By Mollie Wilson
What would you describe as the most stressful time in your life? Was it winning that big game at the age of ten? Getting into a good college? Or maybe it was later when you graduated college, started or started to pursue your first full-time job within your career; all while moving, trying to keep/establish your friendships/relationships, and first discovering the real horror behind those things called student loans. Maybe it was after that too, when you got married or when you had your first child. The difference is, once you’re a bit older and not so fresh a graduate, you realize more that everything comes to pass eventually, and that alone can begin to relieve your stress before it starts.
The one common denominator all of these exciting yet stressful life situations have, is that when people get stressed, the first thing to go is their nutrition. That’s why you see students out of college gaining weight. Stress gives you cravings and stress can reduce your will to deny (or at least moderate) those cravings. Many health associations actually believe stress to be one of the leading factors for the recent trend towards obesity. The reason behind why we forget our nutrition goals and mindful eating while stressed is actually quite simple. Stress in our body is a primal reaction, it used to be set upon us when in life threatening situations where we would need to run, fight, or conserve our energy for long periods of time. All of these reactions require sustenance in order to fuel the body. Therefore, when our bodies are stressed, they go into survival mode and want to both consume and to retain as many of the calories as they can.
Obviously, the problem here lies in the fact that for most of us, our stress no longer means we’re fighting to survive. Our bodies often don’t need to retain the extra calories like they once did and thus, fat is stored.
The problem sounds like it could be simply solved right? We’re not stressing ourselves out by fighting for our lives anymore. Shouldn’t we just be grateful that our problems have evolved so much? While it sounds simple, it’s really not. Just like our problems have evolved, so have our worries about them. Stress and anxiety is valid, no matter what it’s in regards to. The key to solving your cravings and stress eating isn’t from avoiding stress altogether, which would probably be an impossible feat as it is. Instead, it’s learning to manage and reduce stress when it does occur. By doing this, you attack your cravings and stress-eating head on, before they occur. Afterall, it’s much easier to resist the chocolate bar when you didn’t buy it in the first place.
The key to heading off these cravings is to become more mindful. This is with regard to both your nutrition and your hunger cues, as well as to your stress levels. By being able to recognize when you’re stressed and when you’re actually hungry, you can identify better ways to relieve your stress other than picking up that chocolate bar or that bag of chips. Next time you’re overworked, frazzled and hungry, instead of reaching for that bag of Lays, try one of these stress-reducing and mindful practices first:
Meditation: This isn’t a surprise as a wellness and mindfulness tip; however, it is one of the most versatile tips and tools in your mindfulness toolbox. Meditation can be as long or as short as you want, and you can practice it nearly anywhere. If you’re new to meditation, there are YouTube videos and apps that can teach and instruct you through your first few meditations and get you started. There are many apps and videos that you can find that are free as well. Not only will meditation make you mindful and decrease your stress, it’s also well-known to be extremely good for your overall mental health as well.
Exercise: Another tried and true method to destress but nevertheless, another effective one. Not only is exercising good for decreasing your stress levels and making you more mindful of your hunger cues and nutrition, it also will release endorphins to boost your mood overall, and if you’re trying to watch your nutrition in order to lose weight, it will contribute significantly to that goal as well. There are apps to help with this as well. From yoga to running to fitness and strength training, there is an app for all of them. If an app isn’t for you, even following yoga or fitness accounts on Instagram can give you great ideas to get moving as well.
Calorie Tracking and Meal Planning: Calorie tracking can be controversial for some, as it can cause stress. However, for many, looking at the numbers and knowing exactly what they need for their goals, can actually relieve stress as well. If you’re extremely type-A and planning every detail of your day makes you happy, this might be a good method for you. This makes you mindful of what you’re putting into your body and if something consistently makes you feel bad or leaves you hungry 30 minutes later, then you can identify it and move on from it. These two aren’t a package deal either, you can choose to do one or the other and there are great apps for both.
In the end, the real secret behind becoming more mindful in terms of your nutrition goals comes down to figuring out what method, or what combination of methods, works best for you.
Mollie Wilson is a freelance writer from North Carolina. When she is not writing, she is pursuing life adventures– backpacking, climbing, exploring local coffee shops, and traveling.