Confession time: I’m naturally a very anxious person. You might not think it since the internet is a place where nobody likes to air their dirty laundry (myself included!), but I have been dealing with panic attacks and bouts of depression for over a decade. I’m talking full on, shaking, can’t breathe, feel like my heart is about to explode panic attacks. I can remember a time when I was probably 13 years old, hiding in my room, literally eating frosting out of its container because that was the only place I could think to find comfort. Stress eating is REAL and it sucks. Now thankfully, it has been a hot minute since I’ve been spooning Duncan Hines straight into my mouth, but I definitely still find myself baking cookies or stopping for take out instead of cooking when my mind isn’t at peace. And no, just because I’m a personal trainer and nutrition coach, that doesn’t mean I can’t make the tastiest, most sugar filled desserts you’ve ever had–I’m complex haha. While anxiety and depression are of course illnesses that don’t affect everyone, I think we can all agree that stress hits us at some point or another, whether it’s a big deadline at work, a presentation in class, or a fight with someone we love–so what impact does that stress have on us physically?
Stress raises the level of a hormone called cortisol. Now, we could get all scientific, but I’d feel my own eyes glazing over so let’s suffice it to say that cortisol has an effect on regulating blood sugar levels and metabolism. The more stressed out you are, the higher your cortisol levels, the lower your blood sugar drops and you immediately want to reach for that tub of frosting (or piece of cake or candy bar) to raise those levels. It’s not just random that we want sugar when we are stressed out, it’s biological. So, if this is all biological, then what can we do to stop the stress eating? Manage that stress! Personally, I find that I don’t breathe as deeply when stressed out and that can often lead to those panic attacks I was talking about–yikes. Take a few deep breaths, practice meditation regularly (this one has helped me IMMENSELY), and give your body the oxygen it needs to relax. Going for a walk, especially in nature, or getting in a workout can also be a great stress reducer! Finally, the less of those sugary temptations that are available to you, the less likely you are to give in to the stress eating; after all, how can you eat a cookie that you don’t have? Stock your kitchen with healthy sweet treats like fruit or a lower calorie frozen yogurt over that pint of Ben and Jerry’s and you’ll find yourself avoiding that stress-induced weight gain.
None of this is easy and stress is something that we will all probably have to deal with throughout our lives (if you don’t then sorry, but I’m pretty sure you’re not human). We may as well make the best of it, work on habits to minimize it, and set ourselves up for success. Do you have any tips for dealing with stress? I’d love to hear them!