You’re stressed, anxious, worried, bored, or sad. You reach for food! You feel better (at least temporarily). Anybody had that experience? It is a well known phenomenon that people tend to eat to feel better emotionally. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s quick. Unfortunately, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a consistent pattern of evidence that people will eat food that is higher in sugar and fat when stressed and worried. While this type of eating might produce some short term psychological relief, the result is an increase in abdominal obesity and cardiovascular disease. Recognizing and acknowledging the pattern of risky overeating when you’re stressed is an important first step in changing that behavior. Since food is a pretty fast and easy way to feel soothed, any new soothing behaviors need to be just as easy to accomplish. The easier the alternative “fix,” the more likely you are to do it. Right? So here are some suggestions that might work.
(1) Just breathe. Exhale for the count of 6 and inhale for the count of 4. The exhale is really the most important part of this exercise. Exhaling all of the old air out of your lungs makes room for the next inhale. If you do even 5 cycles of breath (in and out), see if you don’t feel a lot better and the desire for food lifted.
(2) Get your body down on the floor (close your eyes and focus on your breathing). Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends this one in his book “Wherever You Go There You Are” and I love it. Anytime I feel really stressed (and fatigued), if I lie on the floor for just 5 minutes, I feel amazingly refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the day.
(3) Strike a Yoga Pose. This one comes from a book by Susan Albers called “50 Ways To Soothe Yourself Without Food.” Doing head rolls and/or shoulder circles can loosen up the neck and shoulders (areas of the body that get particularly tight when stressed). Or, if you have a little bit more time, Cyndi Lee has a 15 minute stress relieving sequence of postures on the Yoga Journal website (complete with pictures) http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/1521
(4) Drink some hot or cold tea. Just drink the tea and do nothing else for 5 minutes. Black tea has been shown to decrease the amount of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the body. Chamomile is a type of herbal tea that is thought to soothe the senses. But, any kind of tea will do.
(5) Play your favorite music. If you’re at your computer you can listen to music free through Pandora.com. No matter what your mood, you can find it on Pandora.
(6) Walk around the block. By getting the body moving you will shift your physiology away from the fight or flight response. When this happens, you are able to more creatively solve any problem you might be facing and your thoughts will tend to become more positive and helpful.
So here are just a few suggestions. If you have other things that you do to soothe yourself without food, post a comment and share what has been helpful for you.