I think we all know that stress makes us gain weight (especially belly fat) and feel like garbage. That's not earth shattering news (or it shouldn't be).
A few years ago, when I still thought cravings had to be conquered with willpower, I felt completely helpless when it came to stress eating. It was this endless cycle, where I would have a tough day either at work, or one of the kids wouldn't stop crying, or whatever I felt stressed about at that point in life would happen, and before I knew it I needed popcorn and chocolate in front of the tv at night to feel better. But this wasn't just a comfort thing. I NEEDED to eat those things, and no matter WHAT I tried willpower just couldn't keep me away.It was so frustrating, because it was completely sabotaging all of my efforts to lose weight.
Fast forward to now where I've learned that much like everything else, once you figure out what's going on physiologically, you can approach the food problem from an entirely different angle, take willpower out of the equation, and actually solve it.
So let's talk about this issue, because stress eating and belly fat is a HUGE problem for most of my clients.
Quick refresher: we developed the stress response we have today to deal with stressors that were physical (fight or flight). There was an evolutionary advantage to raising blood sugar as quickly as possible so insulin could carry energy to the working muscles and we could use that energy to either run away or fight the threat. Afterward, once all that energy had been used we would eat a big meal to replenish those energy stores and life would be good.
Now, unfortunately, stress is emotional and it's ongoing. This means that when the stress response is activated and all of those energy stores are liberated and sent into the blood, we don't ACTUALLY need the extra energy, so they are redistributed and stored as belly fat. Then, because blood sugar is unbalanced, we get the energy crash and the carb craving. It's physiological, NOT emotional, just like your 2pm sugar cravings,
So now that we know WHY we can talk about the HOW. If we stress eat because our blood sugar is unbalanced, we need to work on rebalancing blood sugar so that the intense cravings go away and willpower isn't an issue. Here are my top 3 strategies:
- Have something moderately carby to bring your blood sugar back up, but pair it with fat so it will stabilize after and stop you from overeating. AN example would be an apple paired with almond butter or a handful of almonds. Then, distract yourself while the smart snack has time to do it's job. Go for a walk, go shopping, phone a friend. Whatever works. By the time you've had your snack and then distracted yourself, you'll be over it.
- Trick your body into THINKING it's getting something carby, when really you're giving it fat. Fat Bombs are a really great option here, because they taste sweet. You feel like you're giving in to the craving. No insulin spike or blood sugar issues, and if you're already fat adapted (aka you've taught your body to easily burn fat for fuel by eating high fat low carb or keto) you'll be good to go.
- This is probably the hardest, but moderating that insulin spike and subsequent crash by moderating stress in the first pace is the best, most preventative strategy. I know it can sound impossible, but you have to remember that stress isn't what happens to you. Stress is actually YOUR REACTION to what happens to you. You can choose whether or not to be stressed out by something. There are all sorts of techniques out there to moderate your stress response, and you have to use a bit of trial and error, but a few that work really well are Gratitude Practices (where you really focus on what you're grateful for every day, both when you wake up and before bed) or 5 to 10 minute meditations where you give your body a chance to come down from constant red alert. Try a few different options out and see what works for you.
So what do you think? Is stress eating an issue for you? Will looking at it this way help? Give it a try and let me know! In the meantime, you can sign up for my free 5 Day Challenge To Quit Carb Cravings below, which may just be the perfect first step!