Why is it that when we are stressed we always look to those sweet dessert like foods to bring us comfort? Why do we lose our healthy habits when we feel stressed?
“Well they do say stressed spelt backwards, is desserts!”
biology affects our choices
We first need to look at our innate biology to understand this. In prehistoric times foods that tasted bitter were highly likely to harm us in some way. Our former ancestors realised early on that if a food tasted sweet, it was probably safe to eat. However, sweet foods were not as acessibe as they are now. Back then sweet foods such as berries, honey, were only available at certain times of the year, such as the summer months. This enabled our ancestors to put on weight that would carry them through the Winter.
Fast forward to the 21st century and high calorie dense, sweet foods are available 24/7. At the drop of a hat we can order anything via an app and even have it delivered. No hunting and gathering involved. As such, when we are feeling stressed, or low mood it is so easy to eat the wrong foods and ultimately put on excess weight.
Sweet foods and the dopamine link
When we consume high sugar foods we get a huge surge in the brain of dopamine. This chemical is released in reaction to a positive event. (Oh the joy of chocolate cake!!) Therefore, if we are hardwired to associate sweet tastes with positive vibes, then we are programmed to repeat the event.
If you think that in society we associate celebrations such as birthdays, anniversaries etc with cakes and sweet foods, you can see how that association can be difficult to break.
Stress and the link with cortisol
When we are stressed our body goes into fight or flight mode. Our Sympathetic nervous system is fired up and we release adrenaline & cortisol. Cortisol in small amounts has its place but when we are constantly living in this state, then cortisol is overly produced and we are stuck in a state of sympathetic dominance. This then drives anxiety, mood swings and the inevitable sugar dips followed by sugar cravings.
When we get those energy dips, the easiest way for the body to keep going is simple carbs and that means sugar or desserts!
So with all of our biology working against us, how do we avoid those pitfalls and stay healthy?
Healthy habits to adopt
- First become aware of your emotional state. When you feel yourself getting stressed, stop and take 4 deep, belly breaths. By stopping to breathe, you break the cycle and put your body back into the parasympathetic state. The rest and digest state that is calming to the body.
- Set yourself up to win. Don’t have foods in the house that are triggers for your over eating. You would never leave alcohol in the house with an alcoholic, so why leave chocolate and crisps in the cupboard for your sugar buddy? Have healthier treats in your eyeline, so you are less likely to reach for the sugar.
- Go for a quick walk. Doing something physical can change your emotional state and stop you chomping down on that chocolate bar.
- Don’t beat yourself up. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and stressed at times with the amount of things you have to do. Apply the rule, do or delegate. If you can’t do something, or someone can do it better, delegate it. Don’t take on other people’s stress.
- Journaling can work wonders for uncovering what is actually the course of your stress and overeating. It can help to stop the ruminating by getting our thoughts down on paper, so we can better understand our inner thoughts that ultimately drive our emotions & actions.
Ultimately, stress is a fact of human life. We all react differently. However, if we can be kind to ourselves and adopt a positive attitude to life, then if we do deviate from our healthy habits and eat the wrong foods; it will only be a temporary measure. Tomorrow is always another day, a fresh start.
If you are struggling to find ways to rebalance your life & wellbeing then contact me for a free discovery call to see how I can support you to live the life you choose.