Dealing with stress induced overeating

One of the reasons why people overeat is stress. In today’s world there is a lot of that anyway, and everyone gets their fair and compulsory share of stress and anxiety to deal with. Exercise and yoga are popular ways to bust stress but stress management is made more interesting with the right foods on your plate!

Stress and weight gain
Sudden short-term stress actually reduces appetite. But frequent and sustained stressful situations can actually bring physiological changes that may make you put on weight. During stress, certain hormones are released by the body that increase your appetite and lead to binging, especially the intake of fatty foods. After several episodes of anxiety and reacting to it by craving for food, even slight stress makes you turn to comfort foods merely out of habit.

Stress causes adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol which increases appetite. This physiologically makes you crave for fat and sugar. This is why you reach for chocolates or ice cream instead of carrots or apples when you are under stress. The choices that one makes in foods during a stressful event, is totally illogical and unhealthy. You must have had a main meal that was filling, but still you find an emotional appetite to eat up that piece of rich cake wooing you with promise of feeling good!

Mood boosting elements

Serotonin is a chemical that improves brain function and gives a feel good mood. It also helps regulate your sleep, something you lack when under stress.  Any food high in tryptophan, an amino acid will provide serotonin. Banana is the best food that is a mood booster. Other foods are milk, tofu, turkey, oily fish, semi or bitter sweet dark chocolate, chickpeas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, peanuts and complex carbohydrates.

Foods that provide folic acid and beta carotene also are known to relieve stress. So, go for dark green leafy or yellow vegetables, raw vegetables, oranges, apricots, peaches and mangoes.

Though black, oolong or white for that matter are said to be beneficial, green tea specifically boosts mood and a sense of feeling good.

Foods to reach out for when under stress

  • Make a banana milk shake with fat free milk, a nicely ripe banana and a pinch of cinnamon or a drop of vanilla essence. Forget the sugar as eating simple sugars will only give you an insulin hike and increase the craving for food.
  • Make a large cup of green tea. Add mint for extra flavour.
  • Take a bite of semi-sweet or bitter dark chocolate. Not only does it calm your mind, it is also rich in antioxidants. Break a small piece of it and nibble on it taking your time to finish the small bit so that you relish its extended taste and feel good about it.
  • Alternatively, melt it into a cup of fat free milk and make a choco drink. This is a good drink to take before you turn in at night as milk is known to let you sleep well.
  • Feel like chocolates? Do not reach for a whole bar. Make a fruit salad and sprinkle your dark chocolate bits over it.  The fibre and potassium from the fruits as well as the chocolate fills and relaxes you.
  • The best fruits to beat your depression are orange, banana, mango and pomegranate. Make a fruit platter of these and indulge. This gives lesser calories and is much healthier than gorging on sweets.
  • When undergoing stressful days make sure you have greens and beets on your daily menu. Have them as curries, sauté, chutneys, or use to flavour /garnish lavishly.
  • If you have already had your carbs meal but are still hungry, eat an extra piece of lean meat or fish but no carbohydrates – pan grilled fish or chicken/turkey with no skin and fat will do. If you are a vegetarian, then have a big piece of tofu.
  • Snack on ½ a cup of cooked chickpeas moistened with lemon squeezes. Or some sundal.
  • Have your nuts as snacks when you feel the urge to eat or make a dip of ground nuts and have it with capsicum, celery and carrot strips.
  • Spices and herbs particularly basil, cinnamon, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, rosemary are known to relax and calm your nerves. Use them sufficiently in your cooking. They give zero calories.

Another element that is needed is Vitamin D. You get plenty of it from being outdoors in the sunlight. So, go out and exercise. This helps tremendously to elevate your mood and bust stress.

Parvathy R Krishnan

The author is a trained Nutrition & Dietetics expert with over 20 years’ of experience in hospitals like Vijaya Hospital in Chennai and the Armed Forces Hospital and New Mowasat Hospitals in Kuwait. She is presently a member of the Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India.

More by this author:

How to reduce cholesterol in the Indian diet

Dieting tips for those at work

Image: Robboudon