This is part two to my blog “Stress Eating - Why It Happens and How to Manage It”. I highly recommend giving it a read if you haven’t already. It explains the mechanisms that cause stress-related changes in appetite, allowing you to fully understand the “why” so you can then develop and implement effective management strategies to target the root of the problem.
I will start by saying that much of this topic is outside my area of expertise (I’m not a therapist), but dietitians do receive some training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as intervention strategies for clients and patients. More specifically, dietitians typically receive training in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), motivational interviewing (MI), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). These intervention strategies are aimed at facilitating lasting behavioral changes to support long-term health goals. I’ll touch more on how these strategies can help you to better manage stress-related appetite changes that may be impacting your health.
According to The American Psychological Association, being able to control stress is a learned behavior that comes with time, practice, and patience. Unhealthy behaviors develop over time, and they are often difficult to change. It is important to start small and focus on changing only one behavior at a time.
The most crucial first step is to find what exactly is triggering your stress. Journaling or talking with a family member or friend can be helpful methods to identify the problem. Consider asking yourself these questions to start the conversation:
What exactly are you worried about?
Why are you worried about that?
What can you do to change that?
Sometimes we find ourselves worrying about things that we simply can’t do anything about. Instead of thinking rationally and realizing something is out of our control, we often obsess over the perceived worst-case scenario. Other times we may be so overwhelmed with worry that we struggle to look beyond it to find solutions. Negative and often distorted thoughts begin to flood our heads creating negative feelings that facilitate unhealthy behaviors.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that challenges these negative thoughts in an attempt to alter unwanted behaviors. For example, the pandemic may have you worrying about when you can go back to work. You start thinking that you may lose your job the longer time goes on and you begin to feel anxious. As a result, you are turning to food and overeating to cope with how you are feeling. Not to mention your stress-response has been triggered and you’re likely also experiencing an increased appetite. Does this resulting behavior help to deal with what you’re worried about? Not so much, but when you start to challenge your thoughts you give yourself the opportunity to rationally work through them. What are the chances of you actually losing your job? How can you be proactive in the event that you may lose your job? In some cases, you may find that what you were so concerned with shouldn’t have been so worrisome to begin with, while in other cases you’re able to develop helpful solutions.
Actively challenging your thoughts takes practice, and it may be some length of time before you feel like you’re making progress. It is important to combine those efforts with additional strategies to improve the process. Below I’ve listed 5 strategies that have been proven to aid in stress management.
Food For Thought
Consume balanced, nutritious meals to provide your body with the nutrients it needs during high-stress times, but don’t deprive yourself of the foods you enjoy. Be mindful of your choices while allowing yourself to periodically indulge - food can be a great stress reliever when properly managed.
Recognize and respect your hunger - eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. If stress has you feeling disconnected from your hunger, try planning your daily meals to implement a sense of routine until you’re able to reconnect.
Stay hydrated and try to avoid caffeine as it can further contribute to anxious or stressful feelings.
Mindfulness Meditation - apps like Headspace, Calm, or Aura can guide you through meditation practices to help calm your thoughts, leaving you with a clearer head.
Breathing Exercises - set reminders on your phone throughout the day to take 5-10 minutes to just breathe.
Make changes to your environment with candles, essential oil diffusers, music, and flowers, or go outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
Exercise releases endorphins that contribute to improved moods and less stress.
Find movement you enjoy and don’t add to your stress by forcing certain types of exercise.
Strong relationships are key in managing stress. It is important to surround yourself with supportive family and friends who you can turn to in times of trouble.
Trusting relationships help you to know that you are not alone in whatever you are going through.
Cut off the relationships that drag you down. It’s a two-way street. If you find that the efforts you’re putting in aren’t being matched it may be time to move on.
Get at least 8 hours of deep sleep every night.
Set a bedtime and stick to it as much as possible. Providing your body with a routine helps to reduce unexpected changes that can contribute to stress.
If you find that you’re continually having difficulty sorting through your thoughts, reach out for some guidance. This website can help you find a professional in your area for you to work with. Therapy is no longer, and should no longer be, such a taboo topic. We all get a little overwhelmed sometimes and reaching out for help shows a strong sense of self-awareness. Learning how to sort through, manage, and deal with your own thoughts can be a powerful tool to help you be successful in all aspects of life.
APRIL 17, 2020