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Ask the experts: Stress eating

Q. I have a very full-on job and an incredibly busy family life. I find I get very stressed and often end up eating to make myself feel better. I know I need to do something about my stress eating but I don’t know where to start? Help!

A. Healthy Food Guide nutritionist Claire Turnbull responds:

Eating and drinking to manage your emotions is incredibly common. If you feel stressed, anxious, lonely or overwhelmed, food and alcohol are easy to access and may temporarily seem to help you feel better, but really, they don’t solve any problems.

I suggest keeping a food diary for a week or two. Highlight all the times when you notice you eat or drink something you don’t really need in response to stress.

By keeping a diary, you can look for patterns and identify the triggers. Does the eating or drinking happen at a certain time of day? Is it when you are in a certain location such as your kitchen, the office kitchen or in a café? Do certain people or situations trigger you? Is it when you get home from work? See if you can work out what caused your stress at the times you were eating or drinking.

Once you have identified your triggers, you need to come up with an alternative way to manage stress at these times that doesn’t involve eating.

Ideally, choose the same thing each time so it can become a new habit. Squeezing a stress ball, walking around the block or up and down the stairs a few times could be enough.

Try making herbal tea or writing down 10 things you are grateful for that day, to shift your mindset from negative to positive.

When it comes to managing stress, and time is short, one of the most powerful things you can do is simply take 10 slow deep breaths in and out.

Do this several times through the day or when you feel triggered. This process calms your sympathetic nervous system down, slows your heart rate and will help you feel calmer very quickly.

First published: Aug 2017



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