Stress and food – tips for curbing cravings

Everyone reaches for comfort foods and junk food when stressed out. You know you shouldn’t, but you probably feel you need something to help you during that intense period of time when stress is king.

“In moments of stress, people tend to reach for foods they know, sometimes even favorite foods from childhood. It is certainly not a time when we choose to experiment,” says Chef Odette Smith-Ransom, chef instructor at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

If traveling, you may often search for a familiar restaurant or fast food place. It’s easier to reach for food that you know provides a level of comfort to balance out the uncomfortable moments of stress, Smith-Ransom says.

It all comes down to food choices where stress and food are concerned. When stressed, you are more likely to make a quick, bad choice. “The vicious cycle of guilt regarding our eating habits steps in and worsens the current stress situation,” Smith-Ransome says. “Add guilt to the situation, and the stress levels increase – compounding the problem.”

Chef Smith-Ransom warns that when stressed, one should stay away from caffeine and sugar. It’s easy to grab an energy drink or a candy bar because they’re accessible and in every convenience and drug store in America.

Once the rush is gone from sugary, caffeine-packed foods, you’re facing a crash unless you continue to eat and drink to keep your body in the high. Continuing to eat and drink these products will compound the situation even more because you then become sleep-deprived, which raises the levels of anxiety and slows you down.

The best way to attack bad eating choices during a moment of stress is to maintain your body and mind at equilibrium. Before an important interview, presentation or exam, try eating whole foods and complete meals, and forget about the bag of cookies. While these satiate the appetite at the moment, it certainly won’t keep your blood-sugar levels stable, making it difficult to cope with your initial problem: high stress.

“Eat dark, leafy greens, high fiber foods and lean cuts of protein as a complete meal,” says nutritionist and public health expert, Nicole Dowsett, a nutrition instructor at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Charlotte. She recommends staying away from heavily seasoned foods and eating four to six small meals a day. “Take time to eat and avoid grabbing something on the go to just stuff your face.”

It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to communicate with your mind that you are full. Making time to eat is very important. If you can, share meals with friends or loved ones, Dowsett says. Sharing meals helps you to take your time and deters you from making bad choices, or even worse yet, hiding your unhealthy food choices – which can lead to an eating disorder.

“High stress mixed with bad food choices can cause and increase behavioral issues, sleep deprivation, problems focusing, over-thinking tasks without developing a clear focus, inability to prioritize, reduced cognitive skills, heightened sensitivity and heightened emotions,” Dowsett says.

By making informed, careful food choices during times of stress, you can help ensure what you eat doesn’t add extra calories, fat and poor nutrition to your worries.

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