Food is an essential part of an athlete’s life. It’s the fuel that allows athletes to train, compete and get better.
But food is so much more than just what we put inside your bodies. Food has an emotional attachment for humans! When we’re happy, we like to eat out and celebrate. When something bad happens, we might try to eat our sadness and frustrations away. This is called emotional eating and it’s applicable to both positive and negative situations.
One such situation is when we’re stressed. Stress is one of the most common emotional triggers to eating. Stress eating occurs when we’re trying to cope with stressful situations or environments or when we’re anticipating a stressful event. Usually, we stress eat to suppress our stress, or as a reward when we get through it. Safe to say, everyone has done stress eating since it’s a normal human thing to do.
However, you shouldn’t make stress eating a habit.
When we stress eat, we usually look for food that makes us feel happy on the inside -- comfort foods, as many people call it. Comfort foods are typically high in sugar like ice cream or chocolates, or high in calories and saturated fat. The quantity and type of food we crave to cope with our stress may have detrimental effects over the long-term.
So how do we stop ourselves from stress eating?
Face The Stress Head-On
You have to acknowledge the thing that stresses you out so you can do something about it. Don’t just run away from it. Ask yourself: “what are the practical things I can do about my problem?” Whether that’s light exercise, journaling, talking with a confidante or therapist, or other ways to cope, take the time to deal with the source of your stress. The quickest way to deal with stress is to handle it ASAP.
Keep Healthy Food Options On-Hand
Stock up on healthy snacks in your home, pantry, or working space so that when you get hungry, your snack options aren’t the type to sabotage your health goals.
Conversely, the best way to stop eating junk is for you to not see it, so stop buying it for yourself.
Take Care Of Your Food Intake
Keeping a food diary helps monitor your eating habits so you can check what you can change inside your day to avoid overindulging on junk food because of stress. Do you go directly to the nearest McDonalds after every tense meeting? Maybe you’re stressed out every Sunday because you’re already thinking about what’s gonna happen at the office on Monday. Keeping an eye out for these subtle cues will help you eliminate them before the habit sticks.
Make sure you’re eating enough everyday. High or low blood sugar levels severely affect your mood, which sometimes contributes negatively to your stress. Don’t skip meals; eat on time.
Lastly, when preparing your meal plan for the week, we recommend including proteins, nutrient-dense complex carbs like oatmeals, and healthy fats like avocados. Try including foods that can help reduce stress and boost mood, like fatty fish, eggs, natural yogurt, chamomile, dark chocolate, turmeric, nuts and seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Chloe McLeod is an Advanced Sports Dietitian and Accredited Practicing Dietitian for MX Endurance. Get in touch with her.