Dark chocolate not Milk Chocolate: While milk and other regular chocolates are full of sugar with very little percentage of cocoa, dark chocolate on the other hand, is recommended by nutritionists because it has up to 70% cocoa which is rich in antioxidants which helps in releasing serotonin.
2. Apple with Peanut Butter instead of sweets: Craving for sweets and there’s no dark chocolate in sight? Slice an apple and scoop out one tbsp of peanut butter and satisfy your sweet tooth with this healthy treat.
3. Greek yogurt and not Ice Cream: When the gut health is strong, it not only keeps physical health in robust condition, it takes down stress level, improves mood, and cuts down the risk of depression. That’s because the gut is also called as the “second brain” of the body because there are 100 million neurons in our gut and they are directly connected to the brain. Therefore, maintaining a healthy gut is of supreme importance if one wants to lose weight, especially cut down belly fat, because when the gut flora is not healthy, it can cause hormonal imbalances, increase stress levels, and raise inflammation in the body – and all of these factors lead to weight gain and obesity. Probiotics such as unflavored Greek yogurt or regular curd help to boost healthy bacterial growth in the gut whereas ice cream which is rich in sugar would raise inflammation in the body and endanger healthy bacteria living in the gut.
4. Chamomile and Lavender Tea instead of regular tea: Research has proven that chamomile tea helps to calm down anxiety, taking stress levels down, and would help you sleep better. Likewise, lavender tea relieves stress, helps relieve nervousness, and make your sleep quality better.
5. Nuts and Seeds instead of instead of Potato Chips: Nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and healthy fats, apart from magnesium and tryptophan levels which are all needed in the release of serotonin.
6. Sparkling water and not soda: Love the fizzy effect of colas? Find a better replacement in sparkling water minus the sweetness in sparkling water. This kind of a water does not have any calories and does not spike insulin levels.
7. Plain milk instead of coffee: Caffeine content in coffee can keep you awake for at least 6 hours, on the other hand, milk can help you sleep better and lower stress levels in the process.
8. Oatmeal and not packaged Cereals: If you still eating packaged cereals as breakfast, it may be one of the major reasons why you are still not losing weight. Oatmeal has complex carbs that get digested slowly and do not spike blood sugar levels sharply. Rolled oats and steel-cut oats instead of instant oats are rich in tryptophan which is needed for serotonin production. That’s the reason why “Rati Beauty” app uses rolled oats extensively in their weight loss and diet programs.
9. Lemon juice and not cola: You should give up cola completely, even if you do not want to lose weight, it’s that unhealthy. If you are craving for beverages, make yourself a lemonade with sparkling water because the vitamin C content in lemon lowers the stress hormone cortisol.
10. Rooibos Tea instead of regular Chai: Rooibos is a variety of tea that helps in lower cortisol levels and are thought to prevent the formation of new fat cells by a considerable degree.
Please do try to include more of these healthy food to lower stress level and stay on your weight loss journey.