5 ways to de-stress without stuffing your face

It’s been a tad stressful around these parts these past six weeks as the new shop launch was delayed due to a technical glitch at the printer. As a Type-A, I don’t handle the stress that comes with projects going off-plan well – especially when “fixing” the issue is beyond my control.

More than a few times since mid-July, I have found myself prowling the office looking for cookies, candy and coffee. Happily, I know my foibles well and pretty much ban sweets from the cabinets at home and at work. As far as coffee goes, I’m blessed to have a body with a strong gag reflex that kicks in if I try to ingest more than 2 cups.

With that said, there were a few days when my cortisol levels spiked to unprecedented levels. On those days, I found myself literally possessed. When my hunts for chocolate and cookies and ice cream turned up empty, I’d reach for pretty much anything in the fridge that was remotely fattening (cold pizza slices, cream cheese on bagels and the like).

It was kind of like an out-of-body experience. I didn’t want the bad stuff – but I felt almost powerless to stop myself from ingesting it.

Now that things have calmed down a bit, I’ve been looking to better understand why my body craved fat & sugar in those moments. If I understand it, I can get out ahead of it next time by having some alternative techniques at the ready.

The Origin of Stress Eating in a Nutshell

Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Tufts University and author of “The ‘I’ Diet” book and program explains, “Back in our caveman days, high calorie, fatty foods (i.e. meat) were tough to come by.

If a person (or clan) had a successful hunt, the brain responded to the caloric spike with surges of dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good hormones. That created a feedback loop that in effect, linked high-fat, high calorie foods with feelings of happiness and contentment.”

Voila – a very strong behavioral conditioning loop was put into effect. Our bodies became hard-wired to search for sugar, fat and protein.

While our environment has changed drastically since those days, our bodies still respond to stress (i.e. spikes on cortisol and/or cravings for comfort/contentment/happiness) in the same way: going in search of calories.

That made sense when fat, sugar and protein was in short supply. Not so much today.

6 strategies for de-stressing without gorging

The good news is, you can recondition your brain. Awareness of the existing loop is step one. Next, you need some alternate behaviors in your repertoire that you can link to feelings of contentment and happiness — the opposite of stress.

Here are six that I intend to experiment with over the coming weeks and months.

1. Smelling Something Lovely
smelling something lovely reduces stress
Scents travel directly to the emotional center of our brain. Studies have shown that smelling lavender and rosemary essential oil sachets reduces anxiety and pulse rates. That’s a good reason to invest in a sachet for my desk drawer!

2. Walking
walking and running spark nerve cells that relax you
New research has shin that walking briskly or jogging sparks nerve cells in the brain that relax the senses.

3. Chewing Gum
It’s kind of like eating, right? But without the calories. Gum saved me a few times in the past week or two, so I’ll be keeping a stash of it nearby.

4. Drinking Black Tea
drinking black tea reduces cortisol levels
Black tea has been clinically proven to reduce cortisol levels by nearly 50 percent, according to a study in Psychopharmacology.

5. Organizing a Small Area, Like a Desk
organizing a small area like a desk de-stresses
While I haven’t seen any scientific literature on this point, when I am feeling out of control or overwhelmed, often taking 5 or 10 minutes to clean up a small area tips the “control” balance back in my favor and I can get back to work in a productive frame of mind.

6. Breathe
breathing is a proven way to reduce coritsol and de-stress
When we’re stressed, we breath rapidly and shallowly. Deep berating has been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system – and that deep breathing exercises can have immediate effects by altering the pH of the blood and changing blood pressure.

Do you stress-eat or have you managed to rewire your brain to crave something more productive/beneficial? I’d love to hear what works for you.