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Food and Nutrition

7 Strategies To Manage Stress Eating

Do you find yourself turning to food for comfort — whether consciously or unconsciously — when you are facing a difficult problem, feeling stressed, or even feeling bored? If yes, then welcome to the world of stress eating.

  “The purpose of eating is to have energy,” says nutritionist-coach Timothy Jeffe Ting, RND (www.timnutrition.com). “Stress eating occurs when you consume food for another purpose, which is to regulate your emotional state.”

 Occasionally using food as a pick-me-up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t a bad thing. But when eating becomes your primary emotional coping mechanism, it can impact your health in many ways. Obviously, physical health would be the first one affected. “You stress eat because you have problems — would you really want to add becoming overweight and increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease to those problems?” asks Timothy. “Then there is also your mental health. When you reach for food as a reaction to stressful stimuli, you are exhibiting impulsiveness; you use food to fill your emotional needs instead of finding healthier outlets.” In addition, while eating may feel good in the moment, the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before — even ashamed and guilty — because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed. 

While it is possible to stop stress eating, Timothy suggests that a better alternative would be to curb it. Here are some strategies.

  1. Don’t label food as “good” or “bad.” “Food is food,” he points out. “When we start to label a particular food, we shift focus from overall healthy eating patterns, which is what really defines a person’s well-being.” 

After all, while vegetables do have a better nutritional profile, eating them all day, every day will not be good for you. On the other hand, depriving yourself of ‘bad’ or ‘forbidden’ food like ice cream or pizza will only make you crave them more intensely.

  1. Tame your stress. While Timothy is not a mental health expert, he shares the following stress management tips:
    • Practice time management. “Most of the time, we feel stressed because we are not available to fulfill our tasks at work or in school efficiently,” he says. “So find ways to plan and control how much time you spend on specific activities.” Some ways you can that include:
      • Not spreading yourself too thin. When someone tries to draft you in to take on an additional task, say “no” more often than you say “yes.”
      • Prioritizing your “Most Valuable Activities” (the tasks you excel at) over “Less Valuable Activities” (other responsibilities that can be delegated to others).
      • Avoiding back-to-back appointments so that you have time to relax and breathe. 
    • Do cognitive reappraisal. “If you were told that you were not accepted for the job that you applied for, would eating an entire pizza help you get another job?” Timothy asks. “No, right? So instead of feeling like a failure and reaching for food for comfort, treat the rejection as a learning opportunity or as redirection.” When you reframe your mindset this way, you will no longer be triggered by the stress.
  1. Take away temptation. Don’t keep hard-to-resist and unhealthy comfort foods within easy reach. “We are all designed to be lazy,” Timothy points out. “If you surround yourself with cakes, cookies, and ice cream, then you will definitely eat them often. And don’t just think about yourself — even if YOU are able to exercise willpower and avoid eating them, what about the rest of your family members?”
  2. Make healthier food alternatives more convenient. We all have fruits and vegetables at home, but no one eats them because they still  have to be washed, peeled, chopped, and, sometimes, cooked before we can eat them. “Compare them to a bag of chips that you can just rip open in one second — of course you will eat the chips,” says Timothy. 

So rearrange the items in your pantry or refrigerator. Place the junk foods on the highest shelf of the cabinet and the ice cream at the very back of the freezer; then put the fruits and vegetables within line of sight and easier reach.

  1. Add, don’t subtract. Don’t deprive yourself of treats. “If you want to eat a chocolate bar, go ahead, but eat a piece of fruit afterwards,” advises Timothy. “Then next time, try eating the fruit FIRST before the chocolate.”
  1. Eat in moderation. How to define what is moderate? Timothy suggests the 70-30 rule. “If you eat four meals a day, make the three meals healthy, filled with veggies, fruits, and lean proteins,” he shares.
  1. Snack healthy. If you must eat for comfort, choose wisely. Timothy shares his list:

Best foods to eat when stressed:

  1. Anything that’s warm, like hot teas. “Green and black teas contain L-theanine, which has been proven to improve mental focus and increase relaxation,” he says. “Hot drinks also force you to slow down and take deep breaths before drinking them, which can lower your stress.”
  2. Dark chocolates. Not only are they a lower-calorie alternative, they also contain theobromine (which combats the oxidation in the body caused by stress) and magnesium (which helps people to  relax and fall asleep).
     
  3. Quality carbohydrates like root crops, potatoes, or corn. “Air-popped popcorn — the ones you cook on the stovetop, not the buttered ones they sell in cinemas — is extremely low in calories and high in fiber. Eat it plain or put in some salt and herbs for flavor,” shares Timothy.
  4. Bananas, because it also contains magnesium.
  5. Other fruits. “Anything high in Vitamin C will be helpful in reducing stress levels, because the stress hormone cortisol is mitigated by Vitamin C,” says Timothy.
  6. Whole nuts like pistachios and almonds. According to Timothy, these contain B-vitamins that help unlock energy, since tiredness may also cause stress. 
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

On the other hand, think twice before reaching for these foods for comfort:

  1. Anything caffeinated. “Caffeine is a double-edged sword,” points out Timothy. “It gives you an energy boost when you want to get out of a tight spot, but the problem is you will develop a tolerance for it; eventually, you will need increasing amounts of caffeine to give you energy, and when you don’t get you fill, you might experience an energy crash.”

The solution: drink in moderation. “If you drink one cup of coffee a day in a week, try not to drink on Sundays. If you are on vacation and not feeling stressed, don’t drink at all. Also, try to get your energy from whole foods and good sleep,” Timothy advises. 

  1.  Alcohol. “Alcohol gives you a buzz so you don’t think about your problems, but the problems are still there,” says Timothy. It also lowers your inhibitions, so you end up eating mindlessly, which leads to a lot of health problems in the long run.”
  1. Anything with a huge amount of carbohydrates and fats together, without protein, such as pastries, refined goods, cookies, cakes, pastries, pizza, etc. “These are very high in calories, very easy to overeat, and will lead to a lot of problems down the line if you are overweight,” Timothy cautions.

Emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you’ve reached for a tub of ice cream and polished off half of it. But if you can take a moment to pause and reflect when you’re hit with a craving, you give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision.

If you need help building better eating habits, schedule a consultation with our WellBeing Coaches now. They are available 24/7 and rest assured that all conversations are secure and confidential. Book now through FB Messenger http://m.me/themindnation or email [email protected]

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Get Inspired Self Help

8 Tips to Help you Stick to your Exercise Routine

Sticking to a workout routine is tough especially now that we are in the midst of a pandemic. With gyms and fitness studios closed and most of us isolating at home, it’s harder to find the time and motivation to break a sweat in the middle of working from home, taking care of the kids, or bingeing on Netflix. 

But according to strength and conditioning trainer/personal coach Ergel Villarta Arcinas (@evatrainingsystems), staying at home should not be an excuse to be sedentary; rather, it’s all the more reason why we need to push ourselves to exercise. “Regular exercise not only has physical benefits, it will also help reduce the stress, anxiety, and depression that many of us will be feeling from being isolated at home and having our routines disrupted,” he explains. “The endorphins that our body releases afterwards will also leave our bodies and minds feeling refreshed instead of ‘stuck’.” 

