I don’t know about you, but when life gets stressful, I tend to reach for a bag of chocolate chips. Logically, I know it’s not healthy to eat the entire thing, but that’s what I want to do. It doesn’t matter what else I try. I can’t shake that craving for chocolate. (Of course there’s not a bag of chocolate chips sitting next to my keyboard as I type this….I don’t know what you’re talking about…)
The good news: You shouldn’t feel guilty about craving unhealthy food because it’s probably not something you can control. The bad news: That doesn’t mean you should stress eat your way through an entire bag of Oreos.
Scientists theorize that our cravings for sugary foods are instincts that were developed by our ancient ancestors. They developed a preference for riper fruit because it had more sugar in it and, therefore, provided more energy. When you don’t have a kitchen full of food and may need to run away from an animal that wants to eat you at any moment, you want as much energy as you can get!
In today’s world, we don’t need that instinct anymore. We have access to more food than we could every need and there are no hungry animals forcing us to exercise. The challenge we are faced with today is finding a way to work with our programming to develop healthier methods of dealing with stress. Here are three easy steps to improve your relationship with stress.
1. Identify your stressor
Yes, life in general is stressful, but I’ll bet there are actually specific things in your life that are causing your stress. Sometimes, just identifying those stress causing items can be enough to reduce your cravings (or give you the strength to ignore them), especially if the stressful thing has a clear end date in the near future.
The next time that craving hits, take a few minutes to think about what is going on. Did a particular person just stop by your desk? Do you have a big project due next week? Is a close friend ill? What is weighing on your heart right now?
Even if it’s not something that is going to go away on its own, at least you know what it is and can figure out what steps to take to change or manage it (this post should help with that). Either way, knowing what you’re up against makes it easier to figure out how to take it down. You may even discover that it’s not as stressful as you thought!
You fought your demon and know its name, but you still want that piece of cake. Before you have a chocolate themed dinner, do something to get your heart pumping. Exercise releases endorphins which act on your brain to reduce feelings of stress and depression. Bonus! If your weight is one of your stressors, exercise will also help you change it!
Stuck at work when your craving hits? Close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breathes. It may not have as dramatic of an effect as getting your heart rate up, but deep breathing will also trigger endorphins. If you’re still wanting those chips, get up and walk around for a few minutes. Taking a few minutes to think about something else could be enough to move you past the craving.
When all else fails, make a deal with yourself. You’ve been working so hard to feel healthy and you don’t want to throw that all away, but it’s okay to give yourself a little break. Decide on a reasonable size serving of whatever your craving is (1 cookie, not the whole bag) and tell yourself that you can have it (if you’re still craving it) after you “insert item here.”
Your “insert item here” could be anything from cooking a healthy dinner to cleaning the bathroom. Just come up with something that supports your healthy lifestyle to balance your extra snack.
Stress isn’t going away anytime soon, so it’s important to find a way to manage it. Remember that you are in control of your world and no stressful thing is strong enough to defeat you!
How do you battle stress in your day to day life? Leave a comment to share your tricks!