Does stress sabotage your diet efforts?

Sophie Edgington - Nutritionist | 14 Mar, 2021

We eat for many reasons other than being hungry. Boredom, stress, anger, feeling under the weather and many more – they are all common emotional eating triggers. The key to changing the way you eat is to break the patterns you automatically slip into when you feel this way.

Stress is one of the most common reasons why diets get derailed, so we're here to share some tips on how to stay on track when times are tough.

Breaking the cycle

An 'if, then' plan is super effective for helping you manage emotional eating when you are feeling stressed. The idea is that you have already decided in advance what action you will take when you're tempted to make unhealthier food choices.

For example, IF you are feeling stressed (which makes you want to snack), THEN you will run a relaxing bath and read your book.

Sounds simple but having a predetermined course of action removes the pressure of having to make a decision.

Here are some 'if then' ideas to help you get started...

  • "If I feel stressed, then I will go for a walk around the park/block."
  • "If I want to reach for the biscuit tin to make me feel better, then I will drink a glass of water and do a 30 minute workout."
  • "If I feel like forgetting about my diet this week because it's going to be stressful at work, then I will plan all my weekly meals in advance, ensuring I allow myself an evening treat that's still within my calories." Include some of these mood boosting foods in your plan too!

Why exercise helps

Physical activity has some super stress-busting benefits.

  • It releases endorphins. These are your brain's 'feel-good' neurotransmitters, and exercise can help increase the production of them. They boost pleasure and positivity, resulting in a feeling of great well-being. It's often referred to as 'runner's high' because of the benefits, but it happens with any type of activity!
  • It reduces negative effects of stress. Exercise can lead to positive effects on your cardiovascular, digestive and immune systems – by helping protect your body and these functions from harmful effects of stress.
  • It helps you forget your worries. During a workout, you may often find that you've forgotten what was worrying you, as you've been concentrating so hard on your physical activity. This can help relieve tension and give you more energy and optimism for the rest of the day.
  • It boosts your mood and sleep. Regular activity can improve your mood, help you relax, and lower symptoms of stress. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress – breaking the vicious stress-sleep cycle.

Stress relieving suggestions

Try a distraction technique to help relieve your stress. You can draw up your own list but some suggestions are below. These activities are not only great distractions from thinking about food, but also take your mind off the thing that's causing you stress – win, win!

  • Take a relaxing bath or shower
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Walk briskly around the block
  • Do an exercise DVD
  • Book an online grocery delivery and plan your week's meals
  • Ladies – paint your nails (it's hard to eat with wet polish!)
  • Read a book or magazine
  • Write an email you've been meaning to do
  • Phone a friend you've been meaning to catch up with
  • If you eat in front of the TV, take up something to keep your hands busy – like ironing or knitting!
  • Do a task around the house you've been putting off
  • Listen to a motivational pod cast, such as a Ted Talk

So this time, don't let stress derail your weight loss efforts. By adopting the right mind set towards your diet, being prepared, keeping active and having your tactics in place, never again does stress have to stall your journey to weight loss success!

Nutritionist Sophie Edgington (ANutr), BSc Nutrition is passionate about practising evidence-based nutrition and debunking the multitude of inaccurate myths that so readily surround food and health information. Her goal is to ensure we are all able to make informed and responsible decisions regarding our health.