To overcome any mental barriers and make exercising a habit, you will need the right mindset and a smart approach. Below are some tips for making the most out of your workout-from-home routine: 

  1. Make exercising the same as eating or sleeping. One often-mentioned tip for coping with home isolation is to maintain a routine — i.e. follow a regular eat, sleep, and work schedule — so include exercise in your daily to-do as well. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you do it, as long as you allot the time, although Coach Arcinas cautions against working out too close to bedtime. “This is because the resulting post-exercise energy boost can make it hard for you to fall asleep, and lack of sleep is never healthy,” he points out. “Exercising during the day will be better so that you have the rest of the day to let your body relax.” That said, if evenings are really your own free time, he suggests that you opt for low intensity movements so that you recover faster. 
  1. Invest in a personal trainer. It may seem like added expense, but coaches ensure that you spend your exercise time mindfully and safely. “We develop  workout programs that take into account your capacity, goals, and skill level,” Coach Arcinas says. “This way, you see better results sooner and reduce injuries.” Sessions can be conducted through videochat applications like Google Meet or Zoom.

If you really prefer to workout on your own by following videos online, Coach Arcinas suggests that you research the background of the instructor first to make sure that he or she is really certified to teach classes so that you do not get injured. 

  1. Set realistic fitness goals. Don’t just aim to “be stronger;” instead, say you want to be able to do 20 full body push-ups in one minute by the end of the fourth month. When goals are measurable, specific, and time-bound, it’s easier to track your progress. Doing it this way and with the help of a personal trainer helps you focus your efforts, develop a more structured plan for actually achieving the goal, and creates a sense of urgency that can be motivating. 
  1. Embrace the small wins. Maybe your goal is to hold a plank for two minutes, and two weeks into your new workout routine, you’ve improved your ability from 20 seconds to 30 seconds. Even though your ultimate goal is a long way off, take pride in reaching this mini milestone along the way. It can provide the important confidence boost you need to keep pushing toward the bigger goal. 
  1. Think long-term. You didn’t get out of shape overnight, so you’re not going to instantly transform your body either. Expecting too much, too soon will only lead to frustration. Try not to be discouraged by what you can’t accomplish or how far you have to go to reach your fitness goals. Instead of obsessing over results, focus on consistency. And while the physical payoff might take longer, appreciate the instant improvements in your mood and energy levels.
  1. It’s totally normal to not always want to workout. It’s okay to have off days, and understanding that can help you embrace these difficult feelings and move past them, rather than viewing them as signs of weakness and giving up altogether. “If you are experiencing low energy levels because of bed weather, for example, ease into the workout by warming-up longer,” Coach Arcinas suggests. “Once your muscles are properly stimulated, you’ll be energized to proceed to the main set.” But if you really still feel sluggish after warming up and cannot proceed anymore, then that’s okay too, he assures; ten minutes of warming-up is better than five, and even just five minutes of movement is better than zero.

“However, if you are tired because you lack sleep, don’t force yourself to exercise because the risk of getting injured is higher,” Coach Arcinas says. 

  1. Change your vocabulary. Use words with positive versus negative associations to describe how you might feel or are feeling. For example, instead of considering the difficult moments of an exercise as being “uncomfortable,” think of them as being “intense.” You are not “dying,” you are being “challenged.” Shifting your vocabulary carries a more empowering mindset and will help you adopt a more positive attitude. 
  1. Don’t compare yourself to others. As you scroll through social media, it’s easy to feel resentful, intimidated, or even discouraged when you see someone effortlessly execute a yoga pose or consecutive burpees while you have yet to be as accomplished. But you’re likely not considering the fact that these other people were also new to yoga and burpees at one point, and probably put in a lot of hard work to get to their current fitness level. 

Exercise is important to our physical and mental health, but it’s really tough to build the habit. “The key is to build the routine first before advancing to goal-setting,” says Coach Arcinas. “Once you have developed the discipline, that’s when you work with a trainer to set time-based objectives such as ‘In four to six months, I want to be able to do this skill or lose this much body fat.’” 

Lastly, remember that exercising (whether at home outside of it) will always be one of the best investments you can make for your body and mind. “When you are physically and mentally well, you can do the things you enjoy more often and for far longer, like spending more time with your kids or even grandkids,” Coach Arcinas says. “For me, that benefit is even more important than having six-pack abs or being able to do 100 push-ups.”

Written by Jac of MindNation