Have you ever found yourself reaching for the cookies even when you’re not hungry? We’ve all been there but stressing out about the occasional diet lapse will not help and may actually make it worse. Before you get uptight, ask yourself a question – is stress messing with your diet? Your problem may be stress eating.
The stress hormone cortisol is a major factor in your overall health. A little bit of it may be healthy and sudden surges of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline helps us deal with sudden trauma like a car crash, but if your cortisol levels are high most of the time, that can contribute to problems like high blood pressure, memory loss and diabetes.
If you find yourself cringing every time you hear the boss’s voice or dreading visits with the in-laws, you may find yourself reflexively reaching for the unhealthy snacks and that leads to weight gain.
How Does This Work? – Is Stress Messing with Your Diet?
When your cortisol levels are high, it triggers your liver to release sugar into the bloodstream. This gives you the extra energy you need to deal with a crisis as part of the “fight or flight” survival mechanism. This is energy you might need to get away from an attacking dog or lift a heavy object off a friend who has had an accident.
Therefore, chronically high cortisol levels are not good for people with diabetes and why we have an instinctive reflex to reach for food after a stressful event as a way of getting our reserves of energy back up. The problem with this is that most people operate at high stress levels all the time and don’t know how they can get out from under the stressful situation.
Hidden Factors That Raise Cortisol Levels
Besides your boss, annoying co-workers, and that one family member who gets on your nerves, there are many hidden factors that can lead to stress eating. These include lack of sleep, caffeine, alcohol and skipping a meal.
The elevated stress levels not only causes sugar to be released from the liver, but can interfere with your body’s ability to process that sugar in any useful way and that can cause the sugar to be processed into fat that is deposited in the abdomen.
What You Can Do to Lower Cortisol Levels – Is Stress Messing with Your Diet?
Take stock of anything that might be contributing to your stress levels. If this means quitting your job in favor of all the good things you heard about freelancing, do it for the sake of your overall health.
When you get cravings, try distracting yourself. A cup of relaxing herbal tea will suit better than a candy bar and works equally well at giving you something to focus on besides, whatever is causing the stress. Alternatively, you could take a walk or talk to a friend who can be counted on to sympathize.
If you must reach for “comfort food,” try inflammatory foods. A daily handful of nuts makes a good snack and so do fruits and vegetables. Eat fish two or three times a week. Avoid any food that has been overly processed and contains high levels of trans fat ans sugar, like most chips, soda, and candy.
Create a space that’s just yours. A place that provides a connection to the natural world, like your garden or a local park, works especially well. The point is to get away from your normal routine that includes the job, family, and everything else that might have been bothering you without you even realizing it.
Get rid of anything that might be interfering with your sleep. That includes turning the TV off and might even mean getting rid of anything that’s stressing you out to the point where it’s keeping you awake